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Ethnic Minority Defenders: Amplifying the voices of indigenous human rights defenders to advocate for the rights to health and education

Duration: May 2020 – April 2023

Country: Kenya

Communities: Ogiek Mau, Ogiek Elgon, Sengwer, Endorois, Awer

What is this programme about?

This programme aims to improve access to quality health care and education for ethnic minority communities in Kenya, providing support to strengthen the capacity of ethnic minority human rights defenders from Ogiek Mau, Ogiek Elgon, Sengwer, Endorois and Awer groups. Drawing on Minority Rights Group’s experience working alongside ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous communities, conducting research and producing eminent data, this programme will support ethnic minority human rights defenders and communities to monitor and advocate for education and health rights, while holding duty bearers accountable for the reach of services in the five communities within the programme. By reinforcing the capacity of ethnic minority human rights defenders to advocate their social, economic and cultural rights, this action will have a sustainable impact on ethnic minority communities’ ability to voice their demands and concerns regarding systemic discrimination in the future.

Why are we delivering this programme?

Previous work experience with indigenous and minority groups in Kenya as well as testimonies from partners have highlighted the persistence of systemic marginalisation against ethnic minorities fuelled by perpetual exclusion from development planning processes resulting in unequal allocation and access to resources and services. The five communities targeted by the action all have suffered through decades of human rights violations from the colonial state to their current government. Although Kenya has registered improvement in most health indicators at the national level, this progress is yet to be observed across all strata of the population. Significant inequalities persist in rural households and the income poor, with ethnic minorities registering the worse health care coverage. Socioeconomic development challenges ignore, by focussing on bigger populations, the challenges that smaller groups are facing. As a result, ethic minorities have continued to live in extreme poverty with unstable economic livelihoods, poor access to food security, education and health.

What are we aiming to achieve?

  • Increased knowledge, awareness and capacities of ethnic minority human rights defenders and members of targeted ethnic minorities to understand regional, national and international laws/policies relevant to the implementation of their right to equal access to health and education;
  • Increased participation of targeted ethnic minorities in annual county, national and regional budget development processes on health and education;
  • Increased psycho-social support to address stigma and improve access to health for community members of targeted ethic minorities; and
  • Increased networking within ethnic minority human rights defenders grassroots movement and with national, regional and international activists on policy formulation and ethnic minorities’ rights advocacy.

Who are our partners?

Our partner is the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP).

Who is funding this programme?

This programme is funded by the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Kenya.

What did the external evaluation say?

In February 2024, MRG commissioned an external evaluation of the programme, which reviewed the programme’s records and collected additional data directly from the target groups.

The evaluation found that the programme largely achieved its objectives.

Improved access to healthcare services

Overall, access to healthcare services has improved significantly. For example, women attend prenatal and postnatal care visits, while more women are delivering at a medical facility than at home. Healthcare service-seeking behaviour has generally improved, and communities are shifting from traditional to modern medicine. Also, women are embracing reproductive health practices and child spacing, while HIV/AIDS treatment is now available for those who need it. This was made possible by the advocacy activity supported by the programme, which led to the acquisition of additional healthcare facilities and operationalization of the never-functional ones (which in turn shortened distances between the communities and health centres), as well as the increase in the supply of medicines and treatment drugs by KEMSA (Kenya Medical Services Authority) and improvement of staffing. In addition, the sensitization and awareness health campaigns helped challenge local negative perceptions of modern medicine, traditional beliefs hindering male access to health services, and misconceptions about reproductive health.

‘Women are now more empowered to take care of their children and seek antenatal care and family planning services, as they have men supporting them. Initially men were against family planning, but we continued talking to them, and we have seen positive responses. This was after reaching out to the men through family meetings.’

A Community Health Volunteer from Awer community

Improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) conditions

All Community Health Volunteers working for the programme reported that the hygiene training package delivered to the communities promoted the uptake of hygiene practices, including digging pit latrines which was uncommon among some communities.

‘In this community, the issue of pit latrines was not taken seriously, but after the training and with the support of other organizations such as Concern Worldwide, villagers now have a pit latrine.’

A Community Health Volunteer

Improved access to Education services

Access to Education services also improved, especially following the lobbying activity of human rights defenders, who succeeded in obtaining scholarships, additional school infrastructures, and the improvement of the existing ones, which allowed more children from the communities (both boys and girls as well as children with disabilities) to attend school.

Among the success cases, the Sengwer community petitioned and obtained funds for building additional classrooms in Tangul primary school, also receiving school supplies, while the Awer community petitioned the government and secured bursaries for 150 girls.

Change in the perception of people with disabilities

Before the programme, children with disabilities from the Endorois community were stigmatized and marginalized, to the point of not being treated kindly like other children and sometimes denied medical care and access to education. However, through the counselling visits paid by the Community Health Volunteers, the family of children with disabilities have been assisted psychologically, and the negative perception is gradually shifting. In addition, the Endorois community petitioned the County government to provide people with disabilities with means to generate a livelihood, which led to the government providing items such as sewing machines, livestock, welding tools, and wheelchairs.

Strengthened capacity of Human Rights Defenders

Interviews with community Human Rights Defenders and Community Health Volunteers revealed that the programme succeeded in increasing their knowledge, awareness, and understanding of laws and rights, which assisted them in mobilizing the communities for joint advocacy action without fear. Some attested that the training on budget processes and public participation were eye-opening as it enabled them to claim a share of revenue allocations for their community.

‘After understanding that we were entitled to quality education and healthcare I became very zealous knowing that we had been deliberately neglected, oppressed and marginalized for too long! That is why whenever an opportunity arises, I attend the forum where I can highlight the plight of the people of Endorois community.’

A Human Rights Defender

‘Before the trainings I did not have the courage to stand in this community and speak. I did not even have anything to talk about. But after the training, I can now address 100+ people and talk to them on issues pertaining to health, sanitation, managing Tuberculosis and HIV stigma among others.’

A Community Health Volunteer from Awer community

‘We now have knowledge of our rights to Education and Health as enshrined in the constitution. We were ignorant and we didn’t know our rights. In the last ten years or so since the devolution was ushered, I have never participated on issues of government budgetary planning until the project came. We went for public participation in December during the county government education budget planning. You cannot go for such public participation unless you are aware of your education rights.’

A Human Rights Defender from Sengwer community

Sustainability of achievements

The programme has high sustainability potential because of its participatory action-oriented and community-owned approach. For example, Human Rights Defenders and Community Health Volunteers belonged to the target communities and considering the strong capacity the programme built in them, it is very likely that they will continue to support their communities.

Moreover, the programme outcomes and impact are already plugged into existing government programmes and structures and are receiving support from the county’s annual allocations. For example, County government administrations have assimilated the majority of Community Health Volunteers into their community health policy programmes.

‘The work of the Community Health Volunteers has eased our service coverage to these communities. They have played a critical role in community outreach, sensitizing communities about the importance of primary hygiene and sanitation. I would say that Njoro is an almost zero open defecation area thanks to the Volunteers. We will continue to work closely with these already trained Volunteers, and we have integrated them into the county programme.’

A Health practitioner from Nakuru County

There are also prospects across most sub-grantee organizations to continue working beyond the programme timeline, as they can leverage the good working relationships already created with key stakeholders and continue to influence their interest and commitments to the ethnic minority communities.


  • Some county administrations were less responsive than others. Further stakeholder engagement was needed to bring decision-makers closer to the communities and respond affirmatively to their demands.\
  • The programme could have focussed more on tackling negatively impacting cross-cutting issues, for example, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Sex and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), to maximise the achievements from the programme and the positive collaborations with the local government administrations.
  • Despite the programme’s achievement, it must be acknowledged that decades of marginalisation could not be addressed entirely by a short programme, and communities’ access to Healthcare and Education services still experience limitations due to numerous factors, such as poverty, illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, SGBV and FGM rates.

This content represents the views of Minority Rights Group only and is its sole responsibility. The European Union does not accept any responsibility for the use that may be made of the information it contains.