BOMA was founded on two guiding principles. One: Ending poverty must start with improving the economic potential of women. Two: Any long-term solution must be embraced and led by locals in order to succeed.
In 2005, BOMA founder Kathleen Colson was invited to travel to Northern Kenya by a local elected official and friend from their shared alma mater, Saint Lawrence University. As president of African Safari Planners, Kathleen has been leading trips to Kenya for more than 25 years; she has also worked and raised funds for numerous conservation and humanitarian organizations in Africa. The local official, Member of Parliament Joseph Lekuton, wanted Kathleen to see firsthand what was happening in Northern Kenya, where climate change is devastating the pastoral communities that for centuries have tended livestock on this arid and semi-arid land.
When drought descends, the livestock herds die, leaving families with no food, no cash, and no practical means of earning an income. While the men travel farther and longer in search of grazing terrain, the women and children are left in the villages, often for as long as six months. With little hope of employment beyond menial labor, like hauling water or gathering firewood, they are forced to beg for credit and rely on humanitarian food aid to survive. Lekuton saw impending catastrophe. Kathleen agreed—and she wanted to help. That same year, she founded The BOMA Fund (now d.b.a. The BOMA Project) and registered it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Over the next two years, Kathleen returned to Northern Kenya for several extended trips, traveling widely through Northern Kenya with Kura Omar, a Lekuton aide who grew up there. With Kura as guide and translator, she spent most of her time listening—to village elders, faith leaders, community development workers and local residents. Most importantly, she listened to the women. In villages across the district, Kathleen and Kura spent hours under the thorn trees, learning about women’s challenges, suggested solutions, and previous aid programs that had failed. After conducting extensive research, Kathleen and Kura decided that focusing on helping women to earn an income offered the most promising path for BOMA.
In late 2008, BOMA launched its cornerstone program, the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP), with a pilot of 40 micro-enterprises near the remote village of Korr. To date, The BOMA Project has impacted more than 44,000 women and children.