Nairobi — Raising funds for charity can be quite a taxing experience, but much more interesting when one chooses to use goats as the main attraction for donors.
When a group of women came together nine years ago to fundraise for such a cause in Diani, they had to think of a unique but entertaining way of doing it.
The East African Women League, which was founded 91 years ago in Kenya by women associated with the colonial civil servants, have been involved in charitable ventures throughout East Africa but the goat derby sticks out as the most beautiful and enjoyable event. The derby started in Uganda.
The organisation has 22 branches in the region and is involved in charities ranging from assisting orphans, providing health care services and education bursaries to needy bright children.
For nine years, since the event started, Pauline Mackenzie, the widow of the former Kenyan agriculture minister, Mr Bruce Mackenzie, has been organising the event in the South Coast and has so far raised more than Sh5 million for various charities.
On October 19, 2008, a record 37 goats took part in this year's Diani Goat Derby which was held to raise funds for five charities in Kwale District.
There was colour and lots of funfair as goats galloped to the finish line of the 100-metre race. The event at the golf club of the Leisure Lodge Beach and Golf Resort, attracted hundreds of tourists and local residents.
All the goats were bought from the local community, giving the farmers a good profit for their animals. The organisers paid Sh500 for each participating goat.
The animals had to be she-goats to avoid the "chaos" associated with their male counterparts. Mrs Mackenzie said the goats did not need any form of training.
Stole the show
"Goats are very intelligent animals and all that we needed was a bell, fence the area where they would compete and get the people to herd them. Each goat was sponsored by an organisation or company," she said.
The ones that stole the show during the competition were Furaha Jaliwa of Extreme team, Jeremiah Malito of Security Group and Riza Kenga of Land Cruiser team.
The event was a blending of local Mijikenda and European culture and as Mrs Mackenzie aptly put it, one of the things they do not wish for early in the morning is rain.
"It might sound out of the ordinary, but for nine years that we have been holding this event, it has not been disrupted by rain.
"According to the local tradition, which is now part of our way of life, I had to come early in the morning and stab the ground with a knife - It's juju and it works wonders," she said as she bursts into hearty laughter.
This year, according to Mrs Mackenzie, they were targeting to raise about Sh1 million for distribution to, among other organisations, Kwale District Eye Centre, Kwale School for the Deaf, Epilepsy Children Trust and Diani Children Centre.
"This year, will be a bit different because we also intend to donate about 50 per cent of the proceeds to the jobless youths who have been affected by the slump in the tourism industry.
"Tourism is the mainstay of this area, but it was adversely affected by the mayhem of the post-election violence and we feel that as an organisation, we have to chip in to assist those who depend on the industry," she said.
She said the Ugandan derby, which started much earlier than the Diani one, was a success story and can be attended by up to 80,000 people, therefore raising so much money for the organisation's needs in that country.
"The success of this event this year goes to show the whole world that Kenya is peaceful and everything is going on fine.
"This should be able to change the negative image that the international community has about Kenya," Mrs Mackenzie said.
One of the unique things about the Diani derby is the involvement of tourists. From every aspect of the event; the hundreds of people who attended it were having a very enjoyable moment.
Cases of cataract
Women and children in fancy dresses added colour to the event that has attracted corporate organisations like Toyota, Safaricom and Access Kenya to sponsor and market their products.
One of the charitable organisations that has been benefiting from the proceeds from the derby is the Kwale Eye Centre, which uses the funds to help poor patients unable to afford the cost of surgery.
The centre has a community-based programme which has set up the poor patient fund that identifies very needy cases and offers treatment for free.
Two years ago, for instance, the organisation received about Sh120,000 from the derby and supported 34 cataract operations for patients from Kwale, Kilifi and Mombasa districts.