Maasai are one of seven primary ethnic groups - and one of the most well-known of the African ethnic groups - that populate Kenya, along with the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kamba, and Mijikenda. The nomadic Maasai people in the arid south region of Kenya make their homes out of stick frames covered in cow dung - materials that are locally available. 

Kenya Rural Region

The Location


The Population


The Religion


The Weather

  • Kenya’s poor rural families are typically large. It is not uncommon for more than 10 people to live together in a one-room mud hut. Kenya Children Outside Mud Home
  • Children especially enjoy singing songs with actions during Compassion center activities. Kenya Boys With Hands on Heads
  • Clean water is scarce in rural Kenya. Children often spend significant amounts of time just collecting water from rivers, ponds, and other unsafe sources for their families’ daily needs. Kenya People Gathering Water
  • This little girl in Compassion's program enjoys her healthy snack. Kenya Eating a Healthy Snack
  • More than 17 million children in Kenya are younger than 15, and most of them live in conditions of great suffering and need. Kenya Three Boys Closeup
  • Streets in this rural community are unpaved and lined with struggling shops. Kenya Mother Walking With Child Down a Dirt Road

Overview: Rural Kenya

About three-fourths of Kenya’s 40 million people live in the country’s rural areas. In the more populated highland regions, rural Kenyans are primarily subsistence farmers. Those in the more arid, less populated areas generally are cattle herders. And Kenyans who live along the Indian Ocean coast in the southeast or the shores of Lake Victoria in the west tend to earn a living from fishing.

Kenya’s rural areas include a variety of landscapes, climates, and ways of life. Altitudes range from 8,200 feet in the central highlands to 1,600 feet in the southern lowlands down to sea level in the coastal region. Temperatures range from an average low of 53 degrees in the highlands to an average high of 91 degrees along the coast.

Rural citizens represent 42 ethnic groups clustered in different regions, speaking various languages, and practicing diverse cultural traditions. The seven primary groups are the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Maasai, Kamba and Mijikenda.


Culture Corner


Try this simple, hearty Kenyan dish.


  • 1 cup dried beans
  • 1 lb. beef stew meat, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1½ tsp. salt


Add beans to 4 cups boiling water in large pot. Boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and let stand covered for 1 hour. Brown meat in hot oil.

Add onion, and cook until brown.

Add meat, onions and all other ingredients to the beans.

Add 1 cup boiling water.

Simmer stew for 1 hour. Serve hot.


Life in Rural Kenya

Kenya’s countryside features a variety of landscapes and weather patterns – from the hot, humid coastal lowlands in the east to the more temperate, arid central highlands.

Rural Kenya’s population is also varied, comprising 42 different tribal groups with their own languages and customs. People in the rural regions earn a living primarily from subsistence farming or cattle herding. However, primitive farming methods, combined with ongoing drought and an increasing population, means that food is scarce. As a result, most children in rural regions suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Rural homes are typically small, crude constructions made from local materials and accommodating large numbers of people. In the rural regions, only about half of the people have ready access to safe water, and only 30 percent have adequate sanitation.

Children at Home

Kenya’s rural homes vary in style, made from locally available materials. Homes of the nomadic Maasai people in the arid south have stick frames covered with cow dung. In other regions, homes have mud walls and thatched roofs, or walls and roofs built of iron sheets. Typically, each rural family has five children. However, in some rural areas the number of children per family averages eight to 10.


Community Issues and Concerns Community in Kenya

Unemployment in Kenya’s rural areas is as high as 65 percent, due in part to low education levels. Most rural residents leave school by the eighth grade for a variety of reasons. Some can’t afford the required school fees. Many girls drop out due to teen pregnancy, which is on the rise in the rural areas, along with early marriage.

The number of children orphaned by AIDS is another issue. Particularly in the hard-hit Lake Victoria and nomadic plains regions, many destitute children have lost one or both parents to the disease.

Politically motivated violence is also common, especially around election times. And often violence among the country’s various tribes claims lives and property.

Further, more than half of the families in rural areas lack access to two items critical to the health and well-being of children: abundant clean water and adequate sanitation. Without these two basics, young lives are susceptible to such diseases as cholera and bacterial diarrhea, which can be fatal.

Climate extremes also plague poor rural families, who depend on subsistence farming and cattle herding. From periods of flooding to prolonged drought, families frequently face circumstances that threaten their livelihood and food security.

Local Needs and Challenges

It’s hard for children in rural Kenya to grow up healthy. Malnourishment and lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation frequently lead to life-threatening illnesses. However, parents can’t afford medical help when their children are sick. Rural groups also practice cultural traditions harmful to children, such as early marriage, and HIV and AIDS continue to devastate families. Compassion seeks to remove these obstacles from the lives of Kenya’s children so they can reach their full, God-given potential.


Schools and Education Education in Kenya

In the Kenyan system, primary school lasts eight years, and secondary school is another four years. The government’s recent provision of universal primary education means that more children than ever before are attending school in Kenya. However, it also has resulted in overcrowded classrooms (80 children per teacher) and a poor quality of education. In addition, poor parents are unable to pay the required fees for books, supplies and uniforms.

At the Compassion Child Development Center

At Compassion-assisted centers in Kenya’s rural region, children are receiving the help and learning opportunities they need to reach their full potential in Christ. Along with nutritious meals for physical development, they also receive medical assistance and hygiene training to stay healthy. Tutoring helps to make up for any school deficiencies, and most important, they learn about the love of their heavenly Father.


Working Through the Local Church

Compassion’s ministry in Kenya is delivered through local churches. Working in the heart of the communities that Compassion wants to reach, local churches know well the people’s needs and the best interventions to provide for their children. In fact, the people that Compassion touches are family members, friends, and acquaintances of the church’s members.

The local church also is a trusted institution in the community. Compassion encourages the registration of children in need, regardless of their religious background, giving every child the equal opportunity to be developed and shown the unconditional love of Jesus. And because of Compassion’s inclusive nature, even non-Christian parents are eager to enroll their children in the church-based program.

How Compassion Works in Kenya Compassion in Kenya

Compassion's work in Kenya began in 1980. Currently, more than 89,800 children participate in 349 child development centers.

Compassion partners with local churches, helping them provide Kenyan children with a long-term program of physical, educational, socio-emotional and spiritual development. Through this partnership between Compassion and local churches, children in need have the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all that God has created them to be.

The Role of a Partnership Facilitator

Simon Ihuthia’s job of Partnership Facilitator is an important one – to be a connection between local church partners and Compassion, helping partners serve their communities’ children in need with excellence.

Simon oversees 10 church-based Compassion centers in northern Kenya. He travels to these centers on motorbike. The two-hour journey across rough, dirt roads is tiring, but along the way, he is treated to sights of zebras, giraffes and other wildlife.

Compassion center staff members are always glad to receive a visit from Simon, who treats them with great respect. “Compassion hires qualified staff to work with kids, and they do an incredible job,” he says. “I always keep in mind that we are working together in the same ministry.”


Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the health of children who don’t have clean water or adequate sanitation in the rural areas.
  • Pray for the parents and caregivers of Compassion-assisted children who need steady employment.
  • Pray for the protection and care of children orphaned by AIDS.
  • Pray that a behavior change among rural youth will lead to a reduction in teen pregnancy and early marriage.
  • Pray for Compassion center staff members, who diligently strive to meet the needs of the children in their care.