A Kenyan Diary: Of Elephants, Maasai Warriors and Empowered African Women and Children
Day two: We pile into a 12-seater plane for the trip from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to the private airstrip at the Bogani Cottages, located at the edge of the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, Africa’s richest wildlife reserve. We’re encouraged to pack light on this trip, not only because there are laundry services at Bogani, but also because it’s a small plane.
When we land on a grassy, but smooth airstrip, we are greeted by five enthusiastically waving Maasai warriors, resplendent in their neon -bright tunics, traditional blankets called shukas and colorful beaded belts and necklaces. They wield spears and carved wooden clubs. Someone in our group murmurs, “Oh how nice. They’re in costumes.” We soon realize this is how the Maasai dress every day, whether they’re herding cattle or guiding visitors in the culture of their land. We walk to the Bogani site and settle into our rustic but serene and romantic cottages, built with indigenous and renewable materials. Obviously our arrival doesn’t please the monkeys who pitch nuts at the roof of my cottage and climb up the outside windows, peering in at me. A secure high fence surrounds the 30-hectare Bogani compound keeping us perfectly safe from dangerous wildlife.
Over lunch on the platform, Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Me to We (metowe.com) and Free The Children (freethechildren.com), explains the four pillars of Free the Children’s Adopt a Village program that aims to break the cycle of poverty through long-term sustainable community development. The four pillars crucial to do this include education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and alternative income generating projects. Dealing with only one of those issues doesn’t sustain and develop a community. Free the Children (FTC) through their Adopt a Village program delivers all four components.
We hop into Land Rovers and rock and roll over dusty, dirt roads studded with huge rocks to keep the roads from washing away. We arrive at Enelerai Primary School where the children greet us with high fives, beaming smiles and joyful enthusiasm. Their teachers are all Kenyan and follow the Kenyan curriculum, weaving their culture into the curriculum. For programs to be sustainable after FTC leaves, usually within five years, it’s important that the community, especially the elders, is involved. Only after an invitation from the elders of the community and the schools to get involved, did FTC build new schoolrooms to replace the rough, weather-beaten buildings with their cow-dung plastered walls. The elders point to the old wall-crumbling school and say “This is Africa.” Then they point to the new schools and say “This is Canada.” For them, it has been a true marriage of cultures. This is just one example of the kind of approval from the elders coupled with the commitment of the community, which allows for Free The Children to bring its Adopt a Village program to communities, helping them to become sustainable. To date, FTC has constructed more than 100 schools in Kenya, providing education to more than 7,000 children every day.
Marc explains that compulsory primary education in Kenya only became law in 2003. The government made the announcement on a Friday and on Monday morning, one million additional children showed up at school. Still, girls didn’t go to school because they had to perform chores, such as fetching water from the polluted river five or six times a day for their families. However, when they built water tanks at the schools, the enrollment tripled.
For more information on joining this meaningful travel adventure to Bogani, visit www.meritvacations.com or call toll-free 1-866-341-1777.
– Bonnie Baker Cowan
Guests of a Me to We Trips to Kenya are treated to a unique African experience of being immersed in the daily life of a fascinating culture. Me to We is an innovative social enterprise that supports the important work of its partner, Free The Children, an educational partner and international charity committed to providing holistic and sustainable infrastructure to developing communities around the world. Me to We donates half of its net profit to Free The Children, while reinvesting the other half to grow the enterprise and its social mission. In a five-part diary series, Bonnie Baker Cowan recounts the impressions of the Kenyan way of life, particularly in its rural and underserved communities and the work Free The Children is doing to help people break the chain of poverty.