In the Land of the Maasai
Photos and story by Rob Holmes & Jenny Ersbak
Note: Green Living Project is in Africa, producing six new films across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and D.R. Congo, documenting and showcasing a diverse mix of leading international sustainability-related initiatives
Kenya is one of the most densely populated countries inAfrica– 40 million strong and growing. Nairobialone is home to 4 million people. So it’s no surprise when we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic barely a mile outside of the airport. No complaints from the crew though. We’re happy to take in the spectacle of the Monday morning commute. Bikers, walkers, buses, trucks, newspaper peddlers, mothers with bundled infants, fruit vendors and sunglass hawkers –Nairobihas it all and then some.
We’re headed south in a rickety 6-seater minivan toward the famous Masai Mara. A safari lover’s dream, the 583 sq mile National Reserve and adjoining conservancies are home to some of the world’s most impressive and iconic wildlife.
Nestled smack dab in the middle of it all is Naboisho Conservancy; the brainchild of Basecamp Foundation and our home away from home for the next 3 days. The Foundation is a champion for sustainable tourism development in the region and works closely with the local Maasai communities. We’re excited to dig deep in to the pivotal issues surrounding the conservancy and the region as a whole.
We hunker down for the drive. “3 hours on flat, 3 hours on bumps,” our driver tells us. A little vague, but we get the gist. It’s going to be a long day. We brace for the journey ahead, but the excitement and anticipation of what’s to come is undeniable. This is Africa, after all.
In Maasai, naboisho means “coming together”. It’s a fitting name for a place that values the input and voices of the local communities. The establishment of Naboisho Conservancy can be credited in large part to Basecamp Foundation, a non-profit organization that is revolutionizing the sustainable tourism model.
The Foundation established the conservancy in 2010 in partnership with 500 Maasai landowners. The agreement was simple: lease Basecamp the land; earn a guaranteed monthly income. The combined plots of land created a new conservation zone, and the Naboisho Conservancy was born.
But the Basecamp concept doesn’t end with the protection of land and wildlife. The organization’s reach goes much farther, in to the communities themselves.
While Basecamp’s approach is anchored in sustainable tourism, they are quick to acknowledge that partnerships with the community and like-minded organizations are crucial in addressing the challenges of the region.
Enter Koiyaki Guiding School. The vision: to train and equip local Maasai with the skills to become top-notch safari guides, while simultaneously creating income opportunities and conservation awareness. The training is sponsored by Basecamp and the school has become the focal point for conservation education in the Mara.
Meet Agnes, a 24-year old Maasai girl from nearby Amboseli. Agnes is a recent graduate of the Koiyaki Guiding Schooland the first female student ever to enroll. Immediately following her graduation, Agnes was invited to join the Basecamp team as a guide. She politely declined the offer, saying her family was expecting her at home… could she come back in three days? Her instant employment is significant considering the cultural implications of what Agnes has overcome.
The suppression of women in Maasai culture is slowly becoming a thing of the past, but traditionally, women were never expected to play a significant role outside of their domestic duties. Men ran the show. But the times, they are a-changin’.
Basecamp has been instrumental in providing job creation opportunities for women throughout the Mara. From handicraft projects to a community managed micro-finance group, women are finding their voice. But more importantly, others are listening.
“These women are becoming change agents in their community,” says Dickson Ole Kaelo, Project Manager of Basecamp Foundation. “It’s exciting to bring real solutions to real people.” Agnes continues to educate her fellow females on sustainable income opportunities via community presentations and outreach.
Girl power – don’t it feel good.
To be continued ….
The Green Living Project’s mission is to educate and inspire individuals and communities to live a more sustainable lifestyle through stories focused on unique and diverse examples of sustainability from around the world.
Rob Holmes is the founder and president of GLP. Jenny Ersbak is project manager of GLP.