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Author: Brooke Squires
While wildlife was definitely what first brought me to Kenya, the reason I keep coming back is the people. Most of my friends in Kenya are from the communities I have worked with over the years; they are such incredibly resilient and enterprising people.
The communities of Melako and Il Ngwesi are mostly Maasai, Samburu and Rendille and are nomadic pastoralists, with their entire lives revolving around mobile livestock systems. What always amazes me about the people of northern Kenya is their generosity and hospitality. People really rely on each other to survive up in the north so getting to know everyone is important, and guests are always valued. The greeting system in the north is called Serien, which is Samburu for ‘hello’. Basically when you meet someone you have very long discussions about the rain, the grazing, which clan is moving where, who’s getting married, etc. Might sound like idle gossip but in this way herders and families stay in touch with the events across the rangelands, by working together everyone survives. While we are in Melako we will be spending time with the community. Groups like the blacksmith clan, who still use traditional methods to extract metal from the river beds to make spears and other implements, will give us such an insight into living in two worlds, the modern and the traditional.
Visiting one of the schools that I been involved in over the years is a blast, so much enthusiasm for learning. I think this is because of the dedicated teaching staff and school principals and the fact that the community value education so highly. Gabriel Gabana is head teacher at Mercy Primary School in Laisamis. He has about 500 students, from nursery age right through to grade 6. Gabriel is completely committed to the students and he has fought for gender equality, food programs and facilities, everything that we take for granted. It seems like such an everyday thing to send your kids to school, but in Melako it is tough when you are moving from grazing area to grazing area around the country and never in one place for more than a few months. Many schools have built boarding facilities to try and enable the Rendille and Samburu children to access education, even when their families are on the move. Education is still expensive and when money is tight or there is a serious drought, the children are often pulled out of school to help look after the herds.
Quite often education is not as much of a priority for the girls as the boys and when you have to make a choice, the girls usually miss out. One aspect of this that I learnt on my first trip to Melako is that parents will not send their daughters to school without a uniform, which is only $5. Imagine a $5 uniform being the only thing that stops you being able to go to school. Money for uniforms is a fundraising priority for me, so if you can forgo just 2 coffees in one week, that is enough to help a girl child to get an education...so simple hey?? Quite often the community will name donated items after you, so Brooke’s uniforms, Brooke’s well. The last thing I raised money for was a toilet; kind of glad they didn’t name it after me...
RAW Africa Eco Tours also raises money to buy storybooks and stationery for our schools in Melako. In fact if you have spare room in your bag it would be great if you could fill it with stationery or picture storybooks or the community made animal hand puppets that are available directly through Raw Africa Ecotours (these have been chosen by the teachers in Melako as they are culturally appropriate, depict the local wildlife, and make learning fun.)
What would be even better is you joining me on this journey to meet inspirational people like Gabriel Gabana and join him as he proudly shows you around the school to meet some of the great students. Buy some books, a uniform, and one day you just may have a toilet named after you...Come and visit the African Tour Page or drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org
Brooke Squires has worked in zoos, national parks and conservation areas around the world. These days, she divides her time between her beloved rhinos at Werribee Open Range Zoo, Victoria, where she is a rhino keeper, and the International Conservation Partnerships for Zoos Victoria.
Ph: +61 (0) 423 393 836