Ed Pycraft joined CHASE Africa as a Trustee in October 2020. In this blog, he explores his motivations and experience of working with remote, rural communities in Kenya.
In 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to lead an ethnographic baseline study into the lives of one of the most emblematic tribes in the world, the Maasai.
Equipped with a camera, drone, clipboards, pens and a voice recorder – nothing could prepare us for the 2 weeks that lay ahead and the learning that would follow. Nestled under the majestic, yet imposing Mt Kilimanjaro, straddled like a horseshoe around Amboseli National Park, lies an area the size of London, circa 1,500 km². With its tongue-twisting name, Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch, swiftly shortened to OOGR, we braised ourselves for a bumpy 4×4 excursion into the interior of this conservancy.
Upon arrival we were met with our local guide who led us to the first boma, a Maasai village built in circles, fortified by cow dung and acacia branches. What immediately struck me was our hosts’ ease towards visitors, and almost altruistic hospitality. Within a few minutes, we had settled into a traditional feast and local delicacy, goat, attended by the village elders. After a gluttonous episode, we were led to an ornate display of handcrafted beaded jewellery created by local women.
These particular settlements, named ‘cultural bomas’ are strategically positioned to pick up tourist traffic from 5* star hotels and safaris exploring Amboseli National Park. Here was a tribe, long heralded for their survival instinct, adapting their livelihoods from traditional pastoralism to tourism.
The weeks that followed were spent working our way towards the heart of this ancient land. Stopping in villages to interview women, morans (young warriors), children, teachers and chiefs, we started to build a picture of the rich Maasai history. As a fearless nomadic tribe, widely known for hunting East Africa’s plains, the Maasai would travel vast distances in search of fresh pastures, once a renewable resource. Their livestock, thread in a delicate balance with wildlife and nature, were part of a balanced ecosystem. As a symbol of wealth and serving as a critical insurance policy, large families were carefully curated leaving a rich tapestry of human life across the savannahs. Now, with land subdivided and cut off by parcels of privately-owned land, increasing population, livestock numbers and climate shocks, life is becoming more difficult.
Shuffle forward to present day. My Amboseli trip has opened a floodgate of learning and in particular, an exciting new appointment as a Trustee of CHASE Africa. As a charity, their development approach supports and promotes community-led family planning, sexual health education and natural resource management in rural communities. Realising that positive impact is best achieved by local organisations who are embedded within and trusted by the local community, they are able to unlock huge potential. Currently, CHASE Africa provides funding and services to 9 local NGOs across Kenya and Uganda working towards a shared vision.
By equipping and empowering the most vulnerable in society we can create permanent change. This model of development is a step away from creating a dependency culture, towards greater autonomy. Enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution are the rights to free education, information sharing and basic health services – yet so often, we see examples where these are threatened.
As I read through CHASE Africa’s partner reports, I was overwhelmed with positivity. Here are real-life examples of marginalised communities overcoming life-changing issues, in the backdrop of a pandemic that brings developed nations and their societies to a halt. It is a clear testament to the strategy and hard work of CHASE Africa and their partners. Operating through the outreach of Community Health Workers (CHWs), locally appointed and trained by the Ministry of Health, we have seen mobile and even motorbike clinics continue to provide locals with primary healthcare, family planning services and information about environmental conservation and natural resource management.
Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up new challenges in Amboseli. With tourism grinding to a halt, livelihoods as well as the health of communities and their environment is threatened.
As I reflect on my time with the Maasai, it is their readiness and capacity to make change that has a lasting impression. Adopting this predisposition is our only chance for survival in these uncertain times. We have a lot to learn here, in particular how to live within our means and take care of nature around us. The clock is ticking, we need to act fast if we want to continue co-habiting our planet with fellow species. The question is, are we ready to make necessary changes to our behaviour? Greed and self-interest govern too much space. I thank CHASE Africa for presenting me with the prospect of continued learning and helping make positive change.
Image below: CHASE Africa’s partner ‘Big Life Foundation’ community health awareness raising.