Kakuta Ole Maimai is a man with a foot in two worlds; in his village in Kenya, he is a respected warrior and leader who is championing the survival of local traditions, and here in Seattle he has spent several summers working with the Woodland Park Zoo, connecting people with his homeland through its amazing animals and culture.
Kakuta is also the founder of the Maasai Association, our partner organization in Kenya. We’ve enjoyed a wonderful partnership and friendship with him and his village over the years, and have watched his community thrive and flourish under his leadership. Kakuta believes that empowering local people can build the sustainability of a community, and the accomplishments of the Maasai Association in Merrueshi are direct proof of that.
Kakuta stopped by the CT offices last month to check in with us just after returning from his winter in Kenya. A huge drought last year has had a lasting effect on the region and his community. Traditionally a pastoral society, the area lost nearly 90% of their livestock as the result of the drought. After the devastating droughts, Kakuta said, the local cattle stock was virtually gone, although the goats fared a bit better. Thankfully, he said with a large smile, it’s been raining a lot these last few months.
Relief aid has come to the area in the form of vegetables and seeds – a new world to a whole community of people used to raising animals as their primary subsistence. They’ve been feeding the relief staples to the remaining livestock, as well as trying to adapt it into their own diets. Kakuta chuckled as he told us about the collective efforts the people of Merruseshi took to figure out how to eat the sorghum that came as relief food – no one had ever seen it before, so they did not know how to use it! Though international aid may be appreciated, it may not always be directly relevant to the community it is meant to serve, and it doesn’t come with instructions.
Left with so little livestock to depend on, and with global climate change putting a big question mark over future weather patterns, Kakuta’s community has begun to create community farms as an alternative food source. Crops that can grow in the area include maize (corn), beans, tomatoes and onions. As the farms become more established and the community members learn more about agrarian techniques, these crops are becoming a good option for their long-term stability and health.
Of course, in an arid place such as Kenya, access to water is of crucial importance. Kakuta tells us that his community has a metered pipeline for drinking and washing water, but it is sourcing and dispersing the water for irrigation that is more of a challenge to work with. Digging wells in Kenya is a costly endeavor – you need to go about 150 meters deep to find water, costing an estimated $30k.
Still, the community of Merrueshi is thriving, thanks in large part to the Maasai Association’s development projects, including the community-based tourism programs that CT travelers take part in. Through the support of travelers and donors, Merrueshi has built a fully-functioning medical clinic that is supporting the greater area. Kakuta was happy to report that they recently built a lab at the clinic, and brought in a solar refrigerator to stock immunizations and supplies. He noted that providing this access to immunizations was especially “nice in the middle of nowhere.”
The Maasai Association manages and staffs the clinic with local Maasai doctors, including an HIV counselor. Most of the services they offer are free for community members, and they have set-up a co-pay system for paid treatments and prescriptions. The next goal for the clinic is to raise funds to purchase a vehicle that will serve as a mobile clinic to the outlying communities; Kakuta estimates this will cost about $10k.
Another great success in Merrueshi is the high school; in fact, it has drawn students from so many villages that the dormitories are packed! Crooked Trails travelers going to Kenya this year will be working with the locals, making bricks in the traditional way, for the high school dormitories. They’ll be building additional latrines and shower facilities for the 250 students who have traveled far away from their families for educational opportunity. We are so happy to be able to bring travelers into Kakuta’s village and to be a part of such a positive success story in real community development.
Would you like to join us and help, experiencing life in a traditional Maasai village?
Crooked Trails is bringing travelers to Kenya to take part in the work project as part of an amazing cultural homestay in Merrueshi. We’ll also take time to enjoy the amazing wildlife and scenery on safari while we’re there. Check our website for the set dates and prices of our open enrollment programs in August and November, but also consider picking your own dates – we can request a village visit for different dates and smaller groups or families.
Please contact Angela at Crooked Trails if you’d like to discuss those options at angela (at) crookedtrails (dot) org.
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