by Heidi Foppa – LGT Impact Fellow 2018
I have just returned home after having spent the most incredible time in the unique Maasai Mara for my work assignment and first on-site visit. I feel so privileged to contribute to the mission to conserve the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem for the prosperity of all.
Spending 6 weeks living in the warm and welcoming community and in the unique Maasai Mara landscape among the amazing wildlife has been a life transforming experience:
I met the amazing Basecamp Explorer family who collectively embraced me and my culture and taught me all about sustainable wildlife tourism, as they are a key player in the region and actively engaging with passion in this sector since 20 years. I got the amazing and touching opportunity to learn about the family life of indigenous Maasai women in their households. I shyly tried to manage a distant relationship with the big five and the ugly five animals during never ending discovery trips. I learnt intimate insights on gender behaviour of this culture, and discussed the challenges the population and the business people are facing.
I was thoroughly impressed by how issues and problems were approached; I appreciated the prioritising of the stakeholders when discussing possible solutions and the demonstration of respect between the different parties who are all striving towards the same goal. Even when discussing situation, conditions and relations that are challenging their attitude and approach remained respectful. This decency is something we don’t often see in our western culture where we seem to no longer have the time to be respectful to one another’s interests.
One of my personal highlights was the annual graduation ceremony of the wildlife tourism guides. We are actually working on the expansion of the related community led training school and I was lucky enough to be invited to the celebration event of 20 young and enthusiastic boys and 10 proud and strong girls, who earned the diploma this year. Graduating from the school has big implications and often transforms the lives of the guides and their families for the better. Over 330 guides have graduated from this training centre meaning that over 330 Maasai families have been directly impacted. The female participation rate at the school has also been steadily growing every year, this means that girls are being successfully integrated into the labour market which is also a very significant accomplishment.
Hundreds of beautifully dressed family members joint the celebration to honour the 30 guides, children performed beautiful dances, international volunteers as well as more than 20 community leaders dedicated their day to honour the graduates with memorable speeches. Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA) CEO Daniel Ole Sopia empowered the young Maasai and the teachers in his powerful speech: “The Maasai Mara depends on you, you are a key to help us to shape the future of the Mara Ecosystem”.
I hadn’t expected the ceremony to be such a big celebratory and emotional event. and it was a stupid mistake trying to compare this celebration with my own graduation ceremony of my 2-year Executive MBA…!
To put this post into context I will explain the significance of wildlife tourism in Kenya. Wildlife tourism started with the British upper class coming to Africa in the late 1800s in the pursuit of glory and adventure. Today the Industry has developed into the key economic driver in the region. It is important to understand the importance of the sector and how it can become a key player in the conservation of wildlife and their habitats. As wildlife tourism is a major source of employment in the region there is a big economic incentive to sustain the wildlife, it is a simple equation: less wildlife means less income for a significant proportion of the population. Tourism is also a key contributor in poverty reduction as it brings capital to even the poorer rural communities. It is important to emphasize however that this tourism needs to be managed properly to create harmony between all stakeholder: traditions need to be respected, the natives need to be included and of course the environment needs to be considered, if this is achieved tourism will benefit everyone in the region. Wildlife tourism guides are key ambassadors to educate, create awareness and protect this balance and unique harmony. A highly qualified education, attitude and representation is key to succeed and crucial.
I now understand why I felt so proud when driving around with our beautifully dressed and highly qualified guides. I learnt so much from them, felt so safe with them, had so much fun with them and they opened my eyes to the amazing Maasai Mara, which is an area that without a doubt deserves to be conserved. The guides have such an important role in sustaining the harmony in the region. With this enthusiasm in my heart and mind I will do my very best to contribute to the expansion of the training center! If you want to join the forces, please do…because it matters!