By Eric Mugambi, LGT Impact Fellow for Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association, Kenya
In June 2022, I made a drastic life change. I moved from the busy bustling city of Nairobi to a small quiet town at the heart of the Maasai Mara where, all too often, the laughs of hyenas are the common night lullaby. I remember one evening while heading to the market centre where I stay, I crossed paths with a sky-scraping adult Maasai giraffe. The giraffe is a friendly creature to encounter up close; a buffalo or elephant encounter can quickly turn out fatal. A Maasai would rather come face to face with a lion than either of those two. A trip from the quiet town to the main urban centre (Narok) is synonymous to a game drive. Along the journey you get to see an array of wildlife including zebras, giraffes and elephants criss-crossing the roads. It is co-existence at its finest.
The IMPACT that the LGT Impact Fellowship has had on a personal level is grand. I have been working as a finance and grants fellow at the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association (MMWCA). MMWCA is a membership organization of community protected areas with the core objective of ensuring the prosperity of people, biodiversity and wildlife in the Maasai Mara ecosystem and the nation of Kenya for present and future generations. As a finance and grants fellow, my work has been both engaging, challenging, rewarding and all the same thrilling.
The thrill has been more to do with life in the Mara rather than the functional role in itself. Notably, the shift from traffic jams on smooth tarmac roads to the scantily occupied rough off-road terrains frequented by the habitual 4×4 land cruisers. From sky scrapers with rooftop views of the busy city to an environment friendly office in the bushes with a breath-taking view of hills; from estates to beautiful vast grasslands, expansive plains and forests that are home to the famous big five; from apartments to manyattas and single rooms that define the simple living conditions which characterize the quiet market centre that is Aitong. Thursdays are very vibrant: the market day! That is when the quiet village awakens with life. This quiet town called Aitong has been my home for the last one year thanks to the LGT Impact Fellowship.
I have had the opportunity to go for amazing game drives in some of the conservancies in the landscape. Recently, we went for an amazing game drive in Naboisho Conservancy. Lions, buffaloes, hippos, hyenas, zebras, wildebeests were in plenty. As we were winding up our drive, we followed a family of elephants that was grazing while walking into the sunset. At some point, we ventured too close to the herd and one curious elephant came grazing right in front of our vehicle with its trunk picking out the scent of the vehicle and its guests. The entire vehicle went silent. For the first time in my year in the Mara, I saw a Maasai man, three of them to be precise, scared. At the end of the ordeal, we managed to laugh it off while driving back home that evening.
Professionally, I have grown significantly and learnt a lot both in finance and grants and their application in the conservation field. Sharing my skills and experience with the team has also been fruitful as well. As technical as finance or grants or accounting as a field may be, it is generally a routine based kind of field. Different days will have their own different tasks and challenges, but the overall objective is to ensure organizational funds are accounted for, and reported on timely to all relevant stakeholders for effective decision making. That these funds and other resources are used efficiently and outcomes achieved effectively.
MMWCA is a fast growing organization and the LGT Impact Fellowship has served more than just build its capacity. My role has aided in filling the gaps of the overstretched finance department that has been characterized by unending workload. The fellowship has enabled me contribute to the success of the finance department including achieving a number of remarkable milestones throughout the year such as continuing to adopt and integrate a comprehensive ERP system, transitioning from cash accounting to accrual accounting, revising and adopting improved organizational finance policies, churning out clean project & organizational audit reports and continuously implementing improvement plans. I am excited that I got an opportunity to work with such an amazing team at MMWCA. I know with the continued support from LGT Venture Philanthropy, they will continue to soar higher and create more impact in the communities that they serve in the Maasai Mara landscape and beyond.
Life in the Mara has been an absolute thrill to say the least. Give it time and you quickly begin to enjoy the hyenas’ laughter. In the course of all the daily thrills and professional drills, I still had plenty of time to get married and settle down in the coastal city of Mombasa and enjoy quite the contrast of the nice simple life in the Mara. I will miss the hyenas’ laughter for sure.
The LGT Impact Fellowship is all about IMPACT! Creating positive social and environmental impact in the economies, societies and communities where we work. The fellowship has been nothing short of that. Indeed, the fellowship offers professionals, like myself, the chance to share their skills and expertise to create a tangible positive impact. It offers all that and then some!