We work with the Maasai community along the eastern edge of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, in collaboration with local schools and community groups. Amos Kipeen, a native of this area, is the director of OliveSeed Kenya. Our approach is a blend of grassroots conservation, education, and community empowerment.
At Mara Girls Leadership School in Talek, last year we developed a library, and we're now helping the school with a Conservation Club and a pilot project for a mobile "solar library." Mara Girls remains an important partner of ours.
We helped the local group Friends of Maasai Mara get established by launching them in the US with a Gala event in 2017 and finding major donors for their initial development. We also purchased a truck for them and other supplies to support conservation outreach at schools.
The more we do here, the more we see the connected nature of every initiative and realize that our approach must be holistic. We believe in resources like high-quality libraries, and we see grassroots community centers as transformational spaces for community development and empowerment. Imagine a place where everything comes together: meetings, job skills, conservation education, maker workshops, learning resources, tree planting, recycling, IT... Places like this are so rare. In 2020, we're renovating and enriching the Mara Discovery & Community Empowerment Centre in Aitong, the only such center in the region; and our goal following that is to scale this model. (see a map)
In the wake of COVID-19, the need is more clear than ever. How will communities build resilience, given a fragile economic dependence on tourism?
Renovating the Mara Discovery & Community Empowerment Centre
The Mara Discovery & Community Empowerment Centre (MDC) in Aitong is the only community center in this part of the Mara. It has been a well-loved resource since 2009 for communities and rural families throughout the region — providing conservation education for youth, job and life skills training, recycling, a venue for community meetings, IT resources, and many other services not found elsewhere. The patrons, employees, and volunteers are all local Maasai. MDC is largely self-sustaining through the services it provides.
MDC was in need of a little TLC. We are funding a renovation of the whole center, thanks in part to a grant from the Rotary Club of Woodside/Portola Valley (CA): patching, resurfacing, and painting inside and out, upgrading the IT, building a tree nursery, repairing the recycling center, and more. We're also developing a Wildlife & Children's Library, which was the #1 request from patrons. It will be the first public library in the region, a learning center with books, digital media, and interactive activities. The wildlife materials will be valuable to the many students, tour guides, conservation leaders, and wildlife researchers in the area. We're also planning a sewing center.
COVID-19 UPDATE: Renovations were 90% finished when shelter-in-place began, and the library was half finished. Work will continue as soon as possible.
Library & Resource Center for Talek Primary School
Talek Primary School in the village of Talek serves 1100 Maasai students in grades 1 to 8. The students come from a large rural area, and some live at the school.
This school is under-resourced, but we have a great opportunity to develop a comprehensive library and resource center here for all students. Another organization, the Mama Zebra Foundation based in Sweden, has just built a beautiful library building on campus, ready for us to get to work! Imagine what a difference this resource will make, with hundreds of new books for all ages and reading levels, "Golden Tips and Kenya Certificate (KCPE) texts" in all subjects to help teachers boost the standard curriculum, and a "nature corner" with guides on local wildlife. The center will also have digital learning resources including a RACHEL offline server preloaded with Wikipedia, African Story Project, and other content, along with tablets for student use.
The teachers at Talek Primary are ready for this, and we're collaborating on plans. We are scaling our experience from the nearby Mara Girls Leadership School. Like Mara Girls, this school will also have a Conservation Club that works hand in hand with the library.
COVID-19 UPDATE: This project has been postponed till later in the year but is still high priority.