In January 2018 I went north for 6 days to explore an area of Kenya that was new to me. Not only was I interested in seeing another part of Kenya, I wanted to know that my travel and tourist dollars would have a positive impact on local people and wildlife. First stop, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a wildlife sanctuary covering 62,000 acres. The conservancy is a model for conservation of wildlife and its habitat and support of sustainable development programmes with local communities through education, micro-credit, water projects, and health care. Lewa is home to 12% of Kenya’s critically endangered black rhinos and 20% of the world’s Grevy zebras.
When the small plane touched down on the sandy air strip marked out on the savannah, two men stood waiting beside a land cruiser. One in kaki green introduced himself as Rufus, my guide, the other a young Maasai named Joseph said he was learning to be a guide and was there to steal Rufus’ knowledge. I climbed into the truck laughing saying, “Why not just learn from him Joseph? No need to steal his knowledge.” So began the Rufus, Joseph, Kathy adventure. One guide, one spotter, one photographer/tourist.
After leaving my bags in my cottage at Lewa House, a beautiful family owned compound, the 3 of us set out to look for game. Six pairs of eyes, 2 excellent spotters, 1 eager photographer. Rufus pulled up beside a wide area of golden grasses – both men had their eyes riveted on the field.
Rufus “Look Kathy”
My eyes almost hurt I was trying so hard to see those lions. Rufus got a bit closer. In hushed tones he pointed and said “There – 2 lions, a young male and female. They are waiting in the tall grass for their mother to bring them back some dinner. They will wait here all day until she returns.” Finally, I saw them, a pair of beautiful tawny lions, full grown but still not ready to do their own hunting.
Over the next 3 days from pre-dawn to dusk, we combed the region for wildlife. My spotting abilities improved with time but never matched Rufus and Joseph’s skills. We were a compatible trio, 3 eager explorers delighting in the hunt, the discovery and the wonder of Kenya’s wildlife and landscape. When I left Lewa I gave Rufus and Joseph my email address and told them I would send some photos, which I did. Below is a photo of Joseph and me on the half kilometer canopy bridge in the Ngare Ngare forest, a critical corridor for the elephants and other wildlife between Mount Kenya, Lewa, and Samburu Country to the north.
Joseph replied to my email in late January.
Nice to hear your wellings. I have really enjoyed those days we were with you. You really love the animals. I will pray to the almighty lord that I get to go to school to learn more about guiding. Guiding is actually my passionate interest. God willing one day one time I will be your guide Kathy
Our correspondence continued over the next few months. Like many young Kenyans in rural communities, Joseph was frustrated by his lack of access to education and a better future. Although he had graduated from high school, something that is still inaccessible to many school age Kenyans, he did not have the funds or financial support for post-secondary education. The barriers to his dream seemed overwhelming, he was very discouraged.
Kathy sorry to tell you that am very eager to join the guiding college but am not able to raise that fund. My parent doesn't have that capital and Kathy my dream is to become a guide so that I will help myself and my parent....my parents are old and they are not learned, they even don't have a piece of land, they are living in other peoples land...sometimes I fail to go home because I don't have somewhere to go and rest.... Sometimes I get to look at the troubles we are experiencing and pray God to open a way just for me to go to school....
Joseph had some savings and organized a fundraising event in his community but, he was still short of what he needed for school fees. After discussing his situation with my husband and friends in Kenya, my husband and I committed to sponsoring Joseph at guide school. By supporting Joseph’s education we knew we would be helping his whole family.
Thanks a lot Kathy for your help. may the mighty lord bless and cover you with his unending blessings. …. You are a big change in my life....I had gone through hard times Kathy but am very happy to get such a kindhearted friend like you.....You have done something that I will never forget in my life time...I promise you when I get to school I will do my level best to study hard.
Joseph enrolled in guide school on the Maasai Mara at the beginning of October. He has studied hard and is doing very well. He will graduate in June. His gratitude is humbling and at times overwhelming.
In South Africa there is a philosophy called Ubuntu that roughly translates to “I am because you are”. I remember one of the Maasai staff at the first camp I stayed at showing concern when one of our group members wasn’t feeling well. He said to her “If you’re not well I’m not well.” That is Ubuntu.
I believe the spirit of Ubuntu infiltrated my heart when I first visited Kenya. I felt at home, I felt welcomed and connected to the people I met. Because of Ubuntu it was an easy choice and a privilege to support Joseph’s education.