“Luck”

(Photos by Doreen Stratton)

Five Maasai men walked on to the platform at the Hamilton, New Jersey Train Station. Instinctively, Phyllis Eckelmeyer walked over to them, because her daughter was leaving the next week to spend a year teaching in Kenya. She reached out her hand and said,  “Hello, do you speak English?” The Maasai were traveling to New York City to participate in the 2004 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. They were an indigenous tribe of hundreds from across the globe traveling to the UN for this Forum.

The Forum as described in the UN’s 2005 archives’ focus was to “… deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.”

Sharing the train to New York with the Maasai, Eckelmeyer heard how their lives were negatively impacted due to diseased-laden water. They said their two-minute speech before the UN would speak to the need for potable disease-free  water. After her return to Bucks County Eckelmeyer vowed– “I want to raise $30,000 to drill a well that’ll bring water to this Maasai village.”

She formed a non-profit: Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP). MCEP then came under the umbrella of Frog Pond Productions, an educational (501)(c)(3) organization in Point Pleasant Bucks County. A partnership was formed with an NGO in Kenya–Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO), so that American donations could enhance SIMOO’s programs. Shortly thereafter, local media coverage brought a $30,000 anonymous donation to MCEP’s mailbox.

(MCEP Archive photo:  The drilling of “Christy’s Well”)

To document the drilling of this first well, in December 2005 Frog Pond and MCEP traveled to Kenya with a film crew. The well was named “Christy’s Well” after the anonymous donor. A Philadelphia film company–Shooters Post and Transfer–volunteered the crew and editing talents that ultimately produced a half-hour documentary titled QUENCH. The initial screening of QUENCH would take place in October 2014 at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Since 2005 and every year afterwards, at least two Maasai have traveled to Bucks County. They spoke in thousands of schools, houses of worship and professional organizations about their culture and heritage. Their message resulted in annual sponsorships to over 100 Maasai children in primary or secondary schools and colleges. More  importantly  donations came in for water projects. There are now seven wells sited across this village that encompasses an area the size of Bucks County.

“… three more wells.”

Maasai herders and women pay a small fee of a few shillings for the water they draw from the wells. Designated Maasai men are responsible for maintaining the wells, collecting fees, and ensuring that diesel fuel is available to keep the pumps operational. Pipelines snake away from the wells to strategically placed cisterns so that women walk less than two miles to fetch potable disease-free water. MCEP’s primary goal is for ten wells to be sited across their village. We are determined to secure funding for the final three wells.

Since 2005 women have also come into their own. Last March and April 2015, I posted  six blogs about Maasai women and their journey toward lives as independent business owners. Two are pictured below with Phyllis, taken when in 2015 I traveled to Kenya with Phyllis and Education Coordinator Alice Sparks. We toured well sites, schools and spent enjoyable hours with our Maasai friends, delighting over the positive changes since our visits a few years ago.

Sarah Senewa and Grace Suyianta Salau with Phyllis Eckelmeyer

These changes are also bringing progress (some good, some not so good) to the Maasai village. A safe house is sheltering and educating over 100 young girls who had fled from early arranged marriages or female genital mutilation (FGM is banned in Kenya). The Kenyan government is constructing a vocational school where village boys and girls can enroll to gain income earning skills. Giant transmission towers are planted across Maasailand as they march from Nairobi toward Mombasa on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Oil has been discovered offshore from Mombasa and this infrastructure will bring a cultural crises to the Maasai community.

Water is Important.

The wells have brought land speculators to Olosho oibor who wave small amounts of cash in front of landowners in attempts to persuade them to sell their land. SIMOO is pushing back against the speculators by cautioning their tribal members the consequences of selling their land: How it would lead to the extinction of their ancient culture and heritage. Although we noticed  contemporary homes under construction we also spotted hand-painted signs declaring properties Not For Sale.

Land speculators invading Maasailand. One of several  “no sale” signs we saw during our tour.

“A drought is decimating the Maasai community … “

Climate change has created a drought that is decimating the Maasai community as well as many other parts of Africa. I wrote about it’s effect on the Maasai in my February 17, 2017 post, “Climate Change is real”. Shortages of food are so prevalent that the Massai have forsaken their valued herds in favor to feed their most vulnerable: the elderly and the young. MCEP recently wired funds so SIMOO could set up a food security program.

The Maasai word for “Luck” is Namunyak (Na-men-YAK). “Luck” can sometimes move beyond one positive gesture. The Maasai decreed that Eckelmeyer be given the name “Namunyak” to honor how a handshake between strangers transformed their village. I get goosebumps looking back at the many gifts that have come to the Maasai since her 2004 greeting on that Hamilton New Jersey train platform. The gift I cherish the most is the empathy and curious energy always expressed by youngsters in classrooms and assemblies after listening to our Maasai friends.

On Friday April 7, Phyllis Eckelmeyer will receive the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for her Humanitarian efforts.

Congratulations Namunyak!

Phyllis, John Sakuda and Alice Sparks taken at our 2015 Fact Finding Tour. John was our rock star on visits to schools in 2011 and 2012 while living in America. He is now back in Kenya caring for his family and cattle.

 

Advertisements

We’re here

Saturday was our first full day in Kenya. We’ve just finished lunch; stopping in an internet cafe that is owned by Sarah Senewa, one of our Maasai friends. This is one example of how the women are creating their own destiny.

I’m sorry for not adding a picture; just wanted to let all of you know that we arrived safely after an 18 hour flight in the air.

Already I’m making notes on future posts which won’t be on The Bucks Underground Railroad until I return next week.

By the way, if you’re ever in Ngong Hills, and need to email home, go to the Osotua Cafe.

Since then, we attended a Maasai church service on Sunday. We showed QUENCH to the congregation. Many young people there were too young to even know or understand the challenge of walking up to seven miles for water.

Today we visited Member of Parliament Moses ole Sakuda, a Maasai who is doing wonderful things for the Maasai community. We gifted him with two Obama T-shirts and absolutely loves them.

The weather is like summer. We don’t miss the cold at all; everybody asks us how cold it is back home.

Have taken over a hundred digi pics and am on my third roll of film. I filmed the church service (it was 4 hrs long). Exceptional.

Probably won’t have an opportunity to post again. No wi-fi at the village.

Tomorrow we visit the schools and wells; On Wednesday the beaders will gather at Susan’s home (she is the wife of Francis ole Sakuda, Exec Director of SIMOO). We’ll be buying stuff!

Sorry for no pictures as unable to download from my camera at the cyber cafe./

So much more to come.

 

Return to the Motherland

?????????????????Today, February 19 I travel to Kenya, East Africa—the Cradle of Civilization. This is my fourth Sojourn to the Motherland and my second to Kenya. In my other two Sojourns, 1999 carried my soul to Ghana where I walked inside the dungeons that imprisoned my African ancestors. In 2000 I rubbed  my hands across finely carved blocks of stone that created the Egyptian Pyramids.

I will travel with Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Alice Sparks. We form the volunteer triage for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP). For eight days we will live in the Maasai village of Olosho oibor–a village that is thriving because of the generous financial support from thousands of adults and school children in Bucks County and beyond.

When MCEP was founded in 2005 the goal was to raise funds for the drilling of a well that would bring potable water to the Maasai. Seen below at left is the first well–Christy’s Well— named so for its generous benefactor. This well was drilled in December 2005. It continues to bring potable water to the 5,000 Maasai living in Olosho oibor. A film crew accompanied MCEP Co-founders Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Jennifer Ellsworth to this drilling. A half hour documentary, QUENCH is completed and will be distributed to schools and other supporters of MCEP.

Ten years on–

7-2005 *There are now seven wells sited across Maasailand.

*One hundred Maasai children are benefitting from education sponsorships.

*The Maasai have installed pipelines and cisterns that carry water from the wells to schools, greenhouses and infirmaries.

*Maasai women have established a beading co-op that brings additional income into their households.

I’ll journal while in Kenya as blogging might be impossible with our busy itinerary. We’ll tour the wells, the schools, the greenhouses and meet with Maasai who have been instrumental in many of these improvements. We are also excited about the prospect of filming elder Maasai women while they retell ancient and indigenous folktales that have been carried down from previous generations. The Maasai language is not written down; and from these oral stories we will print children’s coloring books, similar to one we printed in 2011 titled The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel.

What’s on My Bucket List for Kenya? 1) Inhale the scent of Africa as soon as I walk outside of the Nairobi Air Terminal; 2) Rise early one morning to milk a cow; 3) Feel the burden of carrying a jerry can on my back filled with water; 4) Visit the Market in Ngong Hills; 5) Walk the earth in the Rift Valley; 6) Attend the Maasai Sunday church service; 7) And everything else to absorb this last half of Black History Month 2015 while I Sojourn in Kenya, East Africa.