We are very conscious of the need for tourism to benefit local communities and impact the environment positively if it is to be sustainable. As a small camp we are limited in the number of people we can employ, but last November Sentinel Mara Camp ventured into new territory by sponsoring a business training for members of the Maasai tribe in the village of Mararianda which borders the famous Masai Mara Reserve. The training, was conducted by Business For Life, who focus on empowering people through effective training (rather than loans or grants) to start their own small businesses with minimum capital. This is particularly relevant when unemployment rates are over 50% and so many are unable to find employment despite the best of intentions.
The Maasai, known for wearing colourful beads and dressing in red blankets, are sometimes referred to as “People of the Cow” due to the importance of cattle in their culture. Unfortunately overgrazing and land degradation as well as human wildlife conflict is a problem due to escalating numbers of livestock. During droughts they often lose over half of their wealth as out-siders from more fertile parts of Kenya come and buy their emaciated cows at a fraction of their worth, take them to their homes to fatten them up and then sell them at huge profits. Most of the businesses in this village of 1,000 families are owned and run by outsiders. This, coupled with the decline of the pastoralists’ nomadic lifestyle and reduced grazing areas, has led to increased financial pressure and even degradation of their major asset: the land. Diversification and a change of focus is vital to their future. Many of the participants on the course had unsuccessfully attempted business, so they came with an eagerness to learn. This was reflected by a high attendance rate…100%! A challenge faced in class was the number of illiterate learners; however, the course facilitators were able to overcome this obstacle with their innovative training methods. It was evident to them that the learners clearly grasped what was taught and acquired the needed skills to successfully run their own businesses. The Business For Life training seemed to set Mararianda abuzz with excitement. Many others in the village as well as Maasai from further afield are asking for this training, eager to start their own businesses as they witnessed these 50 have. The training demonstrated the power of effective training as a tool for transformation, not just for individuals but also for whole communities.