At school with the Maasai of Amboseli

Around 300 people live in the Kenyan village of Amboseli and are facing great hardship due to problems caused by climate change. A team of young economists, nutritionists, doctors and educators from the Economy of Francesco has brought them assistance so they can improve their lives and rebuild our Common Home.

By Olena Komisarenko

"Will you come and lend a hand in Kenya to help the Maasai people?" In response to this request, Roberta Sferrazzo, age 31, a researcher and lecturer in Economics and Management at the Business School of Nantes and member of the Economy of Francesco (EoF), could not say no.

In 2022 during a meeting with Pope Francis in Assisi, she was very impressed with the testimony of Samuel, a young Kenyan who lives in this small village in Mousavi Park, where climate change greatly threatens the survival of the people and animals. Speaking to Pope Francis and hundreds of people, Samuel asked the young economists to go there and join him and his organisation to support programs assisting children's education, entrepreneurship, to assure economic opportunities for all.

As soon as it was possible to take on the mission, Roberta left together with other volunteers for Kenya to offer her contribution. "I was amazed by their strong humanity," Roberta recounts, "the looks and even the welcome we received from them in the village was exceptional, because they welcomed us by dancing, and at the end we danced together, immediately feeling like a community.”

The Masai give Roberta and the entire Economy of Francesco team a great welcome
The Masai give Roberta and the entire Economy of Francesco team a great welcome

The village of Amboseli

In this village of about 300 inhabitants, the main source of income is from animal farming with cows, goats and sheep. They live in total harmony with their animals, even the non-domesticated ones, such as elephants, zebras and lions that require great attention. During one of the days during their stay, some lions mauled one of the cows as the inhabitants witnessed powerlessly.

The living conditions in the Maasai village regarding hygiene and nutrition are difficult, as Roberta recounts. There was also a nutritionist in the group on this mission to help improve hygiene and sanitation and avoid possible diseases or health problems.

Given the impact of climate change, the Maasai of Amboseli hope to sustain themselves by moving from trade and animal husbandry to more agricultural activities. The problem is that they do not really know where to start and how to build a market in this specific area of their territory. During the mission, the Economy of Francesco volunteers were then able to offer input on how to start work activities in agriculture and farm business.

One of the main problems in Amboseli is the water supply
One of the main problems in Amboseli is the water supply

Theory and practice

For around ten days, each morning focused on training sessions with both men and women of the village to find ways to develop infrastructure for a greater presence of water on their land. "In order to start agricultural production, you need to start with water, which is essential for so many needs of each Maasai owner of a given piece of land," explains Roberta.

After focusing on matters of infrastructure, the Economy of Francesco volunteers then tackled the part regarding entrepreneurship, trying to bring together resources and needs. The permanent presence of Samuel and another young person named Simon has been and will continue to be essential in follow up on the pilot projects started by the volunteers, such as fencing off the land, preparing the grounds, and starting to plant the first seeds. Economic activities are then needed related to the fruit and vegetable trade or the trade in bracelets and necklaces, which in Kenya as in many African countries is very intense given the easy availability of raw materials and precious stones.

"In recent days," Roberta says, "we have also been able to help Miriam, a Maasai woman, mother of six children, who runs a small fruit and vegetable shop but would like to expand her clientele and have the possibility of obtaining supplies through different sources. We have helped her buy a larger refrigerator and better understand the workings of business. Also, she can become a source of inspiration for all the other women in the village who have not experienced freedom through work, since she already has an agricultural business and can also mentor other women to start their own businesses." The young Economy of Francesco economists have identified specific projects already underway and others to be started when they return from their mission. Roberta and the other members of the group are developing new projects that also cover the very important area of  child education. They immediately found a school where they can hold basic courses in English, mathematics, the history of Kenya, and so forth. On the last day of the mission, the volunteers constructed a roadmap - a specific series of pilot projects - and the intention to implement them all. The responsibility for these pilot projects now lies with Samuel and Simon.

Roberta Sferrazzo with the children of Amboseli
Roberta Sferrazzo with the children of Amboseli

The importance of indigenous peoples

Roberta explains that "Laudato si' is a source of great inspiration both for my work and for the mission in Kenya for several reasons. One of these is the link with Franciscan spirituality that contemplates love, care and respect for the environment, all values that I also found reflected in the Maasai people who live in perfect harmony with creation and are an important resource, like all the indigenous people since they know their land and are an integral part of it. All of us should look to the example of the indigenous tribes to give life back to this planet of ours!"

Like Roberta, all the other volunteers returned to Italy very enthusiastic and transformed by this experience. “The first change,” Roberta concludes, “is that I experienced this myself, learning from their spirit of sharing and unity, and also their purity of heart. Neither I nor my mission companions have ever tried for a moment to change these people: our task is formative, but also one of listening, welcoming, building bridges. I see gratitude in their eyes, but we too are very grateful for what we have learnt. One thing particularly impressed me: on the last day, a group of women to whom I had explained the principles of investment and savings, built a penny bank, an object well known in the West but certainly not here. It was a sign that they had understood the message! All the Maasai put the first coins in this penny bank. It was a beautiful moment because there was a new sense and also a mutual understanding of how we can move forward to build a new economy to take care of our common home.”

The effects of climate change in Kenya
The effects of climate change in Kenya

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24 October 2023, 15:16