My third trip to East Africa in the last year was once again an eye opening experience. This time I went to the 400 square mile Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust land that lies between Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks in southern Kenya. It is a remarkable area with beautiful topography that is being run to both help the 17,000 Maasai living on the land and protect the animals and environment. To say the issues that are being faced are complex is an absurd understatement. The Trust is trying to balance conservation, preservation, poverty, health care, education, clean water, women’s health and reproductive rights- I found that as soon as one domino was pushed over 8 more also fell, most in completely unpredictable directions with completely unpredictable consequences. It’s hard work.
I went with the non-profit organization New Course to photographically support their efforts to improve the environment by supporting and improving the lives of women and children. New Course has a clever and successful initiative involving Luci Lights- Maasai women buy into a community cooperative for 300 shillings (about $3USD) and one half their average two month spending on kerosene which goes into a community pot. For this each woman gets a Luci Light and a say in how the community money is spent. This empowerment of the Maasai women has profound results and gives them standing in the very strongly male dominated Maasai culture. Given a voice the Maasai women are formidable and very community oriented.
When I wasn’t helping New Course tell their story I visited several Maasai bomas- small extended family clusters of houses surrounded by a circular, impenetrable brush pile of thorny acacia branches. Every house I went into (always invited into with considered politeness on my part) I gave a Luci light to the woman of the household and then photographed the results. I was honored and humbled to photograph a mother nursing her new born infant – the first time she had nursed her inside and had been able to see her and a child reading- again the first time the boy had been able to read inside.
What is hard to understand is that these houses and the houses I was invited into in Uganda, all of them, had no windows or any source of outside ventilation. I went inside in the middle of the day and it was pitch black inside- dark as could be. I have no idea how the Kenyans and Ugandans move around inside or get anything done. No electricity, no lanterns, no battery-powered lights of any kind, its astonishing. I was helpless inside in the dark, completely helpless and yet they manage to carry on.
When I gave the women a Luci Light their delight was obvious- they know exactly how hard life is in the dark; how hard it is to find a tool or utensil, a pencil or a school book; how hard it is to make dinner, know the dish is clean, the cut is cared for, the infant is okay. How do you care for a newborn when you can’t see her? Again, I just don’t know.
But I do know that a Luci Light changes their life immediately, quite literally in a push of the power button. These Maasai women have never seen the insides of their little houses but with a Luci Light they can. It is magical. Truly magical.