This week I am truly honoured to share the words of Maasai warrior Philip Ole Senteria. Philip provides an authentic perspective of living in a community residing alongside wild and often dangerous animals, and how — despite the poverty in these areas and the threat that poachers bring to both the local wildlife and the local community — wildlife conservation (teamed with hard work, education and some brightly coloured beads) can empower the Maasai people.
Notes from a Maasai warrior
There is a continued, rapid loss of biodiversity and deterioration of mega fauna worldwide. Poaching leads the list of environmental crisis accelerators; that is being witnessed; a menace that has faced a strong battle, but continues to plunge the local (and global) wildlife into extinction.
Although every effort has been put to action to stop it, the heinous act is still very much alive — particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Poverty is undeniably one of the main reasons why the war against poaching hasn’t succeeded yet. And unless the locally indigenous communities are fully involved in conservation, the world risks losing the small remaining rhino, elephant population among other wildlife endangered.
The importance of indigenous people
There are approximately 370 million indigenous people worldwide. They make up just 5% of the global population, but they hold nearly 25% of the world’s lands and waters, representing 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity.
This shows that these communities have a very close contact with the natural resources that need to be protected. It’s worth noting that, with this close connection, the natural world is then central to the human rights of the indigenous peoples as well as their economic, spiritual, physical and cultural well-being.
Indigenous peoples directly manage the biodiversity setting that is vital for both their survival and their respect of nature. The two are deeply entwined.
But it comes with complex challenges: the development of natural resources and the climate change are threatening the environments on which their livelihoods and cultures depend.
Is poverty a factor?
Poverty impedes conservation because poaching and environmental degradation is often pursued by the poor in short-sighted ways.
When people attain stabilised livelihoods, they are more likely to accept conservation policies. Addressing poverty is therefore a means of directly or indirectly promoting conservation.
Oloimugi Maasai Cultural Village
Two years ago I started the Oloimugi Maasai Village project. The main aim was to bring our Maasai community together for the purpose of having a conversation around conservation.
We live in a region very rich with wildlife, but are constantly at threat from poaching and hunting, human-wildlife conflict, etc. Poverty, lack of social amenities — for example: health; schools; general economic instability; are some of the factors contributing to the issues that we face as we try to fulfil a role as guardians of wildlife.
The Village serves as a cultural promotion centre, seeking empowerment and education through and about conservation. Income generated from cultural/wildlife tourism from guests visiting us is used to grow trees, construct gabions to stop soil erosion and to support the community.
The main focus of all this, however, is the BEADWORK project which is part of our initiative to tap into the potential of the Maasai women.
Beadwork offers an important opportunity to Maasai women. Traditionally, they are uneducated, married at the age of 13, and completely financially reliant on the men or government aid. Their skills with beadwork are a chance for self-sufficiency.
The group, Olkiripa women, which was started as part of the Oloimugi Maasai Project, consists of 25 Maasai women who hand-make all of the beaded items we sell.
This is their primary source of income, and as a group they support their families.
Bead product purchases help these women and their families break a pattern of poverty. We believe that the spectacular beadwork that the women make can be sold to make enough money to feed their families, educate children and invest in conservation activities.
The main challenges we are facing is a lack of marketing and exposure, as well networking to reach the right, relevant markets, individuals and brands. We really hope to get help with this very crucial pillar of our ‘holistic conservation’ foundation laying.
There is a wide range of items they make, such as necklaces, bracelets, beaded dog collars, belts, etc.
In conclusion, empowerment of local communities creates a very suitable, friendly environment for wildlife as there is generally decreased competition for resources. Many global environmental problems are caused by human factors. Poaching can only be ended with goodwill from an empowered society taking in consideration that wildlife depend on 80% of community land for survival.
If you would like to support the Oloimugi Maasai Village’s BEADWORK project by purchasing an item, please visit: http://shop.oloimugimaasai.org.
Philip Ole Senteria is a 24-year-old Maasai warrior from Laikipia, Kenya. He is a Law student with a passion for wildlife conservation, eco-tourism, culture and community work. He is the founder of the Oloimugi Maasai Village — a project based on cultural preservation, conservation and community empowerment. The village focuses of teaching the community about environmental issues, culture promotion and empowerment.
The BEADWORK project aims to empower women through an eco-friendly, economic activity and a pillar of conserving Maasai culture. Philip is looking for opportunities to learn more about marketing and networking to further his work with the Oloimugi Maasai Village. If you think you can help, please fill out the contact form here.