A battered safari Jeep, rumbling its way through the thick Kenyan bush, is a sign of hope for the children of the Maasai tribe. Their chief, Wilson Lolpapit, drives this old car seven hours to the closest city, Nairobi, where he works as a pharmacist. Both having a car and having a job that requires an education are opportunities that the children of Maasai also hope to have, though the chance is unlikely.
Nestled in the Rift Valley of Kenya live the Maasai tribe of Loita Hills. Their isolated community, while allowing them to keep a strong sense of culture and tradition, detracts from their ability to enter the modern world seek such opportunities.
Marilyn Parver and Karen Keilt made it their mission to help the Maasai tribe enter a more modern lifestyle by initiating a project aimed at providing them with a fresh water well and solar lights. Marilyn and Karen are childhood friends who were separated at adulthood, but reunited as grandmothers. Together they have joined forces with World Serve International and Doug Pitt (Brad Pitt's brother) to form, what they call, the Loita Hills Maasai Project.
Marilyn first met the Maasai people after taking a guided safari tour with Wilson in 2010. She continued a correspondence with him after she left and became aware of the tribe's problems. The people live in huts made out of cow dung and their primary source of income is through the buying and trading of livestock. However, because of the lack of water, the Maasai people share their water source with the animals. You can imagine what amount of effort they have to go through to turn the tainted water into potable water.
And Wilson and his tribe want this to change. They envision a future of clean water and good education for their children.
Notice how the future goals don't involve material goods? The Maasai people are not interested in iPads, iPods, or iPhones. "The thing that is most valuable to the Maasai, because they have no possessions, is family," Karen says.
Wilson knows this and it is what allows him to be able to begin sending more and more children to school. In the past, the children wanted to learn, but they had to spend most of their time at home, aiding their mothers in daily chores.
"Wilson started to convince the women that if their kids got an education, they could do better for their families," Karen says. She explains, "The cattle die, but the education lasts forever."
So, the Maasai children make the nine-mile journey to school and stay there all week long because it is too dangerous to return home at night and is the only place where they can study.
But, they need light. On one of Marilyn's trips to visit, she brought small solar lights with her, and they worked wonders for the children studying at school. Owning one of the lights elevates their social status and illuminates the room and their books.
"It seems so simple that having one light could make such a tremendous difference in the life of a child," Karen says.
And this difference can be made for what seems such a small price. Seven dollars and 50 cents is all it takes, but a Maasai family cannot afford that.
So, it's up to us. By visiting the website, www.worldserveintl.org, you can read about the Loita Hills project and make an online donation to this non-profit organization. We all have so much and a small donation, $7.50, can make a difference. A huge difference.
By Clarissa Burt with Ellen Kuni