A day with the Maasai community near Amboseli National Park

The Ngararambuni Nursery School.

The Ngararambuni Nursery School.

The Ngararambuni Nursery School barely appears out of the thick grey volcanic dust of Mt Kilimanjaro, less than 10 miles southwest of Amboseli National Park. If you didn’t already know it was there, you would easily drive by and miss it. Yet as we get closer, we can see dozens of Maasai children aged 2-10 sitting quietly on five crooked wooden benches placed under the scant shade of a single acacia tree, all of them sort of enclosed by a low ramshackle boma (bush fence). The children watch us drive up and tumble out of our Land cruisers. We wander into the boma and join everyone under the tree, are introduced to Joyce, the head teacher, and then the quiet ends  as we are engulfed in song….

The only nursery school for miles, Ngararambuni is supported entirely by safari guests. Here, the local children learn Swahili and English, basic math, and some geography – instead of spending all of their days herding livestock. Joyce runs a very tight ship, and their time at Ngararambuni prepares the children for primary school. Although the school is minimalist in many ways, it is a true grass-roots community project, and provides what is needed for young learners facing a rapidly changing world at their doorstep.

Through Ker & Downey and The Kenya Wildlife Trust, safari profits pay for the teachers’ salaries, food, books and learning materials, and basic infrastructure and repairs. We also visit the school whenever Amboseli is on the safari itinerary. Our guests are always smitten with the show that the kids put on for us, and nobody can resist joining in the singing, dancing, and footballing.

Ngararambuni is a very special place for us and many of our guests, as Ker & Downey guides have had a relationship with the local community for over 40 years. For us it is even more personal, as this is where Solomon ole Lenkaja – our spotter and Maasai liaison – is from. Solomon was actually a teacher at the school before he came to work with us, and several of his own children now attend Ngararambuni. A respected elder in the community, Solomon is instrumental in reinforcing the connections between safari tourism, wildlife conservation, cultural traditions, and education in the area.

During our stay in the area, the nursery school is just one stop during a full day of Maasai culture and activities. We often visit the new Embaragoi Primary School (also assisted by K&D and KWT), and several of our recent guests have organized significant donations of books, games, and sports equipment to the schools. We spend time at Solomon’s house, and meet his extended family and learn all about the traditional Maasai way of life. In the afternoon, the community descends on our camp for the “Maasai Olympics,” which includes spear and club throwing competitions, tug-of-war, and running races – after everyone dons their war paint, of course! We finish the day with drinks and traditional dancing on top of the hill next to camp, and see if any of our guests can jump higher than a Maasai warrior in the shadow of Kilimanjaro.

For many of our guests this day is the most meaningful of their safari: we are looking forward to sharing this experience with a new family on Christmas Eve!