LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

How LifeStraw is Saving the Planet and Lives

For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it. – Marcus Samuelsson

Today, March 22 is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention of the importance of water. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education and livelihoods. Water is life and in my opinion access to safe water is a basic human right. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that it was added by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes measures to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution.

In my work, I’ve had several opportunities to write about water and have recently witnessed firsthand the impact of brining safe water to communities during a trip to Western Kenya last month with LifeStraw.

In light of this important day, I wanted to share with you a few shocking facts about the lack of safe water around the world, ways that single use plastic water bottles are threatening our planet and ideas on how you can help. Please feel free to share this post and help spread awareness of this critical issue.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Demonstrating washing hands with safe water

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Trying out the LifeStraw Community Filter

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

The youngest child at the school, age 3, takes her first sip of safe water

Did you know….

World population impacted by unsafe water: 

  • Globally, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could be up to 30% higher than today. (UNESCO-United Nations World Water Development Report 2018)
  • Today, around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people.
  • 2.5 million children miss school every day around the world due to waterborne illness
  • 29 percent of the global population (2.1 billion people), and 42 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa, lack access to safe drinking water services. (UN)
Conservation/Environment Global Health Global Issues Humanitarian Kenya SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Sand Beach, NC

The Fight to Save the Wild Spanish Colonial Mustangs of Corolla

“All Good Things are Wild and Free”. – Henry David Thoreau

There are some things in life that are truly miraculous. Before going to the Outer Banks, a 130-mile strip of barrier islands running off the coast of North Carolina, I had no idea that a herd of Wild Spanish Colonial Mustangs called the northernmost part of Currituck Outer Banks their home. The story of how they came to this unique part of the country and their survival for over 500 years is nothing short of a miracle. However, as I would soon learn the future survival of these amazing creatures is in peril.

We left our rented vacation home in Duck for the short drive north on Highway 12 to the neighboring town of Corolla where we would begin our tour with Wild Horse Adventure Tours. After signing in at the friendly front desk we met our guide, Tom Baker, a Virginia Beach native who has lived in the area for decades and goes by the suitable nickname “The Outlaw”. We boarded the open air, custom-designed 13-passenger Hummer H1 and followed Highway 12 to where the pavement ends at North Beach. The remainder of the drive would be on the beach.

I sat upfront next to “The Outlaw”, taking notes and asking him tons of questions about the history of the Corolla Wild Horses. Tom, a man in his sixties by my estimation, had grown up in Virginia Beach and spent his teenage years driving down the vast open, uninhabited stretches of shoreline to go surfing with his friends. He recalled with sadness the immense isolation and remoteness of what was once a landscape filled with sand dunes, trees and thousands of wild horses roaming free. However, over time as more and more people discovered the beauty and miles of endless beaches of the Outer Banks, the surge in commercial and residential development caused the decline of the wild horse population which was once estimated at over 7,000 back in the 1930s.

The most significant change happened in 1985. Before then, the 17-mile stretch of road between Duck and Corolla was unpaved, untouched and infrequently travelled. This allowed the area to be the perfect sanctuary for the wild horses as it was one of the most remote, isolated and undeveloped areas in the country. Once this road was paved everything changed. The area became open to mass development and tourism and the wild horses were in constant danger, being struck and killed by cars and roaming around strip mall parking lots. Something had to be done or else all the wild horses would disappear.

Thankfully, It was decided that the wild horses would be relocated further north where they would be safe. They were rounded up by cowboys and moved to the North Beach area where Highway 12 ends and only a 4 x 4 “road” runs along the beach. With the help of The Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a South to Sea fence and sanctuary were established which includes roughly 7,544 acres of land heading 12 miles north to the Virginia border. The land is unique as it is one-third public and two-thirds private land, meaning the wild horses live alongside people. There is no other place where wild horses live in such close contact with humans but it is better than nothing. Tom said that this has helped the wild horses yet there are still many challenges ahead.

When we finally reached the end of Highway 12 and pulled into the entrance at North Beach, Tom beamed and said “Welcome to the door to my office“. I had never seen a highway on the beach before. It was quite bizarre. The speed limit is 15 mph and it is patrolled by a Sheriff who is ready to ticket any offenders. Tom said that there is one tow truck driver named Larry who has the rights to working the beach. At $200 a pop to tow out all the cars that get stuck in the ruts along the beach, he is apparently always in a good mood. I finally understood why we needed a hummer for the tour. We were going to be doing some serious off-roading and climbing sand dunes.

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Conservation/Environment Global Issues North Carolina SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION United States
Gobi Bear Project

Defying the Odds: Saving the World’s Rarest Bear

When you imagine bears in wild, images of majestic grizzly bears roaming the high mountain peaks of the Rockies often come to mind. Thriving with lush vegetation in the summer, fattening their bodies up in the fall, laying fast asleep during the long, cold winters, and coming out of hibernation at the first sign of spring, a bear’s life seems perfect for this postcard-worthy landscape. Yet, miraculously the grizzly bear also lives in one of the most surprising places on earth: The Gobi Desert.

During an inspiring interview with Doug Chadwick, wildlife biologist, journalist and author of the new book, “Tracking Gobi Grizzlies: Surviving Beyond the Back of Beyond”, I learned about the Gobi Bear Project in Mongolia and the amazing opportunity we have to save the world’s rarest bear from extinction. Here is the story.

Gobi Bear Project

The Gobi Bear, a rare grizzly bear that lives in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. Photo credit: Joe Riis

The situation:

Thousands of miles away, in one of last remaining wild places on earth lies a remote section of the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia. The Gobi Desert is the world’s fifth largest desert spanning from the southern third of Mongolia on into northern and northwestern China.  In one of the most unusual habitats in the world lives a miracle: The world’s rarest bear, the Gobi Bear.

Fewer than three dozen Gobi bears remain in the world, living in one of the harshest places on earth. The extreme temperatures range from 120 degrees in the summer to a bone-chilling -40 F in the winter. There is less than 2-8 inches of rainfall a year. The landscape is almost like being on the moon with large, windswept valleys, high mountain peaks and scatterings of low vegetation. Yet somehow, there are Gobi Bears. The fact that these large, rare creatures actually exist is a shock in itself. In fact, no one actually knew that Gobi Bears existed until 1943. Today, little is still known about the world’s rarest bear whose very existence is on the edge of extinction.

Gobi Bear Project

Big Bawa among the Phragmites grasses at the oasis where he was radio-collared. Photo: Joe Riis

A little history on Mongolia

Mongolia’s history is as long and vast as its rugged, expansive land, dating all the way back to the 3rd century BC. This landlocked country known as “The Land of Blue Skies”, lies between China and Russia, and its immense, dramatic landscape has the lowest human population density on the planet with a magnitude of uninhabited land. Mongolia’s 3 million inhabitants are mostly nomadic and hold a deep connection to the environment and nature. Mongolia remains one of the few places in the world where nomadic culture is still the main way of life for its people.

For centuries, Mongolians have lived nomadically and their main income has been based on agriculture and livestock. Yet Mongolia also lies on a jackpot of mineral wealth: There are vast amounts of copper, coal, gold, and other valuable minerals laying beneath the massive, barren landscapes of Mongolia. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s led to devastating economic cutbacks in Mongolia pushing the country into a deep recession. The Mongolian economy slowly picked up from an increase mining exports however the mining boom has dwindled again due to a sharp decline in the price of commodities over the past couple of years. Despite this fact the pressure to open up new wild lands to mining remains and with mining comes a price:  Roads and new mines must be built which could endanger animal habitats and the environment.

Thankfully, the Mongolian Government has protected key Gobi Bear habitat by creating the “Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area” which sits adjacent to three large Mongolian National Parks. However, the economic temptation of increasing mining is a huge threat. Existing gold, copper and coal mines are not far from either Protected Areas. The question becomes what will the Mongolian Government do.

National Geographic Gobi Desert

Map credit: Maggie Smith – National Geographic Staff. Sources: T. McCARTHY, ET AL, URSUS; TURQUOISE HILL RESOURCES

Conservation/Environment Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD
Ely, MN

Our Local Treasure, The Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools”. –  John Muir

As much as I have traveled to the far corners of the earth, I am constantly amazed at the beauty of my own home, Minnesota. A land of over 12,000 lakes, Minnesota is a nature lover’s paradise that is awash in forests, water, fields and plains, and rugged wilderness. Minnesota is also home to one of the largest federally protected wilderness areas in the United States, the 1.1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area (BWCWA). The BWCWA is one of the most pristine wilderness areas I have ever visited and its extraordinary beauty and tranquility is unequal to any place I’ve been except the far reaches of Patagonia. Its 1,000 untouched lakes and streams, and 1,500 miles of canoe routes are like no other place on earth.

When we were in Ely just two weekends ago, we noticed all the lawn signs up supporting the mining industry. Ely is part of Minnesota’s Iron Range, a group of four large mining areas of iron-ore that dot northern Minnesota near Lake Superior and the Canadian Border. Ely is known for its strong mining and timber harvesting industry (which was established as a clause in the 1964 Wilderness Act that also protects this pristine wilderness). However, it is also known for its strong tourism sector given its prime location as a launching off point into the BWCWA.

The Iron Range in includes these four major iron deposits: Mesabi Range, the largest iron range, largely within Itasca and Saint Louis counties; Vermilion Range, northeast of the Mesabi, in Saint Louis and Lake counties; Gunflint Range is in the extreme northern portion of Cook County and extends into Canada; and Cuyuna Range, southwest of the Mesabi, largely within Crow Wing County. Source: Wikipedia Free Media Commons

The Iron Range in includes these four major iron deposits: Mesabi Range, the largest iron range, largely within Itasca and Saint Louis counties; Vermilion Range, northeast of the Mesabi, in Saint Louis and Lake counties (Ely); Gunflint Range is in the extreme northern portion of Cook County and extends into Canada; and Cuyuna Range, southwest of the Mesabi, largely within Crow Wing County. Source: Wikipedia Free Media Commons.

What I didn’t realize was the struggle and conflict between conservation and industrial development has been impacting the BWCWA for over a century and once again has come to a head on collision.

Just yesterday, I received my mail and noticed with dismay the cover of the latest Sierra Club Magazine. In the November/December issue (which is not up yet on the website, it is so new), Conor Mihell’s powerful piece Border Dispute: The Fight to Keep a Mega-Mine Away from the Boundary Waters Wilderness opened my eyes to what those signs meant and the impact for both parties, the miners and the environment if the legislation succeeds.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

If the Chilean company Antofagasta is able to renew the federal mining lease, their proposed sulfide-ore copper mine located adjacent to and draining into the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, could make America’s most popular wilderness, its most polluted, argues Mihell. 1.1 million acres of pristine wilderness could be forever changed.

After reading the piece, I realized that I too could not sit back and let this happen. I decided to write this piece to raise awareness of the issue and also use my advocacy to contact the Interior Secretary of the US Government to pledge to protect the BWCWA. (To see how you can help, click here).

Isn’t this a place worth protecting?

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

My daughter gazing out at the pure blue water

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

My son and our puppy

Mitchell Lake, Ely MN

Ely, MN

Conservation/Environment Global Issues Minnesota SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION United States
Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Nature’s mirrors of reflection

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another”  – Mahatma Gandi

This past June, we took a family trip up north to Ely, Minnesota one of the main launching off points to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW or BWCA). This expansive wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota covers 1,090,000-acres (4,400 km2) of the pristine Superior National Forest and is filled with lakes, streams, waterfalls, forests and wildlife. Its preservation as a primitive wilderness began over one hundred years ago, and its protection was solidified in the signing of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978. Today, the wilderness area is managed by the US Forest Service.

The BWCA is a magical place where you often feel as if you are stepping back in time to an easier, more peaceful way of life. You are awoken each morning to the melodic cry of the loon or lulled to sleep at night by the chirping of the crickets or croaking of the bull frogs. You can easily spot deer and sometimes fawn and if you are lucky you may even see a distant mouse, wolf or a bear. It is a truly remarkable place that has given us so many gifts and with the passing of the US National Parks 100th birthday I was reminded how blessed we are to have such an amazing network of protected parks (both national and state), forests and wilderness areas around the nation.

Mitchell Lake, Ely Minnesota

Sunrise

Conservation/Environment Global Issues Minnesota SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY United States Weekly Photo Challenges

Vanam Foundation: Improving Education and Conservation outside Bandipur National Park

About 230 km (143 miles) away from Bangalore lies the Bandipur National Park in the district of Chamarajnagar. Tucked around the stunning Western Ghat Mountains in Karnataka, Bandipur National Park is regarded as one of the most beautiful parks in India and is home to many types of wildlife including tigers, elephants and gaurs (a type of bull) as well as the predominantly indigenous communities that surround the park. Together with Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and Nagarhole National Park in the North, it creates the India’s largest biosphere reserve popularly known as the ‘Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve’ and is an important part of India’s efforts towards eco-conservation.

Bandipur National Park was founded in 1974 under the Indian Government in efforts to conserve the tigers and wildlife community, however, in the process of establishing the park the tribal populations who has lived in the forests of the reserve for centuries were moved off of their land and into the villages and hamlets that surround the park. They had lost access to their traditional way of life as forest dwellers and were moved into subsistence farming on dry plots of land.

Morning at a water body inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

Morning at a water body inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Photo credit: Nithila Baskaran)

Conservation/Environment Gifts that Give Back Global Issues Humanitarian SOCIAL GOOD Women and Girls

Lokal Travel: Connecting conscious travelers with unique local experiences

“In a remote and lush corner of southern Costa Rica lies a realm of giant trees, potbellied spider monkeys, harpy eagles, prowling jaguars and herds of white-lipped peccary. This is on the last places on Earth where virgin rainforest grows right to the high tide line, and a visitor might walk for hours – or days – along its isolated coast without meeting a single person. This the Osa Peninsula and there is no other place in the world like it.” – Trond Larsen, Osa: Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea

Quietly pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area. However, recent plans to open up an international airport threaten the very beauty, uniqueness and ecological diversity of this place both to its inhabitants and its flora and fauna. Sadly, as little as only 5% of all revenue made on tourism goes back into the local community and the rest goes into other hands.

It is here where conservationist and filmmaker Eytan Elterman and his good friend photographer Marco Bollinger lived for five months to produce the award-winning documentary “2.5 %  – The Osa Peninsula” that would change the course of their lives and inspire them to create Lokal, an online booking platform and marketplace for community-based tourism in remote places around the world.

It all began in early 2011 when Eytan read an article about the plans to build an international airport in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Both Eytan and Marco were deeply inspired by their years of traveling and their passion for engaging with diverse cultures and they wanted to combine their vision of responsible, conscious travel with their expertise in powerful visual storytelling. The story about the building of an airport in the Osa Peninsula greatly piqued their interest.

Eytan and Marco had been working together as the founders of iSeeiTravela boutique travel media firm producing brand-building documentary content to showcase local experiences, inspire sustainable travel and highlight unique destinations and conservation. Yet they wanted to do something different and on their own. They moved to the Costa Rica and spent five months living in the Osa Peninsula learning about the unique issues of this area and eventually producing their beautiful documentary film 2.5% – The Osa Peninsula.

Unspoiled coasline in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

Unspoiled coastline in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Photo credit: Lokal Travel

Central America Conservation/Environment Costa Rica Global Issues Osa Peninsula TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL RESOURCES
Guatemala

A tribute to the beauty of Mother Earth

“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”. –  Evo Morales

Oh Mother Earth how I love thee. I am disheartened by the constant heartache you have to face.  The earthquakes, the floods, the wildfires and the taking away of your beauty. It saddens me greatly. You are such a beautiful place! I sincerely hope that future generations learn to love and protect you and don’t throw the beauty we have away. There is so much working against you.

As I breathe in the thick smoky, polluted air today that has blown in to Minnesota all the way from the fierce wildfires burning in Alberta, Canada, I am sad and filled with despair. When will we take better care of our most important thing we have? Our planet? 

Of course some of these forces are simply due to Mother Nature but many other devastating things are due to humans. How will you handle over 8 billion people living and taking your resources? I wish there was an easy answer.

Eagle Mountain, Minnesota

Our beautiful pristine Northern Minnesota.

“When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born”. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Guatemala

The green lush countryside of Guatemala

“You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer”. –  Thich Nhat Hanh

Conservation/Environment Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Weekly Photo Challenges
Lago Cocibolca Granada Nicaragua

A sunset tour of Las Isletas in Granada

Imagine gently gliding through the smooth waters of Lago Cocibolca, Nicaragua’s largest lake, at the magical hour of sunset. As the local fishermen are throwing out their nets for the next morning catch and the school children are paddling home on dinghies from a long day at school. Imagine being the only passenger on a 20-seater boat with a Spanish-speaking fisherman steering the way.

That is where I found myself a few weeks ago at the end of my epic day of touring Granada on foot. In the serendipitous calm of the deep blue waters of Lago Cocibolca freckled in streaks of orange, purple and pink. Just me, my driver and the “Guapotona“, the “handsome tuna

Lago Cocibolca Granada Nicaragua

Conservation/Environment Global Issues Nicaragua TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
The Adventure Project

The Adventure Project: Creating Jobs that Help People Thrive

Why Jobs? Because everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive. Yet, 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty. We have the power to change that”.  – Becky Straw and Jody Landers, Co-Founders of The Adventure Project

The more I travel and learn about the world, the more inspired I am to give back and make a difference. Besides writing on non-profits and volunteering, I also like to donate money to causes and non-profit work that I believe in. However, if you are like me, it can be extremely daunting knowing where to even begin especially because there are so many ways you can give and so many charities out there. You can give a one-time donation to a charity that you love, you can purchase a “gift that gives” back, you can finance micro-loans to small businesses or even pay for a girl to go to school or a clean birth kit for a mother in Africa. The list of ways to give back is endless.

Perhaps because it can be so incredibly overwhelming yet exciting all the same, I am passionate about finding new models of giving back and sharing these organizations with you on my blog. Today, I would like to introduce The Adventure Project, a non-profit that “adds venture” to offer education, tools and resources for people to become entrepreneurs and change their lives. I had the opportunity to speak with one of co-founders, Becky Straw, and learn more about the inspiration behind The Adventure Project and what she and co-founder Jody Landers are doing to change the world. Here is what I learned.

The Adventure Project

The Adventure Project Co-Founders, Jody Landers (left) & Becky Straw (right)
Photo credit: Esther Havens

Conservation/Environment Food Security Global Health Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD
Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

My Walk with the Maasai

“In the Book of Life, the answers aren’t in the back.” – Charles M. Schultz

Setting off on foot through the heart and soul of Maasai culture has always been a dream of mine. I had first heard of the Maasai people when I was volunteering for a week in Morocco. I was speaking with a fellow volunteer – a young American woman- who confessed her favorite travel stories in her life occurred when she visited the Maasai. Her embellished images of warrior men in black and women dressed in brightly colored clothing while drinking cow’s blood under the moonlight sky in the bush were what first intrigued me. Was it true that a people like this still lived on earth and still practiced their long-held traditions and cultures?

Years later, when I began my work as a social good blogger, I began to learn more about the Maasai people and the threat against their way of life. Some of the things I had believed to be true long ago were more or less myths yet other traditions both good and bad continued until this day. It wasn’t until I set out on foot with my english-speaking Maasai guide, Jacobo, in the Mkuru Training Camp near Arusha, Tanzania that I would discover for myself what the Maasai people were truly like and what challenges remained.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo leads the way and I follow along for the next four hours on foot, touring a small part of the Maasai community.

“Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t”. -Pete Seeger

I was thankful that I had Jacobo, the Camp Manager, who was born and raised in the community, to lead the way. He was exactly as I envisioned a Maasai warrior to be: Tall, elegantly thin, muscular and generously kind. He has faced some criticism from the community by integrating too much with Western culture yet overall his work and passion for his tribe outshines a few negative viewpoints. Although he is also the camp driver, speaks English, and is the face of the camp with all foreigners, he has retained his culture even down to what he eats.

We set off shortly after lunch in windy, dry weather. I had hoped the weather would be better but at least it wasn’t raining or boiling hot. I followed behind Jacobo, pen and paper in hand and asked him as many questions as I could about his way of life.

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

Welcome to the bush

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

The Maasai are among the best known ethnic groups in Africa due to their distinctive customs and dress. As nomadic pastoralists, they traditionally herded their cattle on seasonal rotations across the open savanna of Kenya and Tanzania yet new laws instituted by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments ended their traditions and forced many into camps where they have suffered poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and economic opportunities to survive. It is an all too common story with native cultures across the world and today many governments and NGOs are doing their best to preserve and protect these tribes from disappearing off the face of the earth.

Mkuru Training Camp Maasai Tanzania

The grounds of the Mkuru Training Camp Maasai in Tanzania

As we walked, Jacobo pointed out the dried up river beds and the sparse vegetation. Most of the crops (maize and potatoes are the of the primary crops grown in the area) had already been harvested and the long barren months of the dry season had begun. One of the main problems for the Maasai community is malnutrition especially in children. The diet is basically meat, goat’s milk and grains with little or no fruit or vegetables. Although the camp has tried to alleviate malnutrition by providing meals at school, many Maasai hesitate to send their children because they are needed to herd the livestock (boys began herding as young as five years old), tend the house, fetch water and cook (the main responsibility of the girls). Despite the building of new schools in the community, attendance is very low and frequently dropping especially for girls.

The Maasai have a very unique social structure that is central to their culture. The head of society is the warrior class made up of boys and men, and status relates to age. A young boy starts out as a herder at the age of five and once he reaches puberty, he is set aside with the boys who will be soon circumcised and become junior warriors called “morani”. The morani range from 13-18 years of age and after circumcision remain in isolation and are dressed in black until they are healed. Once they reach maturity and have sufficient strength they become a full fledge warrior, dress in colorful clothing, and are in charge of protecting the community. They no longer kill a lion with a spear since that tradition has become illegal (by the government) but they are trained to fight.

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

Jacobo on left with his four brothers who have just been circumcised and wear black until they are ready to become moranis.

Maasai women and girls are traditionally in charge of the home and all work associated with family life such as fetching water, cooking and cleaning, making clothing and watching the very young children. Maasai women are known for their amazing beadwork and brilliant clothing. (I had written a great post about Maasai beading here)

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo’s mother

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Maasai beadwork has been integrated into the Mkuru community to empower women and give them economic opportunities to sell their work.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

A gorgeous Maasai beaded ankle bracelet.

Jacobo gave me a tour of his family boma, traditional mud huts made out of mud, dried cow dung and branches. Since the Maasai can have more than one wife, the entire family of husband, wives and children typically live together in a compound of 3-5 bomas depending on wealth. Each compound is surrounded by an open circle and fence made of thorny branches, where the livestock sleep safely at night, away from predators. The bomas are extremely basic with no electricity, no running water and oftentimes unsafe charcoal cookstoves are used inside the hut. The smoke from cooking turns the ceiling black with soot and you can imagine how bad it is for the family to inhale the fumes.

http://thirdeyemom.com/2015/10/25/learning-the-art-of-making-maasai-jewelry-in-tanzania/

Entering the Jacobo’s family home (the fence for livestock is on the left hand side of the photo).

http://thirdeyemom.com/2015/10/25/learning-the-art-of-making-maasai-jewelry-in-tanzania/

Jacobo’s extended family.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

One of the bomas.

 Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

A child peeks out and smiles. His face is covered in ash from the cookstove.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Since there is no electricity inside, the bomas are very dark. I tried my best to capture what they are like inside. You can see the cookstove on the far back righthand side of the photo.

Non-profit organizations such as Solar Sister (who I climbed Kilimanjaro with) are working hard to provide clean, safe cookstoves throughout the world. The benefits are immense and life-saving but sadly they have not reached the millions of people like in this community who need them. Not only are clean cookstoves healthier and safer, they also save ridiculous amounts of money which can be used on other essential things like education, farming, and crops.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

The ceiling of the boma is black from the charcoal cookstove inside.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

An up close look at the thorny fence and corral for the livestock.

To my relief, I was well received by my Maasai friends who gladly gave me a tour of their bomas for a very small fee. I also purchased some beautiful handmade jewelry from Jacobo’s mother, a couple of bracelets and a necklace that I love to this day.

As we headed out to see more of the vast area, we ran into Jacobo’s dad, a retired warrior. I found that many of the men have a pretty luxurious life compared to the women. No longer truly in need of a warrior class to protect them against invaders, the men usually have plenty of leisure time to sit around and talk while the women did all the work.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo’s dad

Jacobo brought me to a special place that once a year the morani and warriors go for a few months to eat meat. Tradition holds that morani and warriors must remain strong and be the best fed of all. Therefore, every year they head up to the forest where they eat goat meat for two-three months. The women stay at home.

As we neared the camp, I could see women walking their donkeys with yellow plastic jugs. I asked Jacobo where they were going and he told me about the well. A few years ago,the camp dug a well which is open from 5-7 pm every day. Before the well, women and girls would spend hours each day fetching water so the new well has made a significant impact on their lives.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

The women at the well

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

I thought about how such simple things as water are so easily taken for granted in the developed world. All I have to do is turn on the facet and out it comes, in plentiful supply. Seeing the well in person was a reminder how millions and millions of people around the world live. With little or no access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”. – Kahlil Gibran

Once we returned to camp, I was exhausted. It was quite an eye-opening day. I had a quiet dinner with Camila and the other European camp volunteer and they told me some of the more difficult stories about the camp. That female genital mutilation (FGM) is rampant in Tanzania despite it being banned and illegal by the government. That the process is horrifying and the young girl is cut with unsanitary knives and left to lay and bleed alone for months inside the boma. That Jacobo lost his first wife in childbirth because she was unable to deliver her baby safely after her the trauma caused by FGM. And the list goes on.

It was hard for me to reconcile my beliefs on how as a world we should intervene. Despite the belief that we should respect certain cultures and traditions that have been held since the beginning of mankind, it does not make them right or justifiable. Sadly change is difficult but not impossible.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

View outside my tent that night

Want to learn more? Here are some excellent articles:

“In Tanzania, Maasai women who reject FGM are refused as Brides” via Reuters

“Maasai in Tanzania: World Fame but Empty Stomachs” via the Guardian

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

WaterAid – Tanzania (Fact: 14 million people in Tanzania have no choice but to drink dirty water from unsafe sources).

Author’s note: This post is one of a series on my visit to the Mkuru Maasai Training Camp. To read all posts in the series, click here.

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#BeHerd: 96 Elephants are Killed in Africa Every Day

Did you know that 96 elephants are killed in Africa every single day? Over 30,000 African elephants die each year as a result of poaching. 

I knew that the poaching and killing of elephants for their tusks was a problem however I never fully understood the enormity and magnitude of the issue until I listened to an amazing podcast on NPR’s “Fresh Air” called  “GPS Trackers In Elephant Tusks Reveal Ivory Smuggling Route” (8/12/2015). It is a story that kept me at the edge of my seat for the entire hour and led me to read the full story in National Geographic (September 2015) by journalist Bryan Christy called How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa”. It is a fabulous, eye-opening account on how armed groups help fund operations by smuggling elephant ivory and how Christy developed fake tusks with hidden GPS trackers to track them down.

I love elephants and was fortunate enough to have seen them in the wild in South Africa on a safari (Check out my post: “Into the Wild My First Safari”). They are beautiful, majestic creatures. The thought that they are being killed simply for their tusks is horrible and something that must be stopped. However, it is not as easy as it seems.
South Africa SafariIMG_0255

This month, the Wildlife Conservation Society has launched a new campaign called 96 Elephants to bring awareness and take a stand on the fact that 96 elephants are killed in Africa every day.  Founded in 1895, The Wildlife Conservation Society has the clear mission to save wildlife and wild places across the globe. In 2012, poachers killed approximately 35,000 elephants in Africa for their tusks. 96 elephants are killed in Africa every day for their tusks.

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