“A life without a cause is a life without effect.”
I love this quote. It speaks to me of how I want my life to be remembered. Not by business
success or possessions, but by my efforts to help those less fortunate. The Amboseli
Children's Fund grew out of a desire to do just this.
Most of my journey has been accidental. I am a co-owner of a dog daycare/boarding facility
in Orange County, CA. When Leonard Mpaayo came in to apply for a position I was
immediately impressed with his resume. Former safari guide and naturalist from the area
of Amboseli in Kenya. Handling the somewhat pampered dogs of OC (after being on
safaris with wild animals) was rather effortless for him.
Fast forward a year or so later and I decide to go on a “safari” to Kenya and Tanzania.
During the tour they took us to a few of the Maasai villages. Very primitive by American
standards; no electricity, no running water, homes built with dung and sticks. Their way of
life was foreign to me, but one couldn’t help but be impressed by their proud bearing; the
close family units and their commitment to each other. The bright traditional clothing they
wore reminded me of what Leonard had worn to our Halloween party. His wife had tried to
explain to me that it wasn’t a costume, it was his own apparel. It finally dawned on me that
Leonard was a Maasai!
I was so overwhelmed by the disadvantages inherent to a 3rd world county, that upon return
to the US, I began thinking about what I could do to help. There are a lot of non-profit Kenya
organizations on-line but I wanted to be sure that I had a one-on-one connection with the
recipients of the program. When I discussed my thoughts with Leonard – it became clear
that this collaboration was meant to be.
Leonard has a vested interest in seeing that the people of the Amboseli Maasai villages
succeed; it is his home and they are his extended family. He is a firm believer that
education is the key to ensuring a better life for his people – and I wholeheartedly agree.
I have come to know Leonard fairly well from our working together; he is a man of integrity,
honesty and commitment. As we begin this endeavor I am excited to work with him.
We understand we can’t change the world, but “education for one mtoto (child) at a time”
is feasible! Maasai children can receive a quality education, at a very affordable price. This
opens up a whole new future for them, making all things possible.
Amboseli Children's Fund
Leonard Soipei ole Mpaayo
A Maasai warrior who fulfilled his dreams through education
I was born in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the Amboseli region of Southern Maasai
land, Kenya. I grew up, like all Maasai children in the area, in a village (manyatta) of mud
huts enclosed by a thorn (acacia tree) fence. It was a semi-nomadic existence, as
everything in the Maasai way of life revolves around their cattle, which provide sustenance
(milk) and wealth. As they move their cattle around the Savannah for better grazing, so the
villages moved too.
It was a natural way of life with no modern conveniences and few comforts. There is little
infrastructure; no paved roads, no electricity or refrigeration, no running water (water came
from rivers, springs or wells). Also, on the Savannah lands was the ever-present danger
of living in the midst of one of the last remaining areas still populated by wild animals of
every type; elephants, buffalo, hippos and the great carnivores - lions, leopards, cheetahs,
hyenas and jackals.
Until the age of 10, as with most Maasai boys, I tended the family's calves and cattle.
Each day I took them out to graze and every evening I brought them home to the enclosure
of their manyatta so they would be protected from predators.
One day, (around the time the Kenyan government decreed that every family should send
one child to school)as the youngest boy in the family, I was told I would have the
opportunity to go to school. I attended Ilmarba and Oligului government primary schools.
At both I was a boarder as it was too far to walk there from our ever shifting manyatta. I
saw my family at vacation times only. In this environment I thrived. My world opened up
and I was lucky and smart enough to be one of the few in the community to pass the high
school entrance examination (which is competitive) and gain a highly coveted chance to
go to be educated beyond primary school. The Kenyan school authorities sent me far
away from Amboseli to Narok where I attended Olchekut Supat Apostolic Secondary
school, a boarding school run by missionaries. To pay for this my father sold some of his
cattle. I am, to this day, the only person in my immediate family who has been educated
and become literate.
When I wasn't in school I continued to live the life of a traditional Maasai in Amboseli
undergoing the tribal rites to manhood that enabled me to become a Maasai Warrior.
Some of these experiences include the scarification and circumcision rites of passage.
Also, interactions and altercations with many of the wild animals of the region. Several
times I narrowly escaped with my life. My close encounters with an elephant, a buffalo and
a lion are particularly memorable. To this day I give thanks to a fellow warrior who with
quick hands speared the lion that was set to attack me.
After four years of high school I passed my examinations, excelling in mathematics and
sciences, and graduated. I was fortunate enough after some searching to be taken on as
an intern with the Serena Safari Lodge in Amboseli National Park where I was able to
further my education and earn the Wildlife Management Certificate. This enable me to
become a naturalist and safari guide. Over the next 10 years I worked my way up through
the ranks at the five star lodge and became one of 10 senior staff. Each day, as part of my
duties as the chief Cultural liaison at the lodge, I interacted with visitors, both African and
foreign, educating them about the Maasai tribe and Amboseli wildlife and savannah
Unexpectedly, there would be another chapter in my nomadic existence that would
ultimately take me far from the lands of my birth. In 2007, I met the woman who would
become my wife while she and her friends were on safari in Amboseli. A cultural lecture
and a nature walk led to a connection that continued after she returned to the United
States. In 2010 I moved to California where I have lived a life far beyond the dreams of a
young Maasai cattle herder.
It is my hope that through education many other Maasai children may have the opportunity
to live a life beyond their dreams too.
Leonard Soipei ole Mpaayo
Amboseli Children's Fund
|Leonard and his wife Leoni
|Educating one Mtoto* at a time
"A hand up not a hand out"
In 2007 I traveled to Kenya on safari and met Leonard. We subsequently married and I
have spent considerable time in Kenya since. Born in New Zealand, I had previously lived
on several continents and traveled extensively worldwide, but like many before me I was
not prepared for the lack of any infrastructure and basic necessities in Maasailand.
Over the last 6 years I have often pondered the question of charity and giving back.
Leonard and I have often discussed this as we are aware that too often just randomly
giving money to causes or to people in need leads to those people just expecting a
"handout". It does nothing to really help them in the long term.
As the Designer/Owner of Sunflower Beachwear I have been in business in California for
20 plus years. In 2008 in cooperation with Kenyan artisans I launched Savannah
Sandals. The leather sandals are handmade in Kenya by crafts people from several
tribes. With a combination of Kenyan craftsmanship (ancient leather and beading skills)
and modern American design, sandals are made in Kenya and sold in stores throughout
California. The idea was to provide jobs for Kenyans so they could support themselves
and their families.
My aim in getting involved with ACF was similar in concept. To help in some small way
children who don't have the same advantages which I and my family have enjoyed. The
needs of the Maasai cannot be solved with handouts. That doesn't mean that we cannot
help. Our solution (which is not original) is that we can only help people to help
themselves as in the long term this is much more effective. We can assist by giving a
"hand up" one person at a time.
Leonard and I believe that education is the key to a better future for Maasai children.
Quality education is often lacking in the Amboseli region or because of the cost is out of
reach for most Maasai families. It is hard to attract teachers to locations that do not have
the facilities to support a modern life; to harsh environments that people outside the tribe
are not used to; often there is no electricity or running water. In addition the salaries paid
are very small. This is why private academies provide a much better curriculum and in
turn a better education.
We believe that with an academy education there is hope and possibility that children will
get the kind of education that enables them to attend high school and beyond. Through
education they will be able to fulfill their dreams the way that Leonard has been able to do.
Amboseli Children's Fund
|Every donation counts: we have no
administrative or overhead fees. All
funds go towards tuition, books &
uniforms. Please give today!