40,000 acres of privacy
A stone-built paradise on a rocky hill — think The
For Cheatham and McIntire, though, the first adventure they want to go on is to hop in a 4×4 and traverse the rough dirt tracks to visit a local primary school, mobile clinic and a manyatta (or village). Timothy ole Mosiany, operations manager, is our guide. A member of the Maasai community, he explains the Ol Lentille Trust’s model of community-based conservation tourism. “The Ol Lentille Conservancy was initiated by the local community together with the African Wildlife Foundation about 15 years ago. Before then, the conservation area used to be a grazing land for the local community who are the owners of the land.”The tourism facility at the Sanctuary came a couple of years later, in 2007. “So the community are benefiting from doing conservation, improving their land as well as doing the tourism business.”
Meeting the locals
We arrive at Nkiloriti school in the glorious sunshine of mid-morning. The huge blue skies are dotted with cotton-wool clouds and the red-sweatered children are strolling around or sitting in the shade of an acacia tree. Goats wander blithely around the grounds. It’s a picturesque scene, but the children have walked as much as 10 kilometers to get here.Many pupils won’t have made it here today at all. It’s mid-March and the rainy season has still to arrive. The prolonged drought has meant children are needed at home to fetch water or look after livestock. Cheatham and McIntire meet with the teachers and children and distribute fresh supplies of notebooks and stationery. The school was built by the Ol Lentille Trust and the trust also covers the teachers’ salaries. A mobile clinic is making its monthly visit to the community and a crowd is patiently waiting to be seen. The trust has “been able to build a 24-bed hospital for our local community, where we had none existing,” explains ole Mosiany.
The mobile clinic visits once a month. Maureen O’Hare/CNN
Making a difference
As a physiatrist, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, it’s a subject close to Cheatham’s heart. Only about 2% of active medical doctors in the US are black women and her path to get there wasn’t easy. “I graduated from high school seven months pregnant,” she explains.
There is no water or electricity here in these simple huts, but there are solar panels on the roof so the villagers can charge their cell phones. Phones are the community’s way of keeping in touch with their relatives who have traveled to Nairobi and beyond for higher education.”Being a descendant of a slave and then getting to come home and see people who look like you [and] welcome you into their community… ,” reflects Cheatham. “People don’t talk about privilege a lot. I consider myself, at some level, having privilege, being that I’m well educated and have seen so many different things and have been able to expose my children to so many different things. These children don’t get that,” she says. “For them to be able to see me, I think meant a lot to them because, generally, tourists don’t look like me when they get to see them. I hope it was a blessing for them. I know it was a blessing for me.”
The village children enjoy posing for the cameras. Maureen O’Hare/CNN
The trust is partly funded by profits from the sanctuary and from donations by visitors. “Most of our guests are thoughtful, intelligent people,” says Elias. “We show them problems and their response to that is, ‘how can I help?’ We’ve been able over the last eight years to put about $5.5 million worth of investments into this community.”What they offer at Ol Lentille, he says, is “experiential travel. This is not about ticking off the big five mammals in a big game park somewhere. “This is about giving a depth of understanding of how a totally different people live, how they make their livelihoods, what the structures of families are, what does it mean to be a Maasai or a Samburu.”
‘Amazed by every moment’
Cheatham and McIntire still have a few relaxing days ahead, of sundowners and bush dinners and wildlife-spotting. It’s not their first time on the continent and it won’t be their last. Says sanctuary director Elias, “I freely admit that I’ve got ‘the Africa bug’ and a lot of people catch it.”People who’ve got it