Born Free, Again - Page 3

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Steve Jermanok jumping at school to show manhood
FOLLOWING MASAI TRADITION: The author jumps at the Olopkidongoe School to show his manhood  (Stephen Jermanok)

Another 15-minute drive down a bumpy road from Chief Manie's homestead takes us to Olopkidongoe School, a day and boarding school for children through grade eight. Funded by the FOC partially from money made at Olonana, more than 600 boys and girls are educated on farming, conservation, and HIV prevention, along with their regular school work. Taught in English, many of these students will continue their education at some of the best high schools in the country after scoring high marks on entrance exams. For young women in particular, this contrasts the customary Maasai lifestyle of becoming teenage mothers seemingly destined to a life of poverty.

Headmaster Caleb Kaparlo leads us into a recently constructed blue building that now houses 120 of the girls who board overnight. He notes that it wasn't just Jorie and Geoffrey Kent who have encouraged the education of young Maasai women, but also the clients they take into the bush.

"This building was paid for entirely by a woman from America who wanted to help any way she could. She gave us a check for $55,000," says Kaparlo.

Throughout our trip, we noticed several buses of Kenyan children on field trips viewing the wildlife. Seeing the lions, leopards, and baby elephants scamper across this tranquil terrain can only serve to develop a youth culture that will continue to champion conservation.

Haji Ogle, who spent the bulk of his life working for the Kenya Wildlife Service battling poachers in the bush, still has his concerns. He worries about mass tourism and would like the number of visitors to the park each day to be limited by a national government agency, not the local county council that runs the reserve now. Yet he insists that the Masai Mara be open to everyone, keeping the admission price at a reasonable 500 Kenya Schillings or $6.25 U.S. for adult residents of the country. He is also uneasy about the growth of large wheat farms that are encroaching on the land from the east, yet he can't help but remain optimistic.

"Coming from where I was and where I am today, this is one of the enterprises that has been a success," say Ogle. "Kenyan conservation is now widespread."

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