Ithaca Child - Spring 2001
By GLYNIS HART
The weather in Kenya is warm, from an average of 80F in port city
Mombasa to 65° in Nairobi, 5500 feet above sea level. All the storybook zoo animals
-elephants, rhinos, lions, zebra, giraffes, wildebeest-roam the high savannas
this equatorial country that touches Indian Ocean. Africa draws the Western explorer
with the promise of a land more ancient and more raw than our own, as if we saw
in its giant beasts a second coming of wilderness, and as if by visiting "the
dark continent' we could re-enter a world where sea and dodos, woolly mammoths
and saber-toothed tigers have not yet been extinguished.
The Africans don't quite see it like that. Their rapidly growing
populations are mostly bound for the city, seeking escape from subsistence farming
to lifestyles less toilsome and uncertain. In Kenya the government maintains numerous
parks and conservation areas to protect the game animals, but the great appreciators
of these animals are mostly Western tourists. Few African children have ever seen
a lion or an elephant. As a rule, Africans do not toss the kids and a few sleeping
bags, fishing poles and spears in the car and head for the parks on their days
However, if the TV screen's glimpse of the great beasts in their
high, hot grasslands seems too small; if you long to hear strange and beautiful
languages in an open market while you shop for vividly printed cloth or exotic
fruits: if you only want to see for yourself what you've heard about your whole
life, you can go to Africa and build connections between the land and its people
at the same time.
Take Anne Loehr, for example. "You may leave Ithaca but the Ithaca values never
leave you," she explains. "We went out to Kenya to run hotels, originally, but
we adopted 'Giving Back to the Community' as our motto." Anne, a native Ithacan
and her husband, a native Kenyan, moved gradually out of the hotel business into
an endeavor called Eco-resorts which offers, naturally enough, eco-tourism. The
Eco-resorts partners also offer Hospitality Management Services, which work with
resorts that have alternative energy or waste treatment arrangements, or that
use indigenous materials in their camps or lodges.
Anne's outfit poses questions: "'Does the community have a percentage
of the property? Are the indigenous people hired there or trained?' Our goal is
to make the indigenous people stakeholders in preserving their natural resources.
Ideally," she says, "we want both community involvement and ecologically sustainable
The organization' s methods let tourists form real connections
to the places they visit. A percentage of their safari fees will be spent directly
in the community, for libraries, schools, an orphanage or other projects. "The
response we got after we started this approach was unbelievable." Anne says. "The
guests were so attached to the community! You can't just live out there and not
Thus, Eco-resorts offer "Masai" safaris which let visitors camp
with local tribal people or stay in village homes. "Your meals will be solid,
basic meals," Anne explains, "quite often based on traditional tribal fare such
as ugali, rice with a bean and vegetable stew, or perhaps fish and coconut sauce
if you are on the coast. You may be cooking at times and showers will be cold!"
On this travel itinerary, visitors share work with the villagers
on coconut plantations. They trek through the forest seeking a glimpse of the
Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew, the Scops Owl or Sokoke Pipit - species that live
only in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest. Native guides help the newcomer explore Watamu
Marine Park and Masai Mara National Park.
Those who don't feel up for cold showers can sign up for the "Elephant"
safaris, where "no luxury is left unexplored." This trip takes in Amboseli National
Park where community conservationists are working to diversify the traditional
Masai pastoral economy with wildlife husbandry. The Elephant safaris offer unique
experiences in areas inaccessible to cars, such as horseback riding through giraffe
and zebra herds or camel trekking with Samburu warriors. Between these and the
Masai safaris, several different packages mix and match cultural and natural explorations,
to suit the budget and the spirit of the traveler.
Africa for Africans
Each of the three Eco-resorts partners has a community project that receives a
percentage of the organization's profits. Anne is secretary of the Children of
the Rising Sun Home, an orphanage started in 1994. In Africa, the loss of one
parent, through divorce or death, can reduce a family to desperation. The children
in the home were fending for themselves, on the streets, before they came here.
Now, they are working toward self-sufficiency, hoping that the addition of a farm
and woodcarving shop will some day support the home. In the meantime, electricity
and more toilets would be nice!
On Earth Day 2000, Eco-resorts organized a snorkeling trip for
orphanage children. According to Watamu's marine biologist, Richard Bennett, "We
had 17 kids and the matron on board. Our boat captain was having problems as he
had what appeared to be thousands of laughing, excited children roaming all over
the boat. We managed to get the kids to sit down as we motored our way to the
Coral Gardens, but sitting gave them the opportunity to delve through the mask
and snorkel bag. I have never seen people wear masks over their ears or facing
backwards before! Once we were moored at the Gardens, the fun really started!
Seven kids were fine, they got into the water, mask the right way around, and
snorkeled away quite happily. The other kids all jumped overboard, including the
ones who didn't know how to swim! We threw them back on board the boat but at
least two immediately jumped over again. I don't think they've had so much fun
The kids are also hoping to go on safari this year. Last year,
Eco-resorts patrons sponsored ten children on a trip to Tsavo National Park. Four
of them shared their experiences with Ithaca Child. The following comments are
taken from letters they wrote themselves in English:
- Robert Njuguna: "We left home around 6:20am, and it took us
four hours to reach the main gate. The journey was long and interesting. In fact,
this was my first exciting sight I have ever seen before. My favorite animal was
a lion which passed majestically just ten centimetres in front of the car. I was
very scared but I took a deep breath to calm my heartbeat. The tour was glamorous
and beatitude [sic]. I was very thankful to the sponsors. May the power of the
highest be with them."
- Shadrack Fundi: "The first animal to spot was a zebra, a single
one. The plain was covered with slight tall brown grass [so] that I could not
see rabbit family easily. The day passed quickly as lightning as the time was
occupied by excitement and that we had learned a lot at the end of the day. At
night we could hear some birds singing joyfully and some animals were roaming
about. Since we were too tired we could not do anything else except sleeping.
The night appeared to be very short as the climate was favourable. The next day
we went on to discover many things. It can be very wonderful if we can ever have
Because funding was not available for all the children to go on
safari, the home had chart competitions so that the children who did best in school
work and behavior won the chance to go.
- Peter Kilonzo: "We have been doing charts competitions like
the recently one we did. I am among the ten orphans who were sponsored by Mr.
and Mrs. John. The morning was very chilly when we set off. My heart was full
of gratitude and excitement when we were saying goodbye to our friends. When we
reached our destination, we waited for Anne Loehr to go in and pay the tickets.
When she came, she came with a game ranger. Soon he let us go in. We start by
seeing zebras. My favourite animal was elephants and lions which I wish to save
for many years. The one thing which surprised me was the lion which passed just
ten centimetres away from the car. We came across two elephants. They were crossing
the road but when they hear a car coming they refused to cross. The one who sponsored
us took the elephant's photo."
"It was so great for the welcome we were given. We stayed two
days and one night. We sleep at a place called 'sobocamb' where the Turtle Bay
visitors sleep. We sleep each room two pupils. There were some elephants buffalo
and hyena. We were afraid of elephants and other dangerous animals. We thought
it was a dream because it was my first journey to visit a place like that. May
Almighty God accomplish my dream to be a tour leader."
- William Fonde: "We are 28 children, 23 boys and five girls,
five workers. We have four buildings and one dog black colour, six goats, rabbits,
hens. The youngest boy he is in nursery while the oldest boy he is in Form One
and he is about 17 years old. Only two boys are Form One.
On 30th 8 [sic] this year we have safari to Tsavo National Park.
It was my first time to be in a park and I really enjoyed that day because I saw
almost all animals, birds. One buffalo was killed by the king lion near the road.
I wish to have another chance to visit a park again."
"It's part of our mission to build bridges of cultural understanding,"
Anne says. As these children grow and study they seem destined to become great
bridge-builders themselves, learning to love their beautiful country as they learn
to love and value themselves. You can help with donations of cash, material, time,
ideas or labor. As Shadrack writes: "My life in orphanage has been lovelier than
you can imagine."
Glynis Hart thanks William, Peter, Shadrack and Robert for
their wonderful letters.
Ready to go? To learn more about Eco-resorts, visit the
Web site eco.resorts.com or contact Anne Loehr: email@example.com or at Hospitality
Management Services, P.O. Box 120, Watamu, Kenya. You can write her about Children
of the Rising Sun Home at the same address.