My first trip to Angama was just one month after I was hired and to say it was overwhelming is an understatement. I tried to spend time in every department, which meant spending late nights protecting guests with the askaris and early mornings pulling from the oven the biggest baking trays you’ve ever seen.
When not weeding in the Shamba or folding sheets in the laundry, I spent as much time with Azei as possible. I made it my mission to be his shadow for as long as I could keep up with him (which, admittedly, wasn’t very long). His job would take him to all three points of the Mara Triangle and back again in a day, and there I was enjoying the ride and the warm welcome he received everywhere he went.
On one of these occasions, I was completely ignorant of where we were headed — armed with just a camera and a notebook — but if Azei was going, that was good enough for me. As he swerved through the cattle, dogs and potholes, Azei told me about the Maasai Education Centre (MEC) / The Style Hotel School. Founded by The Style Foundation, a Dutch organisation created in hope of creating a sustainable economy in Maasailand, Angama has provided several internships to MEC students with a number of graduates gaining employment at the lodge, while the Foundation has helped build facilities and donated beds.
The MEC opened in August 2014 and has seen a great number of Maasai enter largely unskilled and unemployed, only to leave with a diploma, work experience and a head filled with attainable dreams. They teach a variety of year-long courses in tourism and business studies, hotel and catering, and human resource management. The teaching style is highly specialised to each student's talents and passions, as well as to the Maasai people, with elders even coming to teach traditions and culture, “because it’s important to know your roots”, as The Style Foundation Chairwoman, Mariska Appelman, says.
We arrived at the MEC and Azei strode forth into the clamour of proud parents, grandparents and great grandparents, with me in tow. Every colour under the sun made an appearance in the dresses and suits of the crowd. The typical black graduation robes seen the world-over, were unrecognisable as the graduates walked to their seats, bejewelled with beautiful beaded necklaces, bracelets, and headdresses, all handmade with love by family members.
The ceremony was unlike any I had previously seen, with a Maasai elder blessing the students with cow’s milk and with songs sung by all in attendance. It was a very happy day and one of high emotion. I was in tears for a fair bit of it of course, but the flood gates opened when the valedictorian gave the final speech. In congratulating his classmates he said, “Dreams don’t become reality through magic, but by hard work. We have done the hard work, now it is time to realise our dreams”.
Speaking to the graduates after the ceremony, I came to understand that for many of them, their dream is being able to make their way in the working world, help support their parents and families, and contribute positively to their communities. This is exactly the vision laid out by the MEC. One of my proudest moments as part of the Angama family, that day gave me a new appreciation for the value of tradition and what it means in a modern and ever-changing world.
Filed under: Giving Back
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