Feb. 23, 2004 – One year after a Maasai warrior enlisted the help of schoolchildren on St. John to help build a well for his village in Kenya, he returned to thank them for their efforts and to show them the results.
During a three-day visit, Kakuta Hamisi called on dozens of children from the two public schools and two of the private ones on the island. He showed slides of the work being done at the Merrueshi Primary School being built in Maasailand, Kenya. Last year students from Julius E. Sprauve School raised $10,000 to help buy components for a well to supply water for the school.
"Now we have a school. The classrooms are also furnished with desks, blackboards and everything … And again, this all happened because of your help," Kakuta said on Monday.
He explained to groups of students seated quietly in the rehearsal space at the St. John School of the Arts that at the same time they were raising funds to help with construction of the well, another project was under way — to raise funds for the school itself. Merrueshi now has five classrooms and a teachers' dormitory, he said.
The well was built with the help of a visiting contractor and the elders of Maasailand. It enabled the village to supply the school with enough water for preparation of a mid-day meal and for clean hands and faces for students and teachers. It has eliminated the need for students or their parents to walk 10 miles to fetch two gallons of water at a time from what had been the well nearest the school.
Each family with a child in the school was required to contribute 10 liters, or about two and a half gallons, of water each week to assist in meal preparation. According to information on a Web site created by the Maasailand Association, students at Merrueshi also were required to bring three pieces of firewood for the school, located about a hundred miles southeast of Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
Kakuta told the students on Monday how the presence of the well is making life better not only for the school, but for the surrounding community.
Now, he said, local women walk a mile, instead of 15 miles, to draw water for their daily use. People from neighboring villages have access to the well, too, and herders tending cows and goats now find troughs of water waiting to refresh their animals.
"This water definitely has made a significant change," Kakuta said. "It improves the health of our community. It improves our standard of living. We have more food. When the cattle are healthy, that means everybody has more food."
He continued: "Our main source of income is cows. We can sell the cows and get more money, which will allow us to send our children to school, buy clothes and buy food and so forth. So it really changes the life of every person in that community."
Last year at a similar gathering, students from Sprauve School and the private Coral Bay School listened to Kakuta tell stories about his people and the rites of passage for young men who were similar in age his listeners. He also talked about how the tribe was leaving its ancient way of life as wandering herders and hunters to settle down in a designated homeland. And he told how his family sold cattle to pay for his visit to the United States, where he began his college studies in the state of Washington. (See "St. John old ways are today's ways in Maasailand".)
Soon after that, school officials, encouraged by Christina Kessler, a local author who had lived in Africa, decided to help the JESS students launch various class initiatives to raise money for the well project.
To offer his thanks, the Maasai warrior is on St. John for two days. His schedule includes visits with children at Guy Benjamin and Pine Peace Schools. He also is inviting the public to join him Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the School of the Arts, where he'll give a talk about the progress being made back home in Maasailand.
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