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Maasai Warrior Wows St. John Rotary Club

Feb. 8, 2008 — Clad in the ruby robes of his Maasai tribe, Kukuta Ole Maimai Hamisi wove a spell Friday as he talked about life in his remote village of Merrueshi, located in the southern part of Kenya.
"Cows hold the highest value," he said, addressing the more than two dozen Rotary Club of St. John members and guests who attended the weekly meeting at the Westin Resort and Villas Beach Cafe.
Hamisi is connected to St. John through residents Kristina and Joe Kessler, who fostered a project with Julius E. Sprauve School that resulted in the students raising $25,000 for a well in Hamisi's village.
He currently lives in Merrueshi, but is wrapping up work at a master's degree in development at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt. Hamisi holds a bachelor's degree in political economy from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
On St. John he brought residents up to date on the efforts of the Maasai Association, a non-profit organization based in Medina, Wash., he founded to help the Maasai. The area gets no help from development organizations other than his, although other aid groups work extensively all over Kenya, Hamisi said.
In 2005, a drought killed more than 60 percent of the Maasai people's cows, causing terrible hardship. Since the Maasai are not very familiar with money, the Maasai Association bought a cow for some of the people whose cows died.
"The first offspring went back to the organization," he said, indicating the first young cows then went to other families. The cow's second offspring was the family's to keep or sell as they saw fit.
"It was absolutely effective, and lifted the family out of poverty," Hamisi said.
Education is a priority, but poverty is the barrier. It costs a family $120 a year to send a child to school.
"That's a lot of money for a family that depends on cows and goats," Hamisi said. Most of the students go to boarding school because the villages are so far away.
Hamisi's organization recently built a health center, which is still empty because it doesn't have equipment and staff. The group hopes to hire a registered nurse full time and have a doctor come in twice a week.
Maternity care is a priority for the health center because the nearest hospital is nearly 50 miles away. Women and their babies have died because they couldn't get to the hospital, Hamisi said.
Change is coming to his village: A road will go through the area a little more than a half-mile away.
"That's a growing worry," Hamisi said.
With the coming of the road, it's even more important to get the health clinic operational to prevent and treat diseases that might come with increased traffic to the village, he said. The village's remoteness has saved it from the extensive HIV/AIDS problem suffered in other African locations, but no area is untouched by this problem, he said.
Hamisi also spoke about problems involved in installing water pipelines.
"We used PVC pipe, but the zebras learned to dig it up and bite it," he said. The zebras listen to the water flowing through the pipe to locate it, which necessitated a return to metal pipe.
The recent political unrest in Kenya has had almost no impact on his village other than occasional difficulties in getting supplies, Hamisi said.
To learn more about the Maasai Association, visit maasai-association.org.
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