THE BACK STORY
It's really fascinating to look back and try to pinpoint the exact moment when something began, when various currents in the air formed a confluence of ideas, an unstoppable synergy. So it was with Acacia Moyo.
For many years, I had heard the name Anthony Carlson in one respect or another, but I had never met him. To me, he was just another person in the global Kenyan diaspora. But one day in 2017, he called me and invited me to visit him at his home in Santa Fe, NM. And so I did. We found an immediate rapport with one another, a delightful echo of yearning to get back to Kenya one way or another. I learned that Anthony had spent many years there as a teenager, had returned as an adult and had, at one point, rented a room in my mother's house in Nairobi! He came to know her quite well, and to respect the work she was doing with various groups of African women.
I told Anthony that my brother Oscar - whom he had met in Kenya - owns some land in Kitengela. Since 2008, when violent tribal conflicts caused many foreign entities to flee the country, a compound of several buildings originally constructed by an American university has sat abandoned and rotting before our very eyes. Ever since then, I have been racking my brains for ideas on how to rescue the compound and put it to use. Gradually, the idea of working with the Maasai community in Kitengela began to take shape. I had already known 39-year-old Assistant Chief Nickson Parmisa for several years, and count him as a wise
and trustworthy friend. I was absolutely certain that he would make the best
possible partner in our endeavor, not only as a chief but also as a government official who could help to pave our way through all the legalities we would face.
Assistant Chief Nickson Parmisa Photo: Daniel Quat Photography
What if we raised enough money to buy the compound and turn it into an exciting new learning center? Not a traditional school, but a holistic campus and technology demonstration center where the local community could not only learn new, marketable skills, but could also develop their own income-producing projects and businesses as entrepreneurs. This way, we hoped to prevent the disastrous sale of land and by so doing, to protect not only the community and its livestock, but also the abundant wildlife in the area and the land itself.
The Acacia Moyo/TWF Campus in Kitengela
Just as we were feeling despondent about our ability to raise over $300,000 for the land, we received some astounding news from Ed Loosli, Chairman of The Wildllife Foundation (TWF) in Kenya. One of their board members was providing the funds to buy and refurbish the entire compound for TWF, but they were more than willing to give us an office space there and to allow us the use of the compound as time and their commitments permit. And thus was born our partnership with TWF.
At the same time, Chief Parmisa allowed us the use of two acres of his land for
our initial project - the community vegetable garden. Not only that, but we learned that Parmisa had, of his own initiative, started his own vegetable garden, complete with a solar-powered deep water pump, and was already marketing the surplus to the community! Traditionally, the Maasai have never grown their own food, but lived on meat, milk and the blood of their cattle. Now that their very survival is at stake and they are no longer nomadic, they must learn how to grow, harvest and prepare new kinds of food. Parmisa's effort in this direction is just another example of his extraordinary foresight and leadership.
For us, it was as though a veil had been lifted! Our ideas were no longer
abstractions seeking somewhere to land, but could take concrete shape in what we now call the Acacia Moyo/TWF Campus and the Acacia Moyo/Parmisa Campus.
We decided that we would bring Parmisa to Santa Fe for a week of talks and fund-raising. Having set our dates for July 11 - 15th, we then realized that they coincided with Santa Fe's renowned annual International Folk Art Market. This sheer coincidence would provide us with many opportunities to make connections, find partnerships and promote Acacia Moyo. We took full advantage of it, going on a "walk-about" through the Market and in town with Chief Parmisa in all his chiefly arraignment. Needless to say, he attracted an enormous amount of attention. After all, how often do you see a 6' 5" Maasai chief in a bright red shuka strolling through your town square?
On our walk-about, Parmisa met Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize-winning founder of microfinancing.
Of course, many people wanted to have their photographs taken with Chief Parmisa. African people are suspicious of photos as there is some belief that it removes part of your soul...and who knows, maybe they are right! The greater concern, however, is that someone will make money off those photos and none of that profit will trickle down to the subject being photographed. With a stroke of genius dreamed up by our informal consultant Charles Hoy, we decided that anyone who wanted to take a picture of Parmisa had to ask him first why he was in Santa Fe. This brilliant strategy led to many fun and informative conversations, some intriguing questions and hopefully a great many postings on FB and Instagram!
Things are moving fast. If you would like to receive our newsletter with
a full report on the week in Santa Fe and more events to come, please sign up HERE.
We urgently need funds so that Anthony and I can visit Kenya this year to start setting up Acacia Moyo. We need to complete legalities for our Kenya NGO; to spend time with Parmisa and the community leaders he has chosen to work with us to receive their input and suggestions; to identify local corporate and individual partners; to identify experts who are willing to bring their expertise to the campus; and to purchase the necessary start-up equipment for our office and the community garden. For this entire phase, our initial goal is only $45,000.
If you would like to make a tax-deductable donation, please do so HERE. You will be taken to NETWORKFORGOOD, the fundraising platform of our fiscal sponsor, the Creative Visions Foundation in Los Angeles, CA.
Please do let us hear your comments, ideas, suggestions - anything at all that you would like to share with us HERE. We want your opinions!