Kenny Mann, co-founder of Acacia Moyo, a non-profit benefiting the Kitengala Maasai of Kenya, recently spoke at the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. Photo by Linda Hull
These Acacia Moyo beaders, Naomi Ikoyo, Sarah Lilapon, and Rispah Lepilal, are the three primary designers in the Olmakau Women’s Beading Cooperative of Kitengela, which includes approximately 30 other women beaders. Photo by Kenny Mann
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
“Preserving the traditional culture of the Kitengala Maasai is a priority,” began Kenny Mann as she spoke to members of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos on August 3rd. To explain the mission of Acacia Moyo, an organization she co-founded in 2018 with Anthony Carlson of Tesuque, Mann first gave a brief background about the Kitengala Maasai.
Living just south of Nairobi National Game Park (NNGP) in Kenya, the Kitengala Maasai, a community of 7,000, are pastoralists, dependent upon livestock and adequate grazing lands for their livelihood. However, “their very existence is threatened by the spreading city (Nairobi) and by abject poverty.” The forced sale of their lands has led to “loss of identity, culture, tradition, and community.” Socio-economic status is based upon the number of cattle a family owns. Maasai without cattle are considered poor; those who sell their land are banished socially from their community.
The loss of land also disturbs the migratory corridors for the wild animals that live within NNGP and move seasonally across Kitengala Maasai lands. As Mann spoke, she showed with photos of the native wildlife, such as zebras and giraffes, interspersed with Maasai cattle and other livestock. She emphasized that the Maasai are “natural conservationists who do not hunt but live peacefully alongside wildlife” and “possess irreplaceable knowledge about each species’ habits.”
In its name, Acacia refers to the “umbrella-shaped thorn tree found all over the African grasslands,” and Moyo means “heart” or “spirit” in Swahili. “It seemed a fitting name,” Mann explained, for working with the Maasai community “to develop sustainable livelihoods in the face of encroaching urbanization, land loss, climate change, and dire poverty.”
Acacia Moyo is dedicated to ensuring that it is “primarily an African organization that will garner steady funding from various entities, fully equipped to support the Kitengala Maasai community, and to foster local staffing through the creation of its own funding resources.”
To secure a base for funding, Acacia Moyo works with the Kitengala Maasai “through marketing available resources, such as the Maasai’s renowned beadwork” and “by training and by developing marketable skills.” Right now, “a team of professional women beaders are starting a beading hub that will serve as a workshop, store, and training center.” In July of 2019 and 2021, artists from the Olmakau Women’s Beading Cooperative of Kitengala were represented at the International Folk Art Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe. It was at IFAM this summer that Rotarian Alison Pannell met Mann and was impressed by the goals of Acacia Moyo.
One goal has been realized this month. “A thriving bee-keeping operation has been initiated, which will take its first harvest of honey this August.” Once given few options but to chop down trees to make and sell charcoal, Kitengala Maasai women are exploring their potential and many different avenues of entrepreneurship.
One of Acacia Moyo’s most enthusiastic supporters is Kitengala Maasai Chief Nickson Parmisa. Not only is Chief Parmisa the highly-regarded, 35-year old community leader who guides his people every day in living in both modern and traditional worlds, but he is also a game ranger. One day, Mann said, Chief Parmisa will be on his cellphone selling cattle on WhatsApp; another day he’ll be adjudicating legal matters. As Mann pointed to one of her photos of the sweeping plains of Athi-Kapiti, she remarked that Parmisa believes it is “a great privilege to have this land to take care of.”
Parmisa also believes it is essential to educate Maasai children and empower Maasai women. In that regard, Acacia Moyo now supports eight girls and one boy, living in a boarding school, during their four years in high school. The school and the education it offers is a “sanctuary for the girls” who are protected from childhood marriages. Parmisa works with the men in the girls’ families to persuade them that education is hugely beneficial to their individual families and to the community at large.
“Kenya is very well-integrated,” explained Mann. “Kenya is rising.” With the help of Acacia Moyo, Mann has good reason to be optimistic.
Kenny Mann was born and raised in Kenya where her parents, Jewish refugees, emigrated from Eastern Europe in 1942. Her family owned a cattle ranch. In 1968, Mann graduated from the University of Nairobi with an undergraduate degree in Zoology, Botany, and Chemistry. She went on to study all aspects of filmmaking at the University of Bristol in southwest England. In 1970, Mann was employed as a researcher and script-writer for a pioneering series of documentary films on animal behavior. She also pursued a career as an independent filmmaker and free-lance science journalist in Germany before moving to the United States. In 1992, Mann earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Manhattan’s progressive Bank Street College, and has since developed curricula for all age groups, authored several books for young readers, made eight documentary films, and taught documentary film-making in the U.S. and in Kenya.
To learn more about the work of Acacia Moyo and the Kitengala Maasai, please go to (www.acaciamoyo.org).
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00, in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course. A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, 505-662-7950. Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service.