“Let your resolve not dissolve.” Will Raso have the resolve to be the next ASSETS?
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go with Ameline, the French A Rocha Kenya volunteer. At the last minute I found out I was visiting a community meeting. I don’t like meetings and community meetings tend to be the worst. I came very close to staying back and snorkeling. But, I could tell, Ameline was counting on me to go. I could see it in her eyes. So, I sucked it up and climbed into the back of the jeep, a Maruti Gypsy. I was immediately taken back to my days in India when I owned the same jeep. I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride. The meeting was with the parents of the “ASSETS” (Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Eco-Tourism Scheme) children. I was told by my host that the ASSETS program was A Rocha Kenya’s flagship community development program. A Rocha, if you recall, is a Christian conservation charity based in 19 countries all over the globe. I was in the Mwamba office in Watamu, Kenya, right on the coast.
Festus Masha, Community Officer and Administrator of the ASSETS program leads the discussion with the ASSETS parents.
The ASSETS program is described as a “targeted sustainable development program”. When I asked what they were targeting, I was told the communities around the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. Both of these locations have unique, and in fact endangered wildlife. Deforestation and poaching is a major threat to the species inhabiting these two locations. But how do you stop people with very little income from cutting trees to sell to provide for their families? You can’t just tell them to stop and you can’t make them understand how they are killing off pretty little birds and rare little rodents. What A Rocha Kenya is finding out is you actually can do these things plus you provide a scholarship to help ease the daily cost of living.
A Rocha staff member Henry Kigen speaks with the parents of the ASSETS.
The scholarship is for their children’s schooling. In this area of Kenya, children get subsidized primary schooling. But the high cost of secondary school fees means only a few families can afford it. In 2000, in the Malindi District (where Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek are located) 92% of children who qualified for secondary school did not attend, largely because of poverty.
A Roch volunteer Ameline Peterschmitt and staff member Patrick Kaunda talk with ASSETS parents.
The sustainable part of this scheme is that the money for the scholarships comes from eco-tourism. Here is how it works – Tourist pay to visit the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek to see the elephants, the rare birds and the endangered Golden Rumped Elephant Shew found nowhere else but in this forest. Part of that money is used to subsidize the ASSETS children, so they can attend school. But to qualify for the scholarship students must live around the two locations, have good grades and attend classes about environmental education. The environmental education helps the children grow up understanding the importance of the forest next door and, so the forest now provides an income for the families without it having to be logged.
A prayer for the ASSETS and the community.
Once we arrived Ameline and Patrick met with the ladies, and I photographed from a few angles, but honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do with a meeting. So, I wandered around and found a few children. At first they seemed leery of the “mzungu” or foreigner. But after a while they warmed up and we played. They all wanted to have their photos made. So, of course, I obliged. They wanted to play school and then they wanted to sing and dance for me. I fell in love. Right then, and there I realized the importance of the ASSETS program and I hoped and in fact prayed that each one of these children would make it into this program. I want to believe that Francis, Love, Mercy, Rehema, Raso and Neema all have a hope for the future.