Koiyaki Guiding School was the brainchild of two Maasai men from the Maasai Mara area, Dixon Kaelo and Jackson Looseiya, and myself; the idea being to put the guiding industry in Maa-speaking areas of Kenya in the hands of the local people. By doing this we felt that these community wildlife areas outside the National Parks would benefit from employing members of the local communities so that they had a slice of the tourism cake.
In 2003 I applied to the European Union for funding to build a school on Koiyaki Group Ranch to teach – amongst other skills – ecology, wildlife management, communication, first aid, mechanical and maintenance skills, and at the end students would be awarded the Bronze KPSGA (Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association) certificate.
With initial funding from the European Union Biodiversity Conservation Programme and another organisation called Tusk, the school buildings were completed in 2005. Tourism companies and tourists were encouraged to contribute bursaries to individuals to complete these courses. The school’s first intake was in March that year as the buildings were being completed, and the school became a reality, its uniform traditional shukas. We employed an administrator and two lecturers, the latter having been sent to South Africa to complete the first and second courses with FGASA (The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa), mentored by Eco Training, a reputable organisation specialising in guide training.
The school’s annual intake of students first completed a year’s course which included every aspect of guiding: Students were required to be Maasai from the area, to have a C in English and a general D+ from their high school, prior to application. These applicants were then required to sit a multiple choice exam of which the 30 students with the highest grades were selected for interview, of which 25 were then selected for the annual courses.
The courses were split into three terms with a seven week summer break which was used to place students with safari companies as an internship. Those that passed the Koiyaki School Guiding Course could then work in the field for three years before being eligible to sit their Silver KPSGA certificate.
In 2006 the school obtained additional funding by way of a grant from the Tourism Trust Fund of the European Union to build a Wilderness Camp adjacent to the school which would act as a facility for in-house training. The Wilderness Camp was leased to a commercial organisation and the rent accrued covered 50% of the budget to run the school, with the remaining 50% coming from donations. To date approximately 200 students have graduated from the school and are working mainly in the Maasai Mara as professional safari guides. However, some are in Laikipia, Samburu, the Chyulus and even Tanzania. Koiyaki Guiding School is currently negotiating to come under the umbrella of Masai Mara University.
In many Maasai communities women have been marginalised when it comes to education. However the Koiyaki Guiding School has always encouraged young women to apply. Betty Nayiandi Maitai was the first Maasai woman to qualify in 2006.
When interviewed by the guiding school she clearly stood out as a confident character and today she is a senior driver-guide at Sir Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri Camp in Motoroki Conservancy, one of the community conservancies bordering the Maasai Mara Reserve. Betty has even been written up in Susie Cazenoves book Legendary Safari Guides. Approximately 32 girls have passed through the school to date.
For more information visit: www.tusk.org/koiyaki-guide-school
“The school has sent the right message to our grassroots communities on how to look after the wildlife and its habitats through creating qualified guides who can now compete for jobs in a competitive tourism industry. The education that has been acquired from the school has opened more doors for future Maasai generations, which is what the world economy is all about. Education is the best way forward for the Maasai people who are proud of their history and culture but who, again, have to adapt as the world changes and less land is available for people to make a living from cattle.” (Jackson Looseyia, Rekero Camp)