Ex-guide feeds tourism workers who lost jobs

Nelson ole Reyia, 46, is feeding 5,000 people whose livelihood in tourism has dried up in Narok County in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Reyia, the founder of Oldarpoi Mara Camp and his wife Margaret, have been supplying foodstuff to villagers on the Nashulai conservancy in the last two months.

Mr Reiya, a former tour guide and a college lecturer, says he embarked on the initiative after tourism sector, Mara’s mainstay, nosedived in mid-March following a ban on flights as a measure to control the spread of Covid-19.

Twice every month, each household gets eight kilos of sifted wheat flour, two kilos of sugar, a kilo of cooking fat and two kilos of beans, all amounting to Sh2,000 per family.

Through online appeals, Mr Reyia got help from tourism partners, friends and used his own savings to run the feeding programme.

The families can’t sell livestock, their alternative livelihood, after the government banned all open air and livestock markets across the county to stop the spread of the virus. “Many of these families depend on tourism proceeds from Maasai Mara. Women used to sell beads at the gates to the Mara, families depend on payment of land lease fees for conservancies, many youths are employed in hotels in the reserve but these have been shattered by the pandemic since there are no tourists coming,” said Mr Reyia.

Kenya last year attracted 2.4 million tourists, earning Sh163 billion. About 70 to 80 per cent visit the country to watch wildlife and go on game safaris in the Maasai Mara, the lifeline for many households in the region.

“We pay Sh6.8 million annually to our members as leases to their land. With no tourists coming, the community was being in great danger of starvation,’’ he added.

On his online fundraising, Mr Reyia is targeting one million dollars (Sh107 million) a month to keep feeding the community for at least six months.

Mr Reyia says he has received aid from tourism partners including AVAAZ, a global network fighting for community rights and social justice.

Others are Trolltech, a Norwegian foundation on wildlife monitoring and a Swedish organisation that supports children and friends.

“We’ve also done online fundraising and on social media, we’ll continue with these efforts until the pandemic is contained,” Mr Reiya said.

Tourism source markets such as China and Italy have been the worst hit by the virus that has infected 4.4 million people and claimed more than 240,000 in the world.

“This community neighbours the famous Maasai Mara game reserve. Eighty percent of households in this area solely depend on proceeds from tourism as a source of their livelihoods. They are either drivers, tour guides, workers in hotels or sell beads to tourists. All these people are now at home with nothing to feed their families,” Mr Reyia explained.

Joyce Moniko, a bead craftswoman, is one of the families that have taken a beating from the effects of the coronavirus.

“I used to earn between Sh2,000 and Sh5,000 daily from selling Maasai beadwork and other ornaments. Without visitors anymore, we’ve had to stay at home,’’ the mother of four said. Ms Moniko’s stock is lying at home and her family, like hundreds of others in the village, are now living off aid and relief food from well-wishers.

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