One of the nominees for this year’s inaugural RISE AFRICA Innovation Award, Samwel ‘Brown’ Lengalai is a proud Samburu and a popular guide at Loisaba Tented Camp, part of Elewana Collection. We sat down pitchside with Samwel during this year’s We Are Africa for a quick chat about his journey into tourism and his role as an ambassador between tourism activities and the community in Kenya.

Could you tell us a bit about your journey into the tourism industry? How did you end up working at Loisaba Tented Camp?

They knew me from when I was very young; they spotted me at school. When I finished high school, I wanted to go into marketing, but instead I received an informal apprenticeship in tourism. I started in the kitchen for a couple of months, then I was a barman, then pool attendant…I rotated a lot, and learned a lot of things about the industry that way. From there, I decided that I really wanted to be a guide, so they paid for me to do my guiding exam in Nairobi. The examiners can ask you questions about anywhere within Kenya – from the botanic name of animals to the kind of rocks on the land. It was the first time I’d ever gone to do an exam, but I did really well. There are three levels: bronze, silver and gold. I passed bronze; three years later I got my silver; and now I’m working towards getting my gold. Today, I really enjoy being a guide – it’s the perfect job for me.

In addition to guiding, I know you also work a lot with the local community. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, exactly – we are trying to educate the community in several different ways. For example, we want to teach them to not only depend upon keeping animals for a living, but to engage in different activities – showing them that they can start a business rather than keeping cows. We are also trying to create small businesses for women around the village, which gives them a lot of income and means they can cater for family life.

I’ve heard a lot this week about women and children as the keepers of the community, and the importance of getting them involved in community conservation efforts. How are you going about achieving this?

We might choose a topic that will help with long-term change – for example, early marriages to girls of 12 or 14, or female circumcision – and instead encourage them to take girls to school. We’re really focusing on these kind of things.

Has that been challenging?

In the past it has been a challenge; but each time we go there, we’re getting closer to achieving our goals and it gets easier. The community might not understand everything we want them to at the moment, but we’re doing a lot to make sure they know exactly why we’re talking about all of these things. We’re trying to get people to understand the importance of their country. It is very important. This is your home. You should not destroy it. So when you look at Loisaba, we’re developing a really strong-knit relationship with the community and in turn, they’re giving us a lot of support.

Do you think it comes down to convincing people in the community of the long-term value of protecting land and investing in education?

If you go to Loisaba, it’s really a special place. We tried to show them how Loisaba is important – to them and to the many elephants that migrate across the ranch, but also to the entire world. The land is there for the conservation of humans and wildlife. We’ve also introduced a very good system with regards to grazing, whereby we have an agreement with the community that there will be proper help for them in times of draught, and then they only graze for a certain number of months in one section and then another section, rather than destroying the whole land. However, you can see the difference between the community land, where there is no grass, and the conservancy land, where there is grass – so now that they’ve seen the benefits, they are going to follow what we’re putting in place. So it’s actually working and there’s a great big benefit for everyone.

John Segar

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