Nairobi — One would imagine three young beautiful women to the wilderness that is the Maasai Mara are on holiday or a retreat, but Samah Shalaby, the reigning Miss Egypt, Susan Ajaa Alaak (Miss Sudan) and their host Fiona Konchellah, the Miss Kenya 2009, made the trip in the name of conservation.
“It is what we have to do to promote a better life in society. You realise that the need for conserving the environment cuts across the age divide, and it’s important we are involved,” said Ms Konchellah.
More than 1,000 people descended on the Olchorro Oiroruwa Conservancy for the Kenya Airways Mara Marathon, aimed at conserving wildlife, promoting education and improving sanitation and water access for the Maasai community of about 12,000 living in the area.
Significantly, the marathon organisers are also concerned about the white rhino, a rare animal on the brink of extinction. Understandably, a drop in tourists visiting the destination would translate into a drop in business for the national carrier, Kenya Airways.
It is this, together with efforts to conserve the Mau Forest — the source of Mara River on which animals in the Maasai Mara rely on for water — that the beauties are concerned about.
“You realise most of the water in Lake Victoria comes from the Mau Forest. The lake is the main source of the Nile, the river that sustains life in Egypt.
That is why I’m here, to help conserve the Nile,” said Shalaby, the 24-year-old Miss Egypt, who works in a bank.
On her part Kenya’s Ms Konchellah is using her Green Youth Initiative to make the Maasai to appreciate the importance of conservation and reduce the conflict pitting animals against humans over scarce resources in the vast wilderness.
“The whole idea is to address the cause, which is found in Mau, and that is why we intend to plant trees in the Mau. But over here, it is crucial the people realise they need to conserve the animals and accept to live together and reap the benefits from tourism,” said Konchellah.
Hotels like Fair Mont Mara Safari Club have established lodges in the tranquil wild to attract the tourists and have incorporated the community in the management.
Munene Ngotho, the hotel general manager: “Both Maasai and wildlife extract their living from the Mara,” he said.
John Konchellah, the Maasai Mara Race director, said: “The three girls represent what is mainly the Nile Basin. We were also expecting Miss Ethiopia, but she was held up, and was not able to come.”
The target is the Mau Forest, which is the source of Mara River, that for years has been able to attract both the animals and human to quench their thirst from the scotching sun.
“It is this demand for survival that triggers the animals to cross the Mara River, providing food to the crocodiles, and causing the eighth wonder of the world,” said Ms Konchellah.
Together with her colleagues from Egypt and Sudan, she is aiming at planting over 1.5 million trees in the Mau Forest and teaches her local community on the values of environmental conservation.
The event gave the athletes an opportunity to race with the animals crossing their paths severally. The Girls also danced and raced with other Maasai women and embraced their culture and styles.
“It is important we fit in their culture. This way, it is easy to convince them about our goals,” said Ms Konchellah.