Conservation is about more than keeping animals safe – it’s also about protecting the people living alongside those animals. Here, Program Manager Luke Mamaai discusses our recent efforts to help keep local community members safe from COVID.
Here in the Amboseli ecosystem, COVID is on the rise – we are seeing many cases, and unfortunately, many deaths. So the team at Lion Guardians saw the need to support vaccination to reduce the impact on our communities. Last month, we organized a vaccination clinic for our Guardians, and were able to get 35 Guardians their first jabs (see the timelapse video below).
But we wanted to help others in the community protect themselves, including the vulnerable elderly population, so we hired a nurse from a local hospital, procured doses of the vaccine, and began to visit communities across the three group ranches where we work. The first thing we noticed was the rumors and misinformation about the vaccine. A senior elder approached me and said “Luka, is it true that the vaccine will sterilize a man?” I told him absolutely not – and that I had already gotten my first and second jabs – but that we should get advice from the nurse. The nurse took her time to explain the safety and importance of the vaccine among the general public, especially among older people.
After some discussion, the longest-lived elder in the entire Eselenkei Group Ranch, who is 102 years old, said “I will be the first to be vaccinated.” The old man, Olekisikon, stated “May almighty God bless the work of Lion Guardians for considering and thinking about us, and for helping our people and culture thrive.” His words changed the demeanor of the entire crowd, and many people were willing to receive the vaccine. The many years that we have spent building trust in the communities have paid off in people’s willingness to trust us and accept our help. In all, we vaccinated more than 500 community members during these clinics, and we are planning more vaccination clinics to provide second doses and additional first doses (update as of November 22: we’ve now vaccinated about 1,500 community members!).
One moment that stood out in the process was that I had registered my mother-in-law for the vaccination clinic, and since she has a lot of respect for me, she sounded ready and happy to be vaccinated. Early the morning of vaccination, she told her family she was going to collect firewood, and left home. I asked a friend to ride to her village and get her, but upon reaching the village, he was told that some women had gone to hide in the nearby bush because they were afraid of being vaccinated. My mother-in-law has since returned, and has said that she will get the jab during our next clinic. While we recognize the critical importance of vaccination, we will ensure that community members like my mother-in-law have the information – and the time – they need to make the decision.
We are proud to have helped many people get protection from COVID, but we continue to have more work to do. We appreciate the donors that have helped provide these services, and the facilitators that have worked to make them happen in rural places far from large hospitals. Truly, thank you for helping protect our communities.