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The Chicken Challenge!

When my wife and I returned from our four cultural weddings around the world, we were filled with gratitude at how complete strangers had adopted us into their families -- quite literally -- and shown us not just hospitality, but truly opened their hearts to us. 

This was nowhere more true than in the Maasai Mara, where Sekerot and his incredible family hosted us in what was -- as far as we know -- the first "outsider" wedding in over 15 years. It took a great deal of effort on their part. Even more, it took a great deal of trust from them, that we would not exploit the Maasai culture as many others have.

And so, upon our return, knowing the terrible problems the Kenyan people were facing, we asked Sekerot for 3 plans to help his people to become self-sufficient in a way which preserved the Maasai culture: one short-term, one medium, and a long-term plan. 

His answer was clear: a little short-term financial help (which we handled), and for the long-term this website (www.leganishu.com), which, with a visual communications company, was also something which we could provide. In the medium-term, he suggested something slightly more intriguing: If we could somehow get a few hundred chickens, he said, then we can sell the eggs and have enough money (and some extra food!) for the village to survive on. 

We thought this was a great idea ... however, the cost for a cage and the chickens was more than we could send at the moment. So we went to social media: Facebook friends, we asked, how many chickens can you donate at $6 each?!? With our goal stated at $3,000, we didn't really think we'd get far. However ... it was for our new overseas family, and -- although facing our own economic pressures -- we had to do something.

It wasn't long before Kristen sponsored a chicken. Then Ross sent 5. And Dannielle sent another 5. Arturo sent a big check, Raquel committed to 6.6 chickens, and Regan 3.5 as well as Alan, and Tiffany 10, and my trainer Justin 4, and Liv 20, Alice did 50, Aunt C's 17, Marie 7, Juan 8, 10 for Billy and Toni, 20 by Han, 16 from Stacia, 5 from Jenni, 10 by Dena, Bent even gave 10, 20 from Nikol, even 50 from Alice and 80 chickens donated from Eric. Pretty soon, we had 380 chickens committed!

Well, as in all things, having the idea was easier than the end result. Sekerot and the family faced severe inflation, and the prices of chickens soon skyrocketed. In addition, they faced the pressure of a broken-down car that they were unable to fix (and was ultimately lost), plus the government cut school services leaving them even MORE mouths to feed at home. Losing the car also meant that there was no way to transport the chickens and making it much harder to earn money.

In addition to all this, it was far more difficult (and vastly more expensive!) to build a humane coop that would protect the chickens from the heat, the cold, and the lions that roam wild there. (Actually, the hyenas and many other small hunting animals are the largerer threat -- chickens would be but a small snack for a lion).

SIDENOTE: In case you're wondering, Sekerot uses a small generator once-in-a-while to charge his pay-as-you-go cell phone, so that he can SMS (text message) me, which we do weekly. He also travels to Nairobi occasionally and emails me from the internet cafe, although it is a very long journey and more difficult.

So Sekerot found a local expert, and together they planned a safe and healthy coop. By mid-September 2011 he had laid the cement floor -- even though he was fighting to pay the school fees for his children. He had to be patient and wait for good carpenters and builders -- which are in high demand in the Mara -- and also had to wait for the one freelance plumber who goes from lodge-to-lodge to repair things. Yes ... it was tough!

By mid-October Sekerot had bought the hens -- after trying to find them in Machakos and finally buying them in Mulot, keeping them in Narok nearby to de-worm and vaccinate them. He let them destress there for a few days, staying with his uncle. With no car of his own now, he used public transportation to move them -- bit by bit! -- over time. 

At the end of November I received a long update: of the original goal of 380 chickens, our Maasai tribe had near 200 ... some lost due to the stress of transporting them, and some to disease. This I consider an incredible number, considering that the cost of chickens when we started was $3/each (I had built in $3/each towards the coop, calling them $6 on Facebook) ... and the actual cost of chickens due to inflation was $6/each. (The good news there, though, is that the eggs now sell for double also.) Some of the chickens purchased were also cockrels, because each December they are in high demand, and selling them then will in turn result in more hens.

Now that the situation is stable, we will soon send a bit more money that came after the first was sent, and Leganishu can get a few more hens. The tribe has also instituted a savings plan, where 10% of the egg proceeds are set aside for emergencies such as disease or weather damage to the coop, to assure the ongoing success.

For our donors, the final project breakdown is as follows:

$1200 -- 200 hens at $6/ea
$1700 -- chicken house materials and fence
$  300 -- labor for builders
$  360 -- chicken food, feeders, water cans, vaccines and antibiotics
$  150 -- transportation to Leganishu
$  150 -- first month for chicken caretakers ($5/day)

As you can see, it's far more than planned for (and far more than was donated). Fortunately for Sekerot he had some visitors to Leganishu which helped also finance the project.

In the latest news, the Maasai were donated a small engine which can be used to mill corn into flour (a staple food in Kenya), and the remains from the corn are used to feed the hens.

The chickens, as of early November, were at last beginning to produce some eggs after their traumatic journey, and the project is very successfully moving forward! Sekerot plans to assess the success of the project for a time, and, should it be as successful as it seems, help other Maasai in the same way, spreading the ripple of chickens donated via Facebook now from Maasai tribe to Maasai tribe.

And so, to each of you who donated ... thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Your action -- whether as small as giving up that cup of coffee, or large enough to sting, have reverberated quite literally to the other side of the planet, to a small village in the middle of the Maasai Mara. And you have changed lives now, and for a good deal of time to come. Thank you.

For those of you just hearing about The Chicken Challenge, I can only hope there's a seed of inspiration in the story for you. Please share with us, for if we can all each do a little, then big things will happen.

And for our Maasai family, when you find an internet terminal and hopefully see this story: we are so proud of you, and we love you like our own family. You have done great work under tough circumstances, and your honor and friendship means the world to us. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to help, and we look forward to seeing you again soon...

- Saruni (Jason) and Nasieku (April)

PS: Care to see the project yourself, to meet the Maasai, and to see one of the world's last true natural wonders? We're considering a July 2012 trip! Contact us.