Sagalla Sisters’ Take On Sagalla Lodge
Text by International Intern, Kat Finck
“It will be extremely important that everyone arrives on time,” Esther Serem, the project officer for the Mlambeni Ndovu Women’s Enterprise Center, adamantly told the girls a day before departing for Sagalla Lodge.
The next morning on December 30th, the first girls promptly arrived at five in the morning–three hours ahead of schedule.
For the Sagalla Girls Club —a group of girls that participate in a new mentorship program lead by Esther Serem —this was their first trip to Sagalla Lodge, a wildlife and conservation hotel located 2km off the Mombasa highway and between Kenya’s Tsavo East and West National Parks. Despite the lodge’s proximity to where the girls live, none have ever had the chance or even the thought to visit.
In Sagalla, most farmers rely on income from a handful of subsistence crops. During drought years, families often can’t afford their childrens’ school fees, and as a result, many young students don’t have the chance to go to secondary school or even consider higher education. Studies show that in Kenya when girls miss school, it increases the likelihood of teenage pregnancy and, later in adulthood, leads to low employment rates and few opportunities for better paying jobs.
The mutual connection between conservation and support for young women has become an integral part of The Elephants and Bees Project and its efforts to foster peaceful coexistence between humans and elephants.
This connection was even more clear after the onset of the pandemic, when women in the community reached out to The Elephants and Bees Project to see if they could help provide sanitary towels for their daughters, which they agreed to do. With limited savings and drastically reduced incomes, many farmers faced mounting financial pressures and were unable to prioritize reproductive health supplies for their daughters. As the pandemic escalated and schools remained closed, Kenya experienced a surge in sexual abuse and unintended pregnancies. Restrictions on movement further compounded this issue, making it harder for girls to gain access to already limited contraceptives and family planning services. It was during this time that The Sagalla Girls Club was created: a mentorship program to encourage reproductive health conversations.
After the initial success of a three month pilot program led by Esther, it became clear that these gatherings were beneficial not only to the girls of Sagalla, but also to the future of conservation. Many studies show that giving young women the tools to determine the size of their own families has several environmental benefits; smaller families reduce the stress on a country’s resources, and wildlife.
More recently, these meetings have expanded beyond the realm of reproductive health to include conservation and future career opportunities. Over Christmas break, the girls met again at the Women’s Enterprise Center. The focus this time was on light hearted games designed to boost self-confidence and encourage thoughtful conversations about local conservation efforts.
Camille leads the primary school girls in a stretch before a competitive game of “Elephants and Bees” during one of the December holiday meetings. Photo: Kat Finck
Although the games were a success, one question kept surfacing: how could the girls envision a future outside their villages without direct exposure to potential career paths and working individuals? Using a generous donation, we decided to plan a day for the girls to visit Sagalla Lodge.
Dressed in brilliant colours, the girls began arriving one by one in their best outfits for this special occasion. The day began with confidence building activities that guided the girls to speak with confidence, boldly articulate their names and understand the importance of being heard. We discussed the significance of appreciating nature, and taught them about Wangari Muta Maathai, the first East African woman to obtain a PhD, and the first African to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her reforestation project. After this short lesson, the girls spent time drafting questions for the women employees they would later meet.
At the lodge, the girls were invited to join a nature walk tour where they had the opportunities to observe the skulls of an oryx and Thompson’s gazelle, as well as the lower jaw of an elephant. They also had a chance to analyze and track Tsavo cat footprints, spot local birds and compare those species to the images found in their guide books.
(L):One of the girls matches footprints from her guidebook to the ones seen on the ground at Sagalla Lodge. (R): The girls listen to and spot birds on the nature walk tour. Photo: Camille Morales
(L):Delvan Mwambole points out various bird species during one of the nature walk tours around the premises. (R): Delvan Mwambole shows the girls several animal skulls that have been preserved for visitors. Photos: Kat Finck
The second part of this trip allotted time for the girls to speak with and ask questions to some of the lodge’s women employees. Many of their questions emphasized the logistical challenges of applying for such jobs. They were also curious about how these women overcame the fear of leaving their villages and applying for such unknown environments. By speaking with these women, the girls were able to learn of their shared backgrounds; one of the employees spoke of her upbringing in a rural town with a single mother. She expressed the importance of working hard in school and chasing the things you want to achieve in life.
They also spoke with David, the manager of the lodge, who fervently spoke of dreams. He expressed the importance of envisioning a future today and focusing on what you love. “Start being busy” he exclaimed.
After lunch, everyone eagerly gathered for a tour to see the inside of a hotel room —a first for all of them. At the end of the day, the girls packed onto the bus, exhausted from a full day of activities and new sights.
(L):The girls peek inside one of the hotel rooms at Sagala Lodge. (R): The girls meet with one of the women representatives at Sagala Lodge. Photos: Kat Finck
“It was a trip I will never forget,” one girl wrote in her final reflection.
The future of elephants lies in the belief that their existence is valuable. Long term protection of both elephants and subsistence farmers will require future generations of women leaders to support efforts that create innovative solutions for peaceful co-existence. This begins with exposure to different experiences and ways of seeing and tending to the natural world. Inviting the girls to experience a day at Sagalla Lodge was an important first step in facilitating greater exposure to future career options and personal choices. To protect our environment and conserve its natural resources is to inspire women to believe they belong in the field of conservation or whatever industry they choose.
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The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants