On a family trip to Tanzania, high school librarian Paula Busey became acquainted with Samwel Melami Langidare Mollel, a Maasai warrior who spoke five languages. The high school educator arranged for Melami to guest teach at her Colorado school in an educational exchange that drew the attention of National Geographic, which honored Busey and Melami as 2012 Travelers of the Year.
In 2009, Busey and her family were “lucky enough” to go on a safari in Tanzania. Their guide, Melami (above), taught Busey’s family about wildlife, the Maasai tribe, and the challenges they face, along with aspects of ethnobotany learned from his father, a healer.
“Over the course of the week I realized he was an amazing educator,” says Busey, and she thought it would be wonderful for him to come speak with her students. Her principal at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, CO, supported the plan.
Busey and the students in the community service group had previously raised funds, by selling jewelry, to support micro-businesses in Malawi. They then tackled the $2,000 fundraising goal to bring Melami over.
In April 2010, Melami “spent a solid week teaching hundreds of kids in our school,” says Busey. He geared his lectures toward the existing school curriculum and opening students’ eyes to the culture and problems of the tribal people in Tanzania.
“Our science teachers were looking at water issues” in class, said Busey, who was among 15 named to National Geographic’s roster of 2012 Travelers of the Year, “boundary breakers, who explore the world with passion and purpose, inspiring others to expand their horizons, ask big questions and seek new answers,” according to the site. “Of course, Samwel had a lot to say about this in terms of wildlife and the sustainability of the Maasai’s pastoral lifestyle.”
He also spoke to the students about Maasai customs, the prevalence of malaria and other fly-borne illnesses, since most Maasai do not like to use sleeping nets, according to Busey, and the challenges to women, in particular, around establishing sustainable incomes.
The school yearbook staff sponsored a second Colorado visit for Melami in 2011. This time, he visited more schools, from alternative facilities serving at-risk students to those in affluent suburban areas. He connected with everyone equally, says Busey.
During that visit, “we talked to Samwel about doing a school-wide project” to raise money for the Maasai, Busey says. He told her about a new school near Arusha, Tanzania, that had good classrooms but an unsanitary kitchen.
Through a Maasai festival at the school, Busey and students raised $13,000 to build a better kitchen for the school, working in partnership with an NGO.
The students would like to have Melami back again, but it’s a long trip, and he’s very busy these days, Busey says.
Melami is building a safari business owned and operated by Maasai–one that he hopes will be economically sustainable, with all profits going to the tribe.