Meet the Maasai tribe of rural Kenya. They are a people with a rich cultural history who are making a transition to a more modern way of life.
Education has become a high priority for both boys and girls, and roles for men and women are shifting to be more suitable given their new socio-economic system and the realities of environmental change. Everyone is learning a new way of life, while working hard to preserve the cultural traditions and mores that help define what it means to call oneself Maasai.
The children of the Maasai tribe photographed at school.
To empower the Maasai in building a sustainable future, WE Charity (formerly Free the Children) is supporting the tribe with its holistic international development model, including funding and volunteer support provided through WE’s partnership with RBC.
One of those volunteers is Richard Schaefer, a financial advisor and branch director in RBC Wealth Management’s Tucson office. Schaefer recently represented RBC on an eight-day, hands-on volunteer and cultural-exchange trip to help the Maasai people build a village school in Bogani, Massai Mara.
For Schaefer, his journey to Kenya was in many ways as significant for him as the dramatic transformation the Maasai are undergoing.
“The experience helped broaden me as a global citizen and brought home truths that we all have in common no matter where you come from,” Schaefer says. “Family is most important of all. Education is essential. And helping others can be its own reward.”
Schaefer joined 34 other RBC employees from around the world in the journey to Kenya as winners of the 2017 RBC Global Citizen Award. Created in 2016, the RBC Global Citizen Award program—a partnership between RBC and WE—recognizes and rewards employees who are active volunteers both inside and outside of RBC.
Each award recipient was selected for personifying the RBC Purpose of helping clients thrive and communities prosper. Schaefer was nominated for the award by fellow financial advisor Linda Immerman-Stoffers, who wrote that his “passion and devotion for improving the lives of children in his community and the world is unparalleled.”
In Tucson, Schaefer is involved with eight different non-profit boards and two public agency commissions. He is also an active member of RBC Wealth Management’s Multicultural Employee Alliance and PRIDE employee resource groups.
Schaefer says preparing physically for his journey to Kenya was pretty straightforward, basically getting shots and packing the right gear. However preparing mentally posed more of a challenge.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Schaefer explains. “I was going to a country I had never been before, with a group of people I had never met before and going off into the jungle to do something I’ve never done before.”
While the trip wasn’t Schaefer’s first experience working with other cultures—for example he served as a mentor to a young man from the Tohono O’odham Indian tribe—his immersive experience in Kenya really opened his eyes to how people can be so different, yet so much the same.
“First of all, I have never in my entire life been in such a large group and been a minority in so many ways. As a man, as a Caucasian, as an American and as the oldest,” Schaefer relates. “But everyone accepted me and appreciated me for who I am.”
“We had people from all over the RBC enterprise and from all over the world,” he continues. “It was a cacophony of beautiful accents. These were all hard-working people, every last one of them, who each earned their way there through their volunteerism in their local communities.”
But it was the way his hosts made him feel that may have made the greatest impression on him.
“The genuine happiness of the Maasai people, their welcoming of us and the love they showed us, the way they embraced us,” Schaefer remembers fondly. “We could all learn something from them.”
In addition to serving as a cultural exchange, there was work to be done on this trip. Back-breaking manual labor, to be exact. Schaefer and the other RBC volunteers moved tens of thousands of rocks by hand and mixed and poured more than 200 barrels of concrete to lay the foundation for a school dormitory.
“I’m a very athletic person,” Schaefer declares, “but not as handy a person. I found out I could get the job done – work hard all day and feel the strong satisfaction with what we accomplished as a team.”
Richard Schaefer (fourth from the right, in yellow) and fellow RBC volunteers volunteer in Kenya.
From his firsthand experience, Schaefer can tell you the goal of WE is to give a hand up and not a hand out, and that this goal is working. He can also tell you the volunteers used simple construction tools and methods to help teach the Massai skills they can repeat over and over again in the future with confidence and success.
“The Maasai understand RBC’s deep commitment to the cause and they treated us like honored guests,” Schaefer comments. “They were proud to show us the wells and schools and other progress being made by the tribe with support from RBC and WE.”
“The WE-RBC partnership is having a meaningful impact on their culture,” he explains. “Especially for girls. The clean water now available to them means that women and girls do not need to spend most of the day traveling long distances and carrying heavy jugs of water back to the village.”
“Girls can go to school now – and that is a big improvement for EVERYONE,” Schaefer emphasizes.
Now that the journey is over, Schaefer remains energized by his experience and philosophical about how it helped forever change him.
“Being part of an international group of RBC people opened me to cultures I never experienced,” Schaefer recalls. “It also helped me redouble my commitment to the community –not just donating dollars to worthy causes but really getting involved, giving of yourself.”
Schaefer says he would return to Kenya to work with the Massai people in a heartbeat. “But I would not do it again if it meant someone else could not,” he says. “Because I would not want to take away from others the opportunity to experience it themselves – it is something everyone should have the chance to do.”
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