How a ground-breaking Kenyan re-wilding project has brought joy to one young man – and an entire community.
Is a name chosen to match the child? Or does a child grow into its name? Either way, the infectious smile and warmth radiating off Lekipa – ‘Happier’ in Maasai – suggests he couldn’t have been more appropriately named.
Lekipa works at House in the Wild, a boutique eco-lodge on Kenya’s pioneering Enonkishu Conservancy. But, having grown up nearby, his connection with owners Tarquin and Lippa goes back a long way.
“Tarquin has always been at the heart of the community,” Lekipa recalls. “I used to see this crazy white guy racing around on his motorbike when I was herding cattle as a boy. He and Lippa used to be farmers, growing maize and beans – this was an intensive farming area years back, it looked very different.
“Back then he rented our family shamba (garden) along the river, and got talking to my Dad. I was the youngest of seven, and my Dad was struggling to pay for my secondary level schooling. So Tarquin paid. He probably doesn’t even remember, as I wasn’t the only one he supported. I remember though. He has done so much for so many families in the village. He and Lippa have built classrooms, dormitories and toilets. If elephants turn up in the village, we WhatsApp Tarquin and he sends rangers to move them on. There is a lot of respect for them; lots of families have called their children Tarquin … my uncles son is called Tarquin!”
Going back 12 years, there were clearly a lot of human-wildlife conflict issues – elephants were destroying the crops and big cats were killing livestock. Wildlife was often seen as the enemy. “Even then Tarquin used to come into our school and talk to us about the importance of wildlife. After school my friends and I used to hunt – for dik-diks, wild dogs and rabbits – and he used to tell us off! Lots of people wanted the vision that he and Lippa had for the area to be realised, but it was still very scary. Now, years later, seeing my friends herding cattle, with wildlife sharing the same land and seeing the benefit of the wildlife is amazing.
“I did my certificate of secondary education during covid. After this, Tarquin gave me a job working on a new road up to a house they are building. I worked on the road for a year – I wanted to show my thanks and prove I was a hard worker. After this Lippa offered me a job at the lodge, which was a dream for me, although I had no experience. Lippa said: I know you can do it, and I believe in you – be positive and believe in yourself. Sometimes just knowing other people believe in you helps give you the trust to believe in yourself.
“I was a garden boy initially and then I started to follow the front-of-house team to see how they talked to guests. I started to deliver food and work in the bar. A while ago, when we had important guests at one of the private homes, Lippa said she’d like me to be part of the team taking care of them. I was so proud.
“I watch what everyone does and copy everything that I think is good. I get Purity to show me how to chop and bake and cook. I just love learning, and being part of such a great team – if I don’t know something, I can ask the others.
“Lots of people who work at the lodge used to work on the farm before. Lippa and Tarquin have taught them about tourism and given them new and better jobs. Without tourism I would have ended up in Nairobi. But instead I live on site and the land I look out on is wild and beautiful; the air I breathe is the same air my parents breathe.”
And what could make a person Happier than that?