That he stands out walking along Middle Avenue in Menlo Park, Sabore Ole Oyie does not dispute — and it’s not just because he’s tall. A Maasai warrior, Sabore wears traditional red Maasai robes and carries a hand-made, wooden weapon, although lion encounters aren’t the risk they are in his native Kenya.
Sabore is here for three months staying with Menlo Park resident Therese Hjelm, who he first met in 2008, and her parents. As he has in the past, he is speaking at local schools where he talks about his journey to becoming a Maasai warrior and also raising money to build 400 wells for the Ewaso Nyiro region of Kenya. The latter is being accomplished through a partnership he and Therese formed with Blue Planet Network, a San Francisco-based non-profit focused on water issues.
Wells not only provide clean drinking water for village residents, they also free up girls from walking long distances with their mothers to collect water, giving them the opportunity to attend school. The amount raised to date is $80,000. (Wells cost about $25,000 each.)
Education has been a focus of Sabore’s life. The first of 17 children, he is a high school graduate who speaks English along with his native language, Kiswahili, and his village language, Maa.
“Being the eldest of a large family, it’s not often that your father can let you go to school,” he says. “If something happened to him, I would be in charge of raising the family. But my grandmother was my advocate, convincing my father to let me go to school, for eight years in the village and then at a missionary school for high school.”
Becoming a warrior is another educational avenue. “We have three stages in life — childhood, warrior and elder,” he explains. “Warriors are soldiers in the Maasai tradition; they protect the community.”
Sabore says local school children are curious about his clothes and what living in Kenya is like. “I tell them stories,” he says. “We believe that we came from the sky with the cows, and all the cows in the world are ours.
“We don’t hunt. We drink blood from cows. It’s an alternative to killing the livestock.”
Sabore describes being in Menlo Park as “quiet.” “The whole community is quiet,” he says. “But the people are also curious, asking ‘What are you doing here? How can I help?’ They are nice and generous people.”
Donations to Sabore’s well project can be made online via Blue Planet Network.
Photo by Scott R. Kline