Narok is a village residing on the mouth of the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Narok is the last stop before Kenya’s most visited National Park, where thousands of tourists casually take their last stretch before the long winding, gravel road into the Mara. Tourists are also able to visit and buy crafts from some of the locals, who happen to be about as famous as the park that rests to the south of them: the Maasai tribe.
James Ole Sankan was born in Narok, Kenya. He was too young to remember the traffic of tourists; additionally, instead of venturing into the Mara, he remembered the Mara always surrounding him. He was located 15 km out of town in a rural area called Olkeri, where he was constantly warding off local vermin—elephants, baboons, giraffes, lions, and snakes. He grew up part of a loving Maasai family, though they lived without several things. Electricity was one thing that never existed. His school lacked many basic resources, as he attended elementary school in a run-down, open-air building. Access to water was only found as he closed his eyes at night and water appeared in his dreams. In fact, depending on the location of your house and the school, members of the community could spend hours every single day walking to gather water. They did this under the heat of the hot Africa sun melting their skin, while layers of dust settled generously on their skin.
James’s parents decided to leave the hardships of Kenya in search of the American dream. They headed to America, knowing only how to speak Maa and Swahili. With wide eyes and unlimited heart full of dedication, James’s family began to live out their dreams. As a result, James recently earned his JD and practices law in Philadelphia specializing in Immigration law.
However, as fulfilling as the American dream was to James, he still felt the undeniable attachment to his country and his people. He knew there was more that he needed to do. Twenty-five years later, James returned to his hometown to live out the dream he used to experience as a child.
His idea was to start a nonprofit that focused on providing access to water to the community around Olkeri and the school he attended as a child. James thought: if families and school children could save all the time they used on gathering water, perhaps they could focus more on their farms and economic livelihoods.
Thus, The Shepherd’s Village began.
James and his Kenyan-at-heart sister, Tara Rava Zolnikov, began changing the setting in Narok, Kenya. As a research scientist who worked on various water issues with the Kenya Red Cross, Tara felt that this issue was also one close to her heart. So, they began as every nonprofit does–with an idea and high moral. Throughout the years, they raised enough money to put their goals to action. They dug one well, equipped with solar and electric pumps, to provide water to 30 families and one school (approximately 300 students). Then, they began piping the water throughout the community; they have set up 10 personal taps, which offers water to individual households. Now, they are currently piping water to a second school, which will provide water for 400 students. This is the school that James attended as a child.
They also started a 5-acre farm, which uses water-saving drip irrigation techniques from the well. This farm has grown rapidly and includes various fruit trees: bananas, mangos, apples, and oranges. The farm has now expanded to 25 acres. Additionally, there are 10 cattle on the land, who are able to drink water in order to ensure adequate health and nutrition. This expansion of water usage beyond household needs was to provide evidence of economic growth capabilities within the community. James wanted to provide evidence that Narok, Kenya was as fruitful as America! And to date, the farm and the cattle are growing daily and are being attended only by local Maasai community members.
The Shepherd’s Village started off as a dream and has since expanded to a reality, complete with water, farming, and ranching. The Shepherd’s Village wants to expand access to water further into the community, to eventually include more schools and more personal households. James and Tara believe that this is the best way to ensure long-term economic gains and growth as well as positive health outcomes in the area.