At first glance, the name seems like that of just another team from just another cricket league. Warriors, Kings, Chargers are after all hyperboles given to teams in today’s Twenty20 age. Little do most cricket fans know that ‘warriors’ is just a factual name of this extraordinary team of cricketers from Laikipia North in Kenya, for their tribe is actually that of fighters with a history of battles in East Africa.
Sport has been known to dissolve boundaries, resurrect lives and bond communities, but it has been ages since we’re hearing a story of cricket – a craze just in the sub-continent – doing social good in Africa. And this story lies miles away from the shiny lights of cash-rich cricket leagues and glamour of the game.
In the summer of 2007, a month after Kenya’s average show and expected ouster at the Cricket World Cup 2007, Aliya Bauer, a naturalist, sports management consultant and qualified cricket coach decided to introduce the game to the Maasai peoples of Mukogodo, Kenya. The motive of this intriguing move was to drive the existing interest and passion for the game to bring about social change – the community had (and still is, to an extent) traditionally been plagued with issues such as gender discrimination, alcohol and substance abuse and alarming health disorders including AIDS.
For people who have been semi-nomadic farmers and hunters since centuries and haven’t let go of their ethnic lifestyle since, this was positioned as a chance to develop their personalities and improve life-skills, and it eventually did. The tribal youth took this up as eagerly as Kallis latches on to a low full-toss and as their games, practice sessions and competitions began to unravel, its social repercussions too began to take shape.
For perhaps the first time in the history of this community of 8 lakh-plus people, education was promoted actively. Then came along the awareness of one’s own health, life-skills and the dangers of at-risk behaviours. Gender discrimination was talked about, truths about conserving their rich environment were brought up and of course, amidst all this, some exciting cricket matches were played. In December 2011, four years after sustained efforts and countless games within jungles came the first big laurel – the ICC appointed the Warriors as ambassadors of Think Wise, their AIDS awareness programme. Incredibly, one of the integral characters of this stupendous story was the white woman from South Africa, Aliya Bauer.
Like for all community-driven projects that begin at grass roots, there is no pre-decided ‘end’, it is the pay-offs of the process and in this case, the joy of the game too, that keeps driving the project ahead. The Masaai Cricket Warriors today organise cricket safaris in nature reserves (they play in all glory of their traditional gear!) and showcase their new, improved life and lifestyle to visitors. They might never make it to their national team or to a World Cup, but the change they see among themselves already means the world to them.
(Image Courtesy: http://www.france24.com)