EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 16, 2013

Wi-Fi, snow make lasting impression

Maasai warrior brings final leg of journey to Merrimack Valley

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — After a month-long visit to the U.S., a warrior in the Kenyan Maasai tribe stumbled over his attempt at explaining some of his biggest take-aways from the experience — the power of Wi-Fi and the sensation of snow on his hands.

“John” Kilenyi Parsitau said the only Internet access in his native Intashart is obtained by satellite and electricity is so rare the closest charger for the five cell phones in his village of 5,000 people is 17 miles away.

Coming to a place as technologically advanced as the U.S. has been eye-opening, Parsitau told a group gathered at the Andover Senior Center yesterday.

“Everywhere you go, there’s what you call Wi-Fi, which is to me something amazing,” he said. “A set of networks where you can always access your email from the air ... traveling on a plane, on the street, on a road. I can’t compare it.”

Parsitau, a community social worker, and Chief “Joseph” Ole Tipanko spent the last month touring the U.S. to raise money for MAGSA-OUTREACH. The organization provides funding and support to allow children in and around their village to go to school as well as opportunities, particularly for young girls, to avoid the many social inequalities facing them in Africa, Parsitau said.

Following stops in such places as Colorado, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and New York, the two men arrived in the Merrimack Valley over the weekend. In addition to visiting Andover, they also dropped by North Andover Middle School yesterday and are scheduled to stop off at a Lawrence school in the coming days before heading home.

Along with raising awareness about their culture and answering questions about life in Africa, the men have also been selling beaded jewelry to support their cause, Parsitau said.

“If I get $20, it will enable me to buy school supplies like books, pens and, sometimes, even a pair of shoes for a school-grade kid,” Parsitau said. “This money, all the resources, all the support we get here, we take it to be a life changer. We have 54 girls who are in a scholarship program. The funds we’re able to raise here will sustain the girls in school.”

The men’s trip in Andover was organized through Andover Youth Services, which previously bought Tipanko to Andover in December 2010. They stayed in the home of a resident with ties to the Intashart village, according to Andover Youth Services community outreach manager David Tanklefsky.

Tanklefsky said young people stand to gain a lot from the interactions with the Maasai warriors.

“It’s really eye-opening for students to be like, ‘Wow, not everybody has the luxuries that we take for granted,’” he said. “It’s a really cool way for them to see there’s a much broader world out there.”

The feeling is mutual. Ask Parsitau to describe the first time he picked up a snowball in Denver and he’ll tell you he felt chills run through him.

“They made snowballs for me. And they gave me one, and I couldn’t hold it because it was too cold for me,” he said. “It was going through my bones.”

Parsitau said he’ll return home with considerable support for his community and his organization’s projects from various groups across the U.S.

“The reception has been very positive,” he said.