What has grown to be a religion in India is now changing lives in another part of the globe in wonderful ways - the Maasai community of Laikipia region in Kenya has dropped its spears to work on their bowling, and they’re using cricket not only for building a sense of community, but also to promote healthier lifestyles. They’re on quite a roll, using the sport to empower women and girls in the region, encouraging them think less about marriage at a young age, and also spreading awareness about HIV amongst the tribal youth. The initiative also targets alcohol and substance abuse that has seen a rise amongst the youth, engaging them in conservation activities instead and even building peace amongst rival communities through cricket. They are also campaigning against FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) as a part of their fight for the rights of women.
Those who couldn’t have fathomed how to bowl, or what to do with wickets, seven years ago, attended ‘Last Man Stands’ last year, a global championship event for amateur squads from around the world, that took place at Lord’s cricket ground in the UK, draped in billowing red cloaks and proud colourful beads. The team of young tribesmen that constituted Maasai Cricket Warriors have come a long way indeed, many of them likening the movement of bowling to throwing spears.
All of this was possible thanks to the efforts of Aliya Bauer, a South African woman who was in the Laikipia region working on a primate research program, and found herself constantly missing her favourite sport: cricket.
“I was missing my passion and I just wanted to share it with others,” Bauer, who is now the team’s coach, told CNN. “Cricket is a fabulous medium to build friendships and to engage people in a positive way.”
Determined to bring her love for the game to the community, she took the initiative of bringing over basic cricket equipment from South Africa to hold a trial session outside the Il Polei village chief’s office, inviting anybody who wanted to come. When a couple of kids turned up, she approached the head teacher at the local school and requested for a twice-a-week training session. The enthusiasm and genuine excitement for the new sport soon grew and caught the fancy of some of the young Maasai warriors living nearby, who’d stop by the training ground to observe until they finally decided to pick up the bat themselves.
”It was the first time to see this kind of a game because in Kenya cricket is not famous,” said team captain Sonyanga Weblen Ole Ngais. “At that time it was more like just fun, but when we went on playing and training, we found out that we were starting to love the game.”
”Bowling, it wasn’t hard for us,”
explained the formidably built captain. “I can relate it to the cultural way, the Maasai way, the way we throw the spear,” he adds. “We are pastoralists, we keep animals and sometimes you encounter a wild animal, so if you throw the spear trying to protect yourself from the wild animal, then that’s just (like) bowling.”
Despite the lack of infrastructure - such as a lack of funding, facilities and constant participation, the team has persevered and gone on to participate in several competitions, both local and international. The team today includes 24 players, mostly from the Il Polei and the nearby Endana village. Combining community engagement with the spread of awareness of pertinent issues in the best possible way, the Maasai Cricket Warriors seem like they’re in it for the long haul and Aliya Bauer confesses that it would be her ‘dream’ to produce a player from the team who would one day bowl for Kenya internationally, with her short-term goal aiming to introduce cricket development to more schools in the area for positive change.
Some of the team’s social initiatives are captured in “Warriors,” a documentary directed by Barney Douglas, with James Anderson having come on board as Executive Producer to support the cricket team that’s pushing for social change in a really interesting way