Homeland: Growing Up Beyond the End of the Road
Raphael Leshore was a Moran and is now a young elder in his village in the remote region of Samburu, Kenya. He’s also a Christian with a unique opportunity to share Jesus with his community.
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Raphael Leshore has lived his entire life in the remote region of Samburu, Kenya. As a child, he walked for a day and a half—one way—to his boarding school, where he was introduced to Jesus. He spent his youth protecting his community as a Moran warrior and is now a young elder in his village (as well as a World Concern staff member), giving him a unique opportunity to share his faith and disciple other Morans and members of his community, whom he knows so well.
Homeland: Growing Up Beyond the End of the Road
Cathy: Welcome to the End of the Road podcast. My name is Cathy and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. Buckle up, we're going to The End of the Road.
Cathy: Our guest today is Raphael Leshore and he is joining us from his home in Samburu, Kenya. Raphael is part of the World Concern team there, and he has lived his entire life in Samburu. I'm really excited to have him on the podcast today because we've talked a little bit about Samburu before, but I'm excited to take our listeners another level deeper into this part of the world. It's a very remote, hard to reach part of the world and Raphael's going to give us a glimpse into the Samburu way of life, the culture there, and the people there. Raphael, thank you so much for joining us today.
Raphael Leshore: You're welcome.
Cathy: Tell us briefly where you are right now. You're not in the office, you're actually outside. Describe the area where you are right now.
Raphael: Yes, Cathy, I'm now in my home village that is where I was brought up. I was born and I am outside office and this is the area I know well, and I have decided to take our viewers, or our listeners, to the village I was brought up for the interview.
Cathy: How long did it take you to drive from the office out to the village today?
Raphael: Yes, it has taken us 45 minutes from our office in Wamba to our village. That is where I am now.
Cathy: As I recall, because I've been to Samburu myself, there are no roads for most of that 45-minute drive. It's just out into the bush and the dirt. Is that right?
Raphael: Yes. That's very true. Road is very, very rough and at least we try to maneuver because we are used to it. That is why at least we have managed to get where I am now. The roads are very rough, but again, we are used to it.
Cathy: Raphael, you grew up in this area. Tell us a little bit about your childhood, you're one of how many children in your family?
Raphael: Yes. I'm from a family of eight children and I'm the second born and this is our village. Among us, there are few siblings in my family that have gone to school. The others are not yet going to school. I'm a person who was brought up in a pastoralist area, that is people who moved from one place looking for pastures in order for their livestock. So, I'm used to this kind of life, and this is the way we have been brought up. But I can say I'm also one of the privileged child that has been blessed by God, because I've went to school among as many people who have not gotten the opportunity.
Cathy: That is an incredible opportunity and likely the ability for you to go to school led to not only you being able to work with World Concern and have a job, and earn an income, other than raising animals, which I assume is what your father did for your family to survive. You mentioned it's a pastoralist community there. So, people raise animals and spend their days looking for land for the animals to graze, and looking for water and that sort of thing. But your life has been different because you were able to go to school. How old were you when you started to go to school?
Raphael: Yes, I was around eight years old when I joined the school. It's normal practice for pastoralist child to join the school very late because initially they sometimes keep the stages of pre-primary school, that is now we call it nursery, and I joined at around eight-years old to grade one. I skipped pre-primary because of, I was a bit old, so I joined when I was almost the expected age of a child joining the school.
Cathy: Okay. So you were around eight years old when you started school, and I remember you telling me that you went to a boarding school away from home. How far was your school from your home?
Raphael: I joined my primary school that is grade one to eight. From where I am seated here is hundred kilometers from here – one hundred kilometers from where I am now.
Cathy: Okay. So as an eight-year-old boy, how did you get to school that was a hundred kilometers away?
Raphael: The school I was is boarding school. That is, we used to go to join the boarding school because we can't be able to be walking every morning to a very, very far places. Yes, there were very few schools around my village, but they are not that good. We wanted a place that we will not be affected by this movement of pasture release or migration. So, we wanted to have some settlement because when you are in school, and as a pastoralist child, you'll be affected by that migration every now and then. So, the reason why I joined this school that is very far, because only available school that can be accommodating student or peoples who will be spending in boarding school.
Cathy: So did you, did someone drive you or did you walk when it was time for you to go to school at the boarding school? How did you get to the school?
Raphael: Okay. In our school calendar in a year we have around three terms, that is, after three months we come back home and after one month for holiday, we go back to school by walking. That is by foot. So, during our time there's no means even motorbike. That is motorbike transport, not even public transport there's no..., we were walking and we used to spend around one to two days in between the school and home. And until one time we used to get that walking that we only use one day. So, we used to walk all the time. That is from grade one to grade eight.
Cathy: Okay. So let me just clarify this for the listeners from grade one to grade eight you would walk for a day, or a day and a half, or two days, 100 kilometers to get to your boarding school at the beginning and the end of each term. I assume you're walking maybe with some other children, would you just sleep outside, or what would you do if it took you two days to get to school?
Raphael: Yes. We were a group of many children around here. We were ten, and at least that was the advantage of us going together around ten boys. And I mean, 10 boys, we didn't have any girls because girls that they will not be able to cope with that situation. So we were only boys of around ten. So we moved together. We agree which time we will be having when the school is open. And whenever we spend in between the school Samburus are very accommodative in terms of any visitor or even the people around there. So, they will accommodate us knowing that is our nature of life. And as our school student, they know our problem, our challenges. So, we will not be having a challenge of where we sleep. We sleep just any other Samburu home, or a village we call it manyatta. So we didn't have any problem in where we can spend.
Cathy: So, families would just invite you in to spend the night with them and sleep in their homes because the Samburu people are very welcoming and they would take care of you and feed you, and have you sleep in their homes. You mentioned that the homes are called manyattas. I remember seeing those homes when I was there. Describe the home that you lived in as a child, was it like one of those dome-shaped huts with a real low ceiling, and just describe what your childhood home looked like.
Raphael: Okay. When I say home, or manyatta, in our case, that is a kind of a domed structure that is semi-permanent build of local materials, but it is not permanent because of our issue of movement of migration of pasture release. So, it is just a kind of a semi-permanent house built by some few poly and local materials of acacia and other trees. So, it's not that house you are thinking of maybe is a big house or a permanent house. So, that is what you call our houses, and that the nature of pastoral, that is Samburu.
Cathy: I was very impressed when I was there because I met a young mother who was with her children. And I asked her who built the structure, the house that she was living in, and she said she had built it herself, and it was quite sturdy. It was built with sticks, and like you said, the Acacia tree, the wood from the Acacia tree and other materials that she was able to gather around her home, and it was bigger. I'm going to say for our listeners, it was probably about 20 feet by 10 feet. I was just really impressed with her ability to build that structure herself. I could not have done that myself, but she was very proud of her home that she had constructed herself.
Raphael: Well, yes, in our culture, that is women... they used to build houses. And for many visitors they used to think men will be responsible for building houses, but in our culture the women are the one who are supposed to build houses. And the men are responsible for maybe taking care of livestock, building the manyatta that is now the outside compound and fence. So, for women, that is their work according to Samburu culture, because we believe that is a woman who knows how to make a house looks like in terms of the shape, and even the structure.
Cathy: Interesting. The women there that I met are very strong. They have incredible endurance. They walk a long distance every day to get water, prepare food for their families, to take care of the children, and, as you said, to even construct their own homes, and as you mentioned in a pastoralist society where you're moving around quite a bit, oftentimes they probably have to deconstruct that home and then rebuild again in the new location. So, I was really, really impressed with the strength of the women in Samburu.
Raphael: Yeah. They are very, very hard working and, at least for some people, they wonder how... They usually in court say that Samburu men are a bit lazy because they just see them sitting down there without maybe helping the women. But they are very, very hard-working women, as you have said.
Cathy: Yes, yes. Both. I would say everyone I met there works very hard. It is a difficult place, I imagine, to raise a family and continuous challenges such as accessing water and fields for the animals to graze in and finding those things. So, it sounds like it's a pretty continuous challenge there. Raphael, I want to take, take us back to your school days real quick. So, it was at the boarding school that you went to that you were first introduced to Jesus and to Christianity, is that correct?
Raphael: Yeah, that is true.
Cathy: Okay. So, in Samburu culture not very many people are Christians and they have different belief systems there, more traditional beliefs, but when you went to school, you learned about God, and how did that change your life?
Raphael: The belief system in Samburu..., the belief of Christian is still very low in terms of percentage. It's only through schools that people get to know the Jesus Christ and know the Christianity, because why we come from, Samburu used to believe there's a supernatural being called Nkai, and that is where they believe that is god around the mountain rivers. But, every child that joined the school, that is where they introduced to Christianity, that is in Jesus. And that is where you'll be taken through what you call PPI's (Pastoral Program Instruction) that is pastoral for this school, joining children. So I can say the school has opened my eyes and even introduced me to Christ because that is why I've been taught to know many different things apart what I've been learning from home.
Cathy: Very good. And how has your faith in God, in Jesus, how has that changed your life?
Raphael: Well, it has changed my life truly because it's only through the prayer I was having and believing myself and even not thinking about the life. That is why I gained hope, because after taking through the bible lesson and during Sunday school..., because we used to join Sunday school even when we were a very big age, because we have not been introduced Sunday school at early age. So, that one has changed my life about the belief system, about the religion, because we only used to know the god of Samburu until we were introduced through the school system that there is a God through God, through Jesus, and it has changed our life in many ways, because at least many things has happened because the faith we have developed after joining the school, at least it has born some fruits.
Cathy: You said something that really caught my attention. You said, "that is where I gained hope," and I would say that one thing I experienced in Samburu was that many people were living without hope. I imagine that you would like to share the hope of Christ with other people in Samburu.
Raphael: Yeah. Hope is something that goes hand in hand with faith, and for Samburu maybe what they used to believe is that there's some more [inaudible], but you don't have many hope because we have so many challenges around us. We have conflict around, we have diseases, many things, but after joining the Christianity-introducing school, and I realize that there's something that you can hope for as we pray God. And I can say for other people, if they continue spreading the same faith to others and spreading the Christianity many people will know God and their life will get better as they struggle in their normal way of life.
Cathy: Interesting. I know one of World Concern's primary goals is to not just help people change their lives, improve their lives in practical, physical ways such as having income and food and water and those sorts of things, education, but also to transform lives spiritually by introducing people to the gospel and to Jesus. So, I think it's really amazing that God obviously had a plan for your life and brought you to school so that you could be introduced to him, and now have that opportunity to share with others.
Cathy: There's a particular group of people in Samburu that I imagine you have a strong connection with, and that is the Morans. And Morans, just for our listeners to understand, they are the young men in the community who for, if I understand correctly, about 10 to 15 years of their life, they serve the community as protectors. They spend that time living apart from the community out in the bush with very little that they take with them and their job is to protect the community. Is that correct?
Raphael: Yeah, that is very correct. We have that category of people in Samburu, we call it Morans, and their main work is to defend the community against any external attacks, or any external conflict. That is the work of Samburu Morans.
Cathy: Okay. And so, I want to hear a little bit about you. You were actually a Moran for a number of years in your youth, and I want to hear a little bit about that, but I was surprised when we had the opportunity to meet one of the Morans, that was your cousin. You arranged for us to have a meeting and a conversation with him that was absolutely fascinating to me, but I asked him, and I want to ask you the same question, what kind of things are the Morans protecting the community from? What sort of threats or dangers are there that they are tasked with protecting the community from?
Raphael: Yes, Morans used to protect the community against the external attacks. Samburu community used to raid other community and vice versa. Also, other communities come to raid, or to steal livestock from our community. So, any external attack from other communities that is where the Morans come in for protection of the community, especially on livestock, or anything to do with livestock. They are one in charge of any conflict, not necessarily land. Land is not a big issue in Samburu, but the problem is about the livestock, because we have that issue of cattle rustling. That is raiding other community for their livestock, and when I say livestock, that is cows, donkeys, camels and others. So, that is the main work of Morans to protect a community.
Cathy: I understand. So, the livestock, they're very valuable. This is what people use to survive. Their livestock is like their bank account. It enables them to have food and income and all of those things. So, if someone were to come from another group or another area and steal the livestock, that would drastically impact a family's ability to survive, and so the Morans are protecting the community from other groups that might want to steal their livestock. I do remember the other thing that your cousin told us was that the other threat to the community is wild animals such as cheetahs. I was really surprised to hear that, that there are cheetahs out there that might come and harm people or kill the livestock too I imagine, is that right?
Raphael: Yes. Because Samburus lives in forest areas and very remote areas, so you'll not miss many different animals around, including the cheetahs, lions. That is also still the work of Morans, because any attacks in livestock, anything to do with livestock, that is where the Morans come in. It even human being or even the animals. So, actually we have lions around, we have cheetahs and leopards, and that is the work of Moran to ensure that it's nothing that will attack the animals or livestock.
Cathy: And they have nothing but a kind of spear with them, that's right? A spear to protect themselves from the animals and other dangers?
Raphael: Yeah. Before this, more than things came in like guns, because they nowadays have that illegal one that might not government not allow, but yes, they have spears, knives that is the long one we call it the machetes, and some clubs, rungu, we call it rungu in Swahili, that is in Kenya. So, yes, they have spears that is now the Morans that were around before us. But nowadays they have even guns that maybe they are not legal as part of the government policy. And those are the things they're using now to protect themselves.
Cathy: I want to just pause for a moment and thank our listeners for joining us today. If you're just hearing about World Concern for the first time, and you're curious to learn a little bit more about who we are and what sets us apart from other organizations you might be familiar with, please visit worldconcern.org/podcast, and learn a little bit more about what we do. And now let's get back to our conversation.
Cathy: So, you were very young when you became a Moran, how old were you when you were initiated into the Moran life?
Raphael: I was around 15-years when I was initiated to become a Moran. And for Samburu, boys are initiated from age of 15 to 25 years because they initiated people as by the group, or age group. So I was 15 years.
Cathy: Okay. And so at 15-years old, just a young boy by most standards, you had to go out and live out in the bush and away from your family. Was that scary? How did you feel about becoming a Moran?
Raphael: Initially during the start I was a bit worried because I was introduced the new things I didn't know, but because in Samburu around almost 10% boys goes to school and the other one are almost Moran. So, this 10% we joined the other 90% who have never joined the school and we are just living in the bushes, but the good thing is that at least for us, we went to school we know something different and we always take the opportunity to change them, or to try some of them to join the school, even in older age. But again, whenever we come back to the manyatta or homes, we must follow the culture because that is what all Samburu dictates. Whether you are in school or not, you must follow the culture and join the other Morans in forest or during any tradition way of life, and that is where we have been challenged for those who went to school because there's some things that you may not accept, some things that are very challenged, you cannot cope with. So, it was challenging, but we come over it as time goes.
Cathy: Yeah. And so, I imagine is there kind of a unity or a camaraderie among the Morans?
Raphael: Yes, there is unity. In fact, if there's something that Morans have in common all over Samburu is unity. Whenever anything happen, all Moran call each other, even if it is a challenge problem, one of them gets sick. There's no problem that will be solved by one person. It's only unity of Moran. That is why even if you try to bring problem to maybe one Moran, or you want to quarrel with him, all Morans came together and defend of one of their own. So they have a very strong unity.
Cathy: And so, now that you are working with World Concern, now that you are walking in a life of faith with Jesus, do you ever have an opportunity to share about your faith with the Morans?
Raphael: Yes. I got some opportunity to share some good news to my fellow Morans, that by now they are young elders. So, whenever we go to the field we introduce some parts in our normal programs, and I usually give them the opportunity to, because I'm close to them, to share with them the word of God and to share them with Christ and Christian life, and they can relate in terms how they understand, because one of them is telling them the way and they have, we did have many things happening. So I was given many opportunity. Whenever we have event trainings, we have a sport evangelism. We will try to convince them, or to teach them the way of Christ though in a very, very small state, because they are supposed to be taken in a very, very small steps as they understand.
Cathy: So, you mentioned something important, which is that you have a unique opportunity to share with them because you are one of them, and so, you have a relationship with them and that opens the door for you to be able to share with them, and I've heard some stories that some of the Morans have come to faith in Christ in recent years. Is that correct?
Raphael: Yes, that is correct. And I was having that opportunity. That is why they have selected me in very few circumstances, or instances, to help them ,because they can relate with me almost in our villages. All of them knows me because, I've told you in the beginning, Morans know each other, and once you are a Moran in Samburu you can sleep anywhere. You can move to any other place because you are carrying that name of Moran. So, it was a very, very interesting and applicable time for me to convince them whenever we meet.
Cathy: So, you mentioned that you, and some of the other Morans that are your age, you're young elders now in the community. What does that mean to be an elder?
Raphael: Yes. Our time for Moran ends at around two years ago, and now we are young elders. We have not completed all stages, but we have now started a first step of being one young elder. So, we have new Morans in place, and we are still transitioning to be elders as for now.
Cathy: And what does an elder do in the community? What is your role in the community?
Raphael: The role of elders in community is to make some important decision, and also they guide the Morans. The elders are the only one who can guide the other Morans, and we have also grouping of elders. We have senior elders, we have the middle elders and we have the young elders. So, all of them came together, or come together, to make decision, important decision, about the land, about the management of livestock, and about the community, and that is the work of council of elders in Samburu. They're only the one who can control the Morans. Otherwise, no one else, even they control Morans more than the government do whenever we get conflict or any kind that is the only elders who can settle, not even the government alone.
Cathy: So, right now in Samburu people are facing a new challenge which is that there's been a drought there that has lasted longer than anyone would've hoped and very little rain, and people are really struggling. So, what would you say are the greatest challenges that people in Samburu are facing right now?
Raphael: Yes, you are right. Right now, we are very affected by the current drought that has gone for very long time, and we are being told for the last around eight years, Samburu has never gone to this extent of drought that has gone for around one, almost two, years without rain. So, we are now mostly affected. At least for now, we have gotten around one week rain. It's not enough. People are still out there. It has affected Samburu in terms of around 70% of livestock have already died, 30%, they are not that good, they are emaciated, and we still hope we will have rain, you know, we usually say that you never... There surprises in God can surprise you in any time, and actually they have affected by this drought as for now.
Cathy: I love that, that God can surprise you at any time, and he certainly can bring the rain. So, that is something that we will be praying for, for the Samburu area. So, last question Raphael, when you pray for your community, for your family, for the area of Samburu, what do you pray for?
Raphael: Whenever we pray for our community, for our area, for our society, we pray for good things to happen ahead, and we pray for bad things to leave us like this conflict of other communities fighting each other because of livestock, and we also pray for change of bad cultural and knowing God. We pray for our people to know God and to come closer to God and know Christianity, as we hope ahead for better things to come. That is all we always pray.
Cathy: That's wonderful. Well, we join you in that prayer. Definitely praying for people to come to know God, to have that hope that we were talking about earlier that God offers even in the midst of challenges like a drought, or conflict with other communities, or things like that. So, thank you Raphael for being a minister of God and a light in your community to show others what's possible when God changes your life. You're a great example of that, not only to the other young men in the community, but to everyone around you. So, thank you for being that and thank you so much for taking the time to drive 45 minutes out to your village and join us today on the podcast.
Raphael: Thank you, Cathy, and I appreciate your time. I'm very, very thankful and appreciative of your time, for your good questions, and we are always ready to learn from each other, and we hope for all the things we have been talking, and thank you for the prayers. I know we have, as in every prayer.
Cathy: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope that your mind has been opened up a little bit; your heart has been touched through some of the stories that you have heard today. As I mentioned earlier, if you're curious about learning a little bit more about World Concern about our work beyond the end of the road, you can visit worldconcern.org/podcast to learn more.
Cathy: I want to thank CRISTA Ministries, World Concern's parent organization for making this podcast possible, and I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production, and editing, and consulting expertise; for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today, we look forward to more stories at The End of the Road, next time.