Rafael Olemoono is a Masai from Tanzania. And one of the participants of #2012WAIC. What brought him here?
“I have been working with Leif Josefsson, for the past few years in Tanzania, where I live. Leif is doing a programme on AI, and he uses ‘nature’ as a metaphor for learning. I am a Masai, we are a nomadic people and live the pastoral, tribal life. With our herds. We derive a lot of our wisdom from nature.”
Though the cold is tough to get used to, Rafael thoroughly enjoys participating in the conference. “Mostly because of all the people I meet here! Everyone looks for the positive in things, in people. That mindset is very familiar to me. It is how we think as Masai.” Being surrounded by others with a similar view is more than just ‘nice’. “It encourages me to go forward the way that I am doing now. It strengthens me in that sense. But it also gives me more words for something that I did not have words for. It comes naturally to me to look appreciatively. But now I can also explain it to others.”
Local communities and tribes
And that is important, as the rest of his story makes clear: “Our way of living is endangered. There is pressure from all sides on us to change… People look to the western model of life and government, and currently also to the Chinese and Indian business models. As if those are ideal. I do not believe we should copy other people’s solutions, I’d like to foster the growth of my tribe and community, building on our own strenghts.” He is active in a local advocacy group, Imosut e Purka, which aims to further his community’s development and strengthen their connections with other tribes. “Getting to know AI helps me to get in touch also with other neighbouring communities, and explain to them why we work the way that we do.”
Preserving what is and building on strengths
Rafael wants to build on the strengths of his people. When I ask him to name a few, he starts to beam….: “Ohh.. let me see…. One of our biggest strengths I think is that we are truly democratic. Truth knows no age. Anyone in the group has wisdom. And at any given time, anyone can have the answer to a question. In the way we live and do, we are good at using those answers that are helpful at any given time. We see everybody as unique and build our leadership on that. There is no ‘one man’ at the top, we have no chiefs. We share the leadership and so we can use the wisdom of everyone.”
“Dealing with nature and its quirks has also wisened us. We have learned to deal with changes, to read the environment, to adapt, to live in harmony with other beings around us. We have a culture of preserving what is there. And we have a strong culture, values that really are important to us and that we all know and keep alive.”
He stops and smiles: “Wow, listen to me… this question opens up a whole flow of thoughts. There is a lot to work with, to build on.” And he can’t wait to continue with renewed energy and ideas once he gets back.
By Saskia Tjepkema
This is the first in a small series of participant’s portraits. Just to give a glimpse of the great diversity of people who attended and their range of stories. Other portraits are of Shelagh, Grace, Jean & Perla and Daniel.