I dreamed of Africa growing up…and one of the main sources of my inspiration for escaping in my dreams to this far off continent was Kuki Gallman. I learned about the Gallman family at a young age watching the biographical movie of their life starring Kim Basinger. I was hooked. Africa looked so exotic; such an adventure waiting to happen. I was in awe of how this woman could remain in Africa after the tragic loss of both her husband and her son. To face the obstacles of Africa alone, with a three year old in tow was more than I could have ever imagined. A great respect for this woman grew and when I was given the opportunity to go to her home, meet her and her daughter, see the wonderful life they have built for themselves and the surrounding communities, and discuss a partnership, I was elated.
Kuki and her daughter, Sveva, run a 100,000-acre private conservancy in Laikipia called Ol Ari Nyiro. They work tirelessly on conservation projects to protect local wildlife and battle poachers. They run the Gallman Memorial Foundation to promote the coexistence of people and nature in Africa. They recently opened the Land of Hope Community Center to bring education, sports, and vocational skills to the surrounding Pokot communities. On top of that, they operate three lodges in the conservancy catering to everyone from researchers and students to high-end safari clients and yoga groups.
In 2013, I connected with Sveva Gallman at the Eco Tourism Conference in Nairobi, and we immediately bonded over yoga. I was in desperate need of interesting lodges with space for yoga, and she had beautiful yoga space she needed to market to potential yoga groups. It was a natural fit. We began the conversation that would eventually lead to my visiting Ol Ari Nyiro this year to get familiar with their lodges, yoga spaces, and activities on hand in the conservancy in preparation for our future groups.
I arrived to Makena Hill’s Lodge in April and was immediately blown away by the view. Perched high up on a mountain with unobstructed views of the conservancy, this was the kind of place that had you pulling out your camera and never putting it down. Sveva and her team were amazing hosts as they led me through the extensive lounge space, the luxurious rooms, and the spacious yoga shala –with enough room for over 30 people! I toured the 8 luxury tented camps and felt so much connection to the relics and artifacts from Kenya, Ethiopia, India…all places I am deeply familiar with. It felt like home away from home. I knew my group would be incredibly comfortable here and inspired by the energy felt in this mystical place. This was a sanctuary in which to slow down and detach from the every day. The perfect place to pull up a chair next to the cozy fireplace and discuss the origins of humankind. And most importantly, a time to connect with nature by taking in the calls of the many species of birds waking you up at sunrise, the gentle breeze blowing through the canvas walls of you luxury tent, and the occasional footsteps of local wildlife right on the other side of your patio.
Excited about the prospects of sending my clients to Makena Hill’s Lodge, I set off with the conservancy’s guide, Ali, to explore all that Ol Ari Nyiro had to offer. I was taken to hot springs buried deep in the jungle – baboons above me howling and making their presence known. We then went to the forest to see meditation spaces and walk among wild basil and buffalo. Our game drive brought us into close quarters with waterbuck, pythons, warthogs, elephants, and gazelles. The final stop of the visit was to Kuki Gallman’s newly opened Land of Hope Community Center. One could tell immediately upon entering the space and meeting Kuki that she beamed with pride about this community project. She introduced the staff of teachers, doctors, and administrators and then explained the arduous process of convincing the local Pokot villages to send their young children to school – something not traditionally done in Pokot culture. The twenty little Pokot children running around in their bright orange and blue “Land of Hope” t-shirts, though, indicated that she was indeed making some headway in convincing the locals of the importance of education. Children coming to the school are familiarized with computers and technology at a young age to quickly hone in on developing much needed twenty-first century skills. The mothers are invited to attend the center with their children and focus on learning income-generating skills such as tailoring and beadwork. There is also a gigantic football field and rumor has it the Land of Hope boys football team is one of the best in the area.
To say the least, I was impressed by what Kuki and Sveva Gallman have created at Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy over the past 30 years. There is a true dedication to conservation, education, community development, and to Kenya as a whole, that is evident in every conversation with this energetic mother/daughter force of nature.
Next time you find yourself in need of break – a true rest – come to Makena Hill’s Lodge and reconnect with yourself, with nature, and with Mother Earth.
Post written by: Kelly Campbell is the co-founder of The Village Experience, you can follow her on Instagram @kellsabroad