MKURU REVISITED: An interview with Shikuku Ooko – SOI East Africa Director

Where were you teaching?

“I taught in Mkuru, a remote village west of Mt. Kilimanjaro.”

Can you describe the landscape both in terms of the ecosystem and habitation?

“Mkuru sits in the foothills of Mt. Meru’s eastern slopes between it and Mt. Kilimanjaro. This area is on the plains, but it receives a lot of rain flow from gullies running down from the two mountains. The areas vegetation is predominantly Acacia trees and low vegetation – bushland.  Previously there were many varieties of wildlife, but now giraffe, dikdik and wildebeest can occasionally be viewed.”

“The village of Mkuru is inhabited by the Maasai tribe.”

Last year Sentinel taught in Mkuru.  Who did you teach then versus this year?

“Last year we taught primarily community anti-poaching rangers from West Kilimanjaro through the Honeyguide foundation, but we also had other community representatives.  Almost all of our students in 2013 were male.”

“This year we had predominantly female students of which the majority was community health workers (primarily traditional birth attendants). The age group was also a difference.  The youngest woman was in her early twenties to the eldest woman being in her seventies.”

Given the relatively low income of the student population how was this program funded?

“We did not charge the students any enrollment feels.  Sentinel Outdoor Institute has been working with the USA based non-profit To Return ( to generate donation funds.  These funds allowed us to donate this course to the Mkuru population.  We hope that people continue contributing to To Return so that we can continue this education well into the future.  We are also grateful to Oikos East Africa, and their employees Laura and Sylvia for their logistical support and for providing a great teaching venue.”

What did you teach?

“I taught Sentinel’s Basic First Aid (BFA) which always has an emphasis on providing care in remote or difficult areas to access basic health care needs.”

How long was the class?

“I left Arusha very early for the 1.5 hour drive to Mkuru with the supplies I needed in order to get in a full 8 hour training day.”

Many people ask what we can teach them when we show up with fancy medical supplies and first aid kits.  So, do the students leave with anything?

“Absolutely!  One of the unique things about a wilderness-oriented course is improvisation. We spent a lot of time practicing assessment skills so that they can then improvise care in safer ways for themselves and their patients.”

What was the most beneficial component of the training that was identified by the students?

“The most important component for the students was that before acting and after providing care, that they ensure safety through body substance isolation (e.g., medical glove, glasses and masks), especially in terms of childbirth.”

Sentinel Instructors largely enjoy teaching because we learn from our students.  After working with Maasai for so many years, what was the most beneficial thing you learned from the course this year?

“What amazes me is the capacity the community has developed for providing care with very minimally trained personnel and lack of equipment.  The knowledge they have been passed from generation to generation when definitive care is so far away.  To pass this historic depth of knowledge which has created much successful childbirth, takes a very large commitment on their behalf as a culture.  Some of the most attentive students have provided more than 40+ years of childbirth experience.”

What was the most touching part of the course for you on a personal level?

“For me knowing that there is room for the application of wilderness medicine in remote rural villages by traditional healthcare providers, opens up a whole new shift of territory that we as an organization need to look at further in depth and share with others.”

Are you eager to return next year?

“YES! At the end of our course, I was asked when I would be back because they wanted to learn more.  Because we were there last year, we hope that our donors through To Return ( continue to support such essential opportunities for learning and our training continues for the long term on annual basis. While the educational knowledge was exceptional, we hope to develop a more comprehensive approach that affords us to provide basic first aid equipment too.”


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