Acacia in Africa-01-01-01-01

Our Name

Why Acacia in Kenya?

Why Acacia in Kenya?

For the partners of this project, the acacia tree is a powerful symbol. Strongly evocative of Africa, it is a reminder that even dreams that seem out of reach can come true. For Joyce, just the thought of ever journeying to Africa and seeing Acacia trees up close seemed impossible at one time. The 2004-2005 year was a time of intense personal transition for Joyce, who was beset with a number of personal and professional challenges that forced her to look deep inside herself and make important changes in her life. Always strongly drawn to Africa, Joyce routinely used the image of an Acacia tree when she went jogging in Cambridge as an imaginary destination or finish line, a Shangri-La, an oasis in the desert, to strive for—to keep her focused on what’s truly important, on the world outside her own internal life, one she knew she could reach with determination and perseverance.

The very nature of these morning runs became a way to rejuvenate, to re-inspire, to re-direct Joyce’s soul to her deepest goals and dreams, and the Acacia tree was the icon she used to spur her on. It was all about inspiration, and connecting to something greater than herself. “Just put one foot in front of another,” Joyce would tell herself each morning as she laced up her sneakers. “If you just take one more step you can run all the way to Africa and reach that Acacia tree!”

At this point, Joyce had yet to meet Sammy and had no plans to visit East Africa; although the Acacia tree was a powerful source of inspiration, it didn’t seem like a dream that could be manifested or directly experienced. But by facing her challenges and accepting the opportunities that suddenly opened up a path to Africa, Joyce eventually found herself in Kenya, face to face with what she had only been able to imagine before—a dream made real. And if that were true, Joyce thought, how could anything else be impossible?

Aside from its personal significance for Joyce, the nature of the Acacia tree makes it a powerful symbol of Africa as the source of human life. Its canopies of branches clump and cluster together, enmeshing their roots to form a mini-forest, a graceful living network that serves to remind the humans that live among them that we are all interconnected and a part of one another.

Finally, the Acacia tree bears an instructive history that serves as a compelling warning to those who do not fully respect the ideas, wants, and needs of cultures not their own—and one cautionary tale in particular makes the point forcefully. When British colonialists first came to East Africa in the 19th century, they tried to force an extermination of the dreaded Tsetse fly—a carrier of many deadly human and animal diseases—which laid its eggs on the moist underside of Acacia bush leaves. The local Masai had long controlled the Tsetse fly by grazing their livestock in rotation throughout the miles of terrain where the Acacia predominated; the livestock ate the Acacia leaves, thereby keeping flies to a minimum. But the British, rather than honoring this time-proven strategy, decided that the correct solution to the Tsetse fly problem was to fence the range lands into privately owned ranches, cut down all the Acacia, and create a colonial bureaucracy to monitor the progress the fly’s elimination. The results were disastrous. The program was costly, complex, and difficult to manage, and once British funds were diverted to the World War II effort, the control program was abandoned. Unsurprisingly, the number of Tsetse flies shot up; in just a few short years, the problem was out of control and could not be reined back in by any Masai-designed solutions. The genie was out of the lamp, and could not be put back.

For all of our Acacia in Kenya members and partners, this catastrophic and avoidable chapter in Africa’s history underscores how crucial it is to listen to one another. Western partners especially must attend carefully and respectfully to our African friends if we are to realize our shared values, principles, and goals.