Kingman woman plans luxury safari to fund water project

Courtesy<BR>
Maasai school children look at and show off their new solar lights, which are charged by the sun even on cloudy days. Kingman resident Marilyn Parver spearheaded a fundraising drive to buy 1,400 of the lights, which cost $10 each and allow the children to study in their cow dung huts at night.

Courtesy<BR> Maasai school children look at and show off their new solar lights, which are charged by the sun even on cloudy days. Kingman resident Marilyn Parver spearheaded a fundraising drive to buy 1,400 of the lights, which cost $10 each and allow the children to study in their cow dung huts at night.

KINGMAN - Over the 27 years Marilyn Parver has repeatedly visited Kenya, there's one important lesson she learned from trying every safari method imaginable on her trips.

Always stay in a tent.

"You want to feel and hear the sights and sounds around you all the time," said Parver. "You want to fall asleep hearing the calls of the lions mixing with the 'laughter' of hyenas. You want the sounds of the hippos and the morning songs of the birds. Really, you want to feel the wild all around you, and the sounds are one of the most exciting parts about being on safari."

Parver is offering that type of experience on an upcoming ultra-luxury safari, all to raise money to fund a solar water project for the Maasai people group in Loita Hills, Kenya. The photo safari, limited to 14 participants and called "Born to be Wild," will run from Sept. 29 through Oct. 7 at the Exploreans Mara Rianta Camp, north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The cost hasn't been set yet, but Parver is expecting it to run about $6,500 per participant, depending on other funding available.

Parver, who worked for years as a make-up artist for celebrities and an on-air talent and producer at WAGA-TV, the Atlanta CBS Affiliate, has won international awards for her photography. It has been honored twice by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Her photograph of a smiling mother cheetah playing with her young son is being displayed as part of the Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards exhibit that runs through March. Parver was one of 40 photographers chosen internationally for the exhibit.

But more important to Parver than her ongoing love of photography and the accompanying honors is her passion for the Loita Hills Maasai people, whom she met in 2012 while on safari in Kenya near the border of Tanzania. Parver, who lives in the Hualapai Mountains with her husband, Michael, lost her heart to the colorfully decorated tribe who still live a life of collecting firewood and carrying dirty water for miles because they have no choice. They live in cow dung huts in darkness except for the constant wood fire that is their stove, heater and light.

After living with the Maasai for about seven months in 2012 and experiencing their culture, Parver committed herself to raising money to purchase solar lights for the school children so they could see to study at night. There are 21 schools and 7,200 students among the Maasai. Parver said students in Kenya have to compete to go to secondary school, and the Maasai children can't compete because they have no lights for studying after dark.

The LED lights, which cost $10 each, are charged by the sun even on cloudy days and can hold their brightness for about eight hours. In October, with the help of donors, Parver was able to provide solar lights to the students at five primary schools. She distributed 1,400 lights so the children could study in their huts after the sun goes down. And now she is working to bring clean water to an area suffering from a drought so severe that the cattle are dying.

"The Maasai are a society of nomads whose priority is their cows," said Parver. "The fathers don't want the children to go to school, but it's important to the mothers. I need to buy more solar lights for the other schools, but I've had to put that project on the back burner because of the desperate water situation. There isn't enough grass for the cows to graze on because of the drought, so no milk is being produced. The cows are dying."

Parver said she doesn't have a lot of knowledge about wells, cattle or drought, but knows that she can raise money through her photography to help with the situation in Kenya. A solar well would bring fresh, clean water to the people and animals in Loita Hills for about 20 years, she said, at a cost of $15,000 to $25,000 per well. Money is being collected for the project through Worldserve International, a company specializing in drilling deep, community-capacity water wells, at www.worldserveintl.org/loita-hills-maasai-project/.

During the safari, Parver will review and critique participants' images daily, as well as teach them her tricks for capturing the best photographs of scenery and animals in Kenya. Most of her winning photos have been shot in the North Mara Conservancy, the site of the safari, because of its low-density tourism. Her colorful array of safari-related photographs can be viewed at www.imagesbymarilynparver.com/.

During the upcoming safari, participants will stay in luxury tents and buildings that overlook the Mara River, which winds around the camp with gently flowing waters surrounded by wildlife and large groups of hippopotamuses. Two daily game drives, guided by experienced drivers, take place on four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers. To watch a two-minute video about the ultra-luxury safari, visit

www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK4JbjE2UnE.

"When I come home from a trip to Kenya, each time the hardest thing for me to get used to is how plentiful everything here is and how much we take it for granted," said Parver, who came home in November and plans to return to Kenya in September. "There are more people in the world without clean water than those who have it. The Maasai people are doing as much as they can to help themselves, and I want to give them a little boost by providing water to desperately needy people."

For more information about the safari or to sign up for it, email Parver at marilynparver@gmail.com.

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