Jui Banerjee

Entrepreneur. Wild Life Conservationist. LeadHer

My story is that of a middle-aged lady who gets to live her dream, a wild one quite literally, after completing all the worldly responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve absolutely loved the first phase of my life. I’ve been a homemaker and a mother and have drawn immense pride and satisfaction from both the roles. You immerse yourself heartily and fulfil the roles to the best of your capability.
Then there comes a time when you’re all done and it’s time to do a little something for yourself. Just when I was contemplating about how I would deal with my empty nest, my best friend and husband came up with this brilliant idea where I could indulge my two passions in life, meeting new people and working on wildlife conservation.
At this stage I should probably retrace my steps and give you a background and context to what I’ve just said. We came to Kenya as a family in 2010 with my husband’s job. Kenya is a beautiful country with friendly, courteous people and very rich wildlife. The settling down process was quite easy.
Having done that, we set about doing what most people do…going on safaris. We have always been nature lovers as a family, but I have this extra love for animals. In school, my best memories were of projects we did with World Wildlife Fund on ‘Project Tiger’. Here in Kenya, I was able to rekindle that passion for wildlife and get my whole family involved as well. We soon became members of a voluntary organization called Friends of Nairobi National Park. Through them we had immersed ourselves in various projects for the conservation of wildlife and mitigation of human-wildlife conflict. Once our son left for college, we decided that we would quit our ‘regular life’ and embark on an epic adventure. That is when our camp came into existence.
Our camp is a small eco camp in Masai Mara, situated in a private conservancy. A private conservancy is a very different concept here in Kenya. It is an initiative to create new habitat for wildlife by leasing the land from the Masai tribe, who would have otherwise used it for grazing their cattle. In return, they get an assured lease rental and jobs to work in camps like ours. By bringing them on board, they automatically start playing an integral role in the endeavour to protect the wildlife and their habitat. My husband and I live in our camp and try to make it commercially viable.
My role here is really an extension of what I have done all my life as a housewife. I continuously draw from the skill set that I have acquired over the years. Here, I would like to point out that the multiple roles that a homemaker plays all add up to a rich accumulation of life skills. So, all you homemakers out there, please be very very proud of your contribution to society. You are a chef, a nurse, an interior designer, a manager, a hostess, a socialite…. the list goes on and on. My team comprises of Masai men. My primary job is to be the bridge between the Masai and the world. We have clients from all over the world and delivering our product to an international clientele using the simple resources at hand is challenging at times. But life would have become boring had it not been for such obstacles. It has forced me to push my own boundaries, change the norms and immerse myself in a continuous learning process. Being the only woman in this work environment brings its own set of problems. But I guess, every woman knows how to function in a patriarchal society. It’s a long road to walk but walk we definitely will.

An unconventional team

Would you tell us something about working with the locals especially the Masai tribe please. How is it working with a native tribe?

Very little is known about the Masai tribe. Till date, they remain a mystery to most. I believe the wildlife is still existent in such abundance here, only because of their ability to coexist with nature. They don’t hunt the wildlife for consumptive use. Their existence in this environment leaves behind a very low footprint. And that in today’s context has become a very important role indeed. So, we find ourselves talking extensively about them to our clients.
So, here I am, living in a tent, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the African wilderness. My school friends remind me that I have finally achieved my dream of living in the jungle. That dream, I’ve definitely achieved. But I have achieved so much more. I’ve been given the opportunity to live in a completely foreign environment with a tribe that was unfamiliar to me. As I have said before, I keep learning everyday, gaining an insight into various cultures and have the opportunity to be close to my favourite living beings….the animals. Living in Masai Mara gives me the access to various people whose sole goal is wildlife conservation. Through such organizations I’ve been able to participate in rescue missions of an orphaned baby elephant and a lion. The experiences of those two days will remain with me forever.

Taking a leaf out of her own book

What would be your message to Leadhers?

Dream big, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and then bask in the joy of accomplishing something that might have seemed impossible at first.

 
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