Hamisi Pakiah is our Program Coordinator based at Camp Kaya, one of our new camps established, in order to promote forest conservation and culture. I asked Hamisi to share some background on the importance of the Kaya culture and what we are doing to protect these vital stretches of coastal forests in Kenya. Camp Kenya has been working on various conservation related activities for several years now and also gearing towards establishing an ecotourism venture managed by the local community. This year, the camp has become a reality and itÛªs a very exciting moment for us. We have just had the first two groups of students staying in the camp and their reactions have been great: ÛÏMarvellous and wonderful!Û All this is possible through our one golden rule: Respect the local culture and enjoy your stay! What is a Kaya? Kaya means ÛÏhomeÛ in the local dialect of the Digo community of south coast of Kenya. Over centuries the locals have been protecting these important patches of sacred forests. Apart from being hideouts for elderly, women and the young ones, people would also come to the kaya to seek guidance from their ancestors and spirits during major problems such as drought and inter-tribal wars. Kayas were also and some are still used as burial sites. You can read more about Kaya Forest which are listed as a World Heritage Site by clicking HERE. Today, like most indigenous forests, kayas are under threat due to development but the kayas have one important factor that is keeping them alive: the fact that it is sacrilegious to cut trees. This is a critical factor in preserving the forests and also a recognition on the importance of local traditions and how these can save our environment. Camp Kaya Situated right on the edge of Kaya Muhaka, and with a campsite to cater for up to 60 people at one time, this camp is a direct income-generating asset to the local community, through collection of camping fees. With conservation-oriented programmes, Camp Kenya is working together with the community to ensure that both parties benefit at the end of the day and there is a sustainable way to conserve the Kaya forest. Not only to people have a chance to learn about the various cultural aspects and feel the atmosphere of walking through a sacred forest but can also engage practically with ongoing conservation activities. Activities Our program runs collaboration with the local community. We donÛªt plant a single tree without their knowledge. We respect their decisions and keep to the trails that are open to the public. Time spent planting trees with the local school students will increase your Swahili vocabulary and enable you to add a name in your list of new friends, and ensure a safe home for the endangered Colobus monkeys. We also realize that this a wonderful opportunity for our visitors to learn about the local culture including learning how to make fronds used for thatching roofs, learn to dance the traditional Digo way and eat and make your own chapatis! Hamisi Pakiah, July 2010, Camp Kenya.