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From Kenya to Ward Melville High School

Members of the Maasai tribe in Kenya visited Ward Melville's choir as part of a cultural exchange.

Maasai tribe members from Kenya visited the choir on April 3 as part of the Change for Change program—a program in which students donate pennies and dimes to help improve the living conditions in Kenya.

Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko of the Maasai tribe visited along with Maasai Community Organizer John Kilenyi Ole Parsitau, and Parsitau’s wife, Sarah.

A couple of months before the visit Chief Tipanko and his school choir of 7th and 8th grade boys video chatted and sang with Ward Melville’s Camerata Choir.

“It was a conference on Skype first and now today it’s coming to be a reality as I am here,” Chief Tipanko said.

Chief Tipanko taught the students traditional greetings in the Maasai culture and the meaning and honor behind his intricate garments. A teacher himself, Chief Tipanko noted the vast differences between schools in the U.S. and in Kenya, such as running water and electricity.  

The relationship between Ward Melville and the Maasai tribe was formed after student Thomas Brown came to the high school and expressed his interest in bringing the Change for Change program to the school.

Brown’s father, Christopher Brown, started the program at Ralph G. Reed Middle School at the Central Islip School District. With the help of a few Central Islip students and a teacher, Lori Gately, a relationship was formed with Chief Tipanko during a trip to the United Nations.

“Tom mentioned it to me because he thought the music connection would be a good way to start a relationship and give the kids in the choir a special chance to raise some global awareness,” said Linda Contino, choral director at Ward Melville.

Contino, who has been at Ward Melville for 28 years, says she has never seen an effort like this one. Although there have been many fundraisers and events to help the local community, this is something different, according to Contino. After just two weeks of students throwing loose change into a jar, the choir was able to donate over $200, plus an additional monetary donation and a donation of school supplies.

“Most people don't get to meet people from other continents, from somewhere as remote as Kenya,” Brown, 16, said. “It brings people together, brings people all into the modern world and helps us to see that we’re not all that different.”

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