Vital Lessons Learned in Kenya, Africa

Mark Schillinger
Guest Contributor

Having done a lot of men’s work, being a seasoned back-country camper, and being a resilient person, I thought I would be ready for my trip to Africa when I went there in 2006.

I was wrong.

Spending some time with a Samburu tribe in Kenya, Africa was deeply enlightening and deeply challenging. Part of the trip was easy, as I was a tourist staying in nice hotels. The other part was difficult, as I was a researcher, learning all that I could about family dynamics and rites of passage with a small tribe located out in the middle of nowhere.

Seeing firsthand how the people in the village lived made me uncomfortable.

People lived in mud huts. They had no furniture. They had very little money. The food they ate came from the animals that they raised, and from a few vegetables. I came to profoundly understand the term “dirt poor.”

And yet, most of these people were happy, healthy and at peace with their world.

It was difficult for me to accept how many times in my life I complained about how I wanted – even expected – more things than I already possessed. Although I was into personal growth and spiritual development, I carried a resentment that I should “have more.”

It was a painful, wonderful and motivational awakening for me to accept that the most important things in life were not material. It was clearly demonstrated to me in this tribe that having a strong family and a united community were the key things to hold in the highest regard.

Some of the young men in the tribe spoke English because they worked in a nearby elephant research center operated by a family from England. I got to know some of the young men well because I was a hand drummer, so I was able to play along with them accurately and enthusiastically when they performed their traditional music.

I was blessed to be able to hear how prideful they were about their participation in their rites of passage. They were happy to know they were now to be entrusted to take great care of their parents, and the rest of the community by first participating in the ageless tradition of “initiation.”

I learned from the village shaman about the importance of having the children adhere to the values the elders were teaching them. He emphasized how they raised their children to be happy within themselves and to also contribute to the well-being of their family and their community.

As the founder of, The Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend, the biggest take away I had from my experience there, was that young men need to be around adult men who can calmly, clearly and confidently communicate how to be personally happy and communally responsible. Unfortunately, in our modern and supposedly sophisticated world, we’ve forgotten to demonstrate to our young men the fundamental healthy and productive human values as taught by our shared ancestors.

I returned home from my trip realizing that I already possessed the most important things a human being needs. I have a loving family, and I’m surrounded by a large circle of genuine friends who are connected by shared values that include doing good things in the world.  

I am truly rich.

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