Next, Bernard takes me to visit the local Samburu village.

Yao Ming Arrives at Samburu Village

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

We arrive to a greeting from the women of the village looking stunning in their traditional dress with an amazing array of beadwork around their necks. He explains that they accumulate jewelry as unmarried women and then distribute it to their families as they are married. The women with the most jewelry are the most eligible. They serenade me with their amazing voices as we enter their village.

Yao Ming is Greeted by Samburu Villages Adorned with Jewelry

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

There, I meet the village elders.  Branded baseball caps meets African traditional wear. It’s a blend of traditional and modern. They make me feel welcome and the eldest blesses me with a chorus of his fellows and as he speaks we are instructed to curl our fingers in acceptance of the blessing and I pat my forehead in acceptance of his benevolence.

Yao Ming with Samburu Village Elders

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Elephant Watch and Save the Elephants have been working with this community for decades and their appreciation is clear. Support for education and other community projects comes directly from the tourism conservation fees.

Peter Knights of WildAid told me on his last trip he met a a fully-qualified Samburu doctor, whose training had been paid for by those fees. He asked the doctor what a poached elephant meant to him personally and the response was, “one poached elephants is 200 Samburu children without an education.”

In China, we rightly value education very highly. For most parents, our greatest aspiration is the best possible education for our children. I’m sure if people realized that buying illegal ivory undermined education in Africa, they wouldn’t want to buy it anymore.

Next, I get to scout the local basketball talent. I’m looking for some new signings for the  team I now manage, the Shanghai Sharks. There’s a great exuberance and some talent and thankfully on my turn I make my shots to a roar of approval. By the fourth basket, we manage to break the rickety rim, so I’m going have buy them a new hoop. It’s great to see such enthusiasm and ball-handling on a dirt court.

Yao Ming Greets Samburu Villagers

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Next, the children come to sing for me accompanied by a burlap sack elephant with a few vision challenges. The smaller children run off in fright, but the two-man elephant hands me a basketball from its makeshift trunk.

Yao Ming and Samburu Elders

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

A wonderful morning and they could not have made me feel more welcome. I feel deeply honored. The Samburu have a simple life, but they live it with dignity, humor and what appears to be an inner contentment we have a hard time achieving in the “modern” world.


16 responses

  1. you are so cool yao

    August 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm

  2. Melinda Mueller

    It is so important to make the connection between the welfare of the wildlife, and the welfare of the African people themselves. They need to be as committed to conserving and protecting the animals, as we across the globe are becoming. Yao, you are touching hearts and reaching minds in both Africa and China; there are few people in the world who can do what you can in this regard. I am so grateful for your committment to this cause. A thousand thank-yous for the work that you are doing…….

    August 20, 2012 at 4:32 pm

  3. kevin pham

    Thank you for what you are doing for mankind. It’s very touching and honorable. I hope more Chinese celebrities will follow your footsteps.

    Kevin P

    August 20, 2012 at 7:42 pm

  4. You are the best – thank you so much for the work you are doing to save wildlife!

    August 21, 2012 at 12:21 am

  5. Ben

    Thank you for what you are doing. You are always my hero.

    August 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

  6. Mike G

    Many thanks, Yao, for having the courage and the strength to take on educating the public world-wide and helping put an end to this. Perhaps you could add the Mountain Gorilla to the list too.

    August 21, 2012 at 10:12 am

  7. herry

    wonderful Africa

    August 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm

  8. Good job Yao! Love and respect from the Philippines.

    August 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm

  9. 夏晓天


    August 27, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  10. You are awesome Yao – thank you for helpng to bring this important and truly sad reality to the public.

    September 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm

  11. thomas

    Way to go, Yao. The animals need you more than ever now that China’s spending power becomes greater than ever.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:04 am

  12. thomas

    The publicity generated back home on your visits will help bring about conscience among the people on the need to protect the animals.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:07 am

  13. ray

    Yao has the unique ability to change the ways of thought of a new generation and to stop the killing. Hopefully it will not be too late for many species. We are with you Yao. Keep spreading the word.

    September 16, 2012 at 7:39 am

  14. vicki

    Yao! You are diong an amazing thing, but I can’t help but feel the problem is getting out of control!! 8 rhinos were killed yesterday in one attack, this can’t go on or much longer. what can we do?? 😦

    November 24, 2012 at 6:48 am

  15. Dear Yao Ming…

    谢谢 !!! Thank you for taking action on elephants and rhinos.

    Thank you so much for all you do to raise awareness about the plight of elephants and rhinos in Africa, only a few decades ago, more than a million elephants roamed the african wilds…today that number is down to less than 400,000, last year (in 2012) alone, 25,000 elephants were butchered.. many of their young left to die and orphaned … to satisfy the demand for ivory in Asia, and primarily China… I am pleading with you to do ALL you can to shut down the ivory factories in China,,, yes, the carvers are master craftsman… yes, these products are beautiful, but they come from great suffering… great suffering to rangers who take care of elephants and rhinos and great suffering to animals .. mothers and fathers and calves of wonderful animals who share our world with us, poachers sell the ivory and buy weapons with the proceeds, these weapons are used in terror tactics against the governments and peoples of Africa… I believe the Chinese people to be a compassionate people… surely a piece of carved ivory is not worth the extinction of a species… thank you so much!!! 谢谢!

    January 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

  16. Paul

    Thank you for caring and stepping up to let people know about this problem. I hope more people in China and the rest of the world follow your footsteps to help put an end to this shameful acts against animals.

    February 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

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