A high noon sun casts shadows across small figures as they dash from the neighboring hill. Squeals of delight cascade while word spreads of Father Florian’s arrival. After driving over 1,000 kilometers across Kenya from the capital city of Nairobi to near the border of Ethiopia, Florian arrives in front of the parish in Ileret, Kenya. Children rush to welcome him home with as many questions as they have hugs.
Florian, a Benedictine monk, first came to Ileret in 2002 to live alongside the Daasanach community. They are one of the smallest tribes in Kenya. According to the Ethnologue, which lists all the languages in the world and their populations, there are approximately 60,000 speakers of the Daasanach language, stretching across the border from Kenya into Ethiopia and Sudan. Florian estimates there are up to 15,000 people belonging to the language group in Kenya.
Florian was born Prince Franz-Josef of Bavaria in 1957 and says that despite his royal heritage, he and his six siblings had a normal childhood. Their farmhouse on the outskirts of Starnberg, Germany, was rumored to be a “house of rubber” because they could always fit one more. No doubt his great sense of hospitality was nurtured there, along with a desire for a life away from the big city.
His parents raised all their children in the Catholic Church, and Florian took his First Holy Communion around the age of 5. Florian, who has now resided in the community for more than a decade, hopes to create change through example.
One Daasanach community elder, Yierat Loins, says he remembers there being plenty of grass for the animals to eat and regular rains.
“Now it’s only sun and sand,” Loins said. “Our land has become a desert.”
The Daasanach face many problems, including warfare with neighboring tribes and a lack of economic resources. Overpopulation of both humans and animals has likely contributed to cyclical famines in the area.
“This is a problem in the whole northern region in Kenya,” Father Florian said. “The aid organizations help and help but only do short-term help, not long-term help to prevent recurring drought. They only help symptoms and not the root causes, because those are much more difficult to change.”
Story and photography by Christena Dowsett