The Maasai are a proud people with a rich cultural tradition. They continue to live in some of the harshest savannah conditions with poor access to education, medicine and other benefits of the more developed areas. Our communities are based around cattle and the semi-nomadic pastoralist way of life. We have been romanticised in much Western media, and the iconic spear-wielding warriors with their herds on the vast plains, and beautifully be-jewelled women, are classic safari images. And these images are not without some credibility. We are tough and have adapted well for life in these harsh conditions, (particularly the women who are tasked with the majority of the domestic work), and we’ve maintained many of our customs in the face of continued development and change in Kenya.
In a small Maasai village 30 kms from Narok in Kenya. I grew up in the late 1970s as the second youngest of nine children. As a girl I quickly learnt my position within the family and wider community. Formal education was not valued by the Maasai in those days. Tending to the livestock was seen as more important. Education was reserved for males especially those who are regarded as unskilled in looking after the livestock as it is a very physically demanding job. Even then going to school was seen as a form of punishment. A woman’s role from a very early age in the village would be to learn how to maintain the house, taking care of other siblings and to a lesser extent herding livestock.
Within our society women have a subservient position. Girls are often married-off for dowry, from 12 years of age, to much older men, many of whom have several other wives. In a society where the virtues of a Western style education are not rated highly (even for boys), educating girls is hardly considered at all. The law, as it is, states that all children should receive primary education but in practice, in the remote rural areas, girls receive very little, and those that do get a few years are withdrawn from education to be married or work at home when they are 11 or 12 years.
One day the chief came to our village and collected us all to go the school, i remember being very excited as my dream was to be a ranger with Kenya Wildlife Service. I liked the uniforms. But my grandmother was against me doing anything that meant holding a gun, and advised me to become a teacher. I went to the class and I was taught in Maasai, Swahili and English. I loved school; it was interesting learning something new. Having passed my exams with very high marks,i was offered a place at a National School in Nairobi. So I trained as a teacher and when I passed my certificate I taught for 5 years in the government Sekenani primary school in the Maasai Mara. It was here, in 1997, that I met my future husband, Chris. A British tour guide bringing tourists to our school. Chris and I moved to the UK in 2001 and now I work part time for the Development Education Centre in Sheffield. I spend a lot of time in South Yorkshire schools talking to children about the reality of life in Kenya.
The small Maasai community of Oldanyati in southern Kenya has many young children with no nearby school. Older kids walk the 7 kms to their primary school but the youngsters stay at home. In 2013 two pupils lost their lives tragically commuting to school. One was drowned in the floods and another was attacked by a lion.
In 2013, my aim was to raise enough money to build, equip and maintain a small learning centre. It will be used as a school for the infant children, and a community-learning centre for the Osotua Women Group. The building will consist of 2 classrooms, a teacher’s room/office, and a kitchen all set in the legal minimum 5 acres of land. The building will also function as a learning centre for the Osotua Women Group. The Women Group will use the school building as a social/community centre for these purposes. It would also be used for adult literacy classes and marketing advice/training for work on income generating projects such as making and marketing their traditional beadwork jewellery and making fly-traps from recycled materials.
The community has already donated the 5 acres of land required for the school and its grounds.
Move forward to 2015, we successfully fundraised in the UK and USA, the 2 classrooms are now built with over 120 children attending the school in the morning and in the afternoon are classes for the women. Now the men are asking when they can learn as they don’t want to be left behind…
This is my story, which is shared by only a few Maasai girls who have been lucky to make it in one way or another.
My determination in making a difference, even for a few women and children, is the main reason behind this Alton Maasai Project. It just shows with determination you can achieve what you aim to do and more.
Keep on persuing your passion and eventually what you thought was a dream piece by piece comes together.
Suma olayioni nisum oltung’ani obo. Suma entito nisum oloosho….
Educate a man, you educate an individual. Educate a woman and you educate a community…