PLANTING THE SEED
15 years ago, during regular research fieldtrips to Southern Kenya, I worked closely with the Maasai people and their children. In the following years I witnessed the rapid development of Kenya and how the subsequent changes have become a fact of life, resulting in new opportunities and challenges for this Maasai community.
In 2003, the state of Kenya introduced free primary school education for every child, and this is having a positive impact on the local Maasai communities. The Maasai children like ours have dreams and aspirations that education will help them to develop their society by educating people and helping to fight poverty.
Unfortunately, schools in this area are overcrowded and underequipped and children often must walk many miles each day, across potentially dangerous bush land, in order to attend school. Despite these challenges they are anxious to learn, and standards of achievement are high. However, there is no provision for secondary education and the majority of Maasai children will have no choice or opportunity to continue their studies.
Recently the Kenyan Government have begun to provide financial support to secondary schools, however this support does not pay the fees in full nor does it cover the add on costs of those essentials needed to be in school full time. So, there is limited access to secondary education and the majority of Maasai children will have no choice or opportunity to continue their studies. It is vital that these children are not disadvantaged further through lack of access to secondary education.
So, a seed was planted, in 2010, when together with fellow Maasai friends and my UK colleagues, we set out to fill this educational gap and the MaaChild charity was born (Maa being the language of the Maasai). We are a small charity based in rural Lancashire providing support to children from Maasai communities. Run entirely by volunteers our sustainable projects support education, health, environmental and community initiatives benefiting children and enriching lives
“Small gestures, which seem like tiny droplets when originating here in the green hills of Lancashire, create ripples which become mighty waves of opportunity when they reach the plains of Southern Kenya”
It is important to us, the children and the Maasai communities that this support is sustainable and prepares young people to cope with and assist their community with the inevitable changes they are experiencing in their culture. We have come a long way since our humble beginnings now providing end to end educational opportunities with the recent opening of the nursery school “Naserian” meaning many blessings in Maa. The boys and girls we support are enjoying their time at 2 chosen secondary schools and the locally Maasai run “Naserian” in Southern Kenya, but there are many more, bright, high achieving children who could accomplish great things with our support.
Therese Green, MaaChild Founder
UNDERSTANDING THE MAASAI COMMUNITY
The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people occupying, the Rift Valley, Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Traditionally a pastoralist community, they depend mainly on animal husbandry in arid and semi-arid lands, necessitating them to find adequate grazing and water whilst also living a symbiotic relationship with the wildlife
The Maasai people have evolved into following a communal land management system which strives to be sustainable and at times is based upon seasonal land rotation. The population in this region stands at approximately 500,000 people occupying 160,000 square kilometres of land, expanses which have now been imposed and limited by inevitable development and population growth. The Maasai are community minded people with great pride and passion regarding their customs and heritage, a heritage founded upon the importance of cattle and community:
"Meishoo iyiook enkai inkishu o-nkera"
"May Creator give us cattle and children”
Not only were cattle the Maasai’s main form of sustenance but they were also the main currency of the tribe, and used as offerings at cultural rituals and ceremonies This is partly true today yet monetary systems are quickly becoming the adopted way of exchange with the Maasai economy being increasingly dependent on the market economy.
The lands where the Maasai reside are where we find the traditional homesteads of the Maasai (Boma or Enkang) which are usually inhabited by extended families and house pens (Kraals) for both cows and goats. There are hierarchical roles within such societies with the older men, first sons and the like retaining the more advanced huts (or Inkajijik) and additional village benefits. Maasai culture is strongly patriarchal, yet the people are collaborative in their daily lifestyles, routines and community practice. The typical Maasai home is crafted from mud, sticks, cow dung and cow’s urine and construction are tasked to the women of the tribe. The women are also responsible for duties including but not limited to cooking, collection of firewood, milking and water gathering. The male role is predominantly that of shepherding and protection of the tribe or community. The Maasai warrior is a well-known symbolic figure of Maasai culture.
Culture and tradition are important to the Maasai people. Their values and customs are respected, guiding their everyday lives and roles within both their communities and their environment. These values are often communicated via the elders. However, with the introduction of modern-day values and Christian influence, outside factors are becoming ever more dominant within Maasai society. Compromises and concessions are now common themes within the communities with new understandings of the importance of education and the roles of the Maasai women.
We provide secondary school bursaries to students of the area surrounding Kimana town situated near the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. In conjunction with the local community we develop a programme of continuing and sustainable support to improve educational entitlement for the Maasai children in this area.
THE CALL FOR EDUCATION
At first, education was met with suspicion, and questioned as being an imposition. But transition is inevitable and, as the years pass, a more favourable and progressive view has been adopted.
Those who have an education are providing an example of the optimistic role of education within the community. Education is a catalyst for change. It is undeniable that certain traditional practices are changing for the better, yet the community values, their symbiotic relationship with their environment, and their unique history must be celebrated, and their memory protected.
The Maasai children who are already in the schooling system have inspiring selfless aspirations - each aspiring towards roles which would benefit the culture and values of their people with many students speaking openly of how they wish to be doctors, teachers and human rights lawyers.
It is education which will give a voice to the Maasai in a modernizing world: a world which previously had little significance or relevance to the Maasai people.
THE VOICE OF THE COMMUNITY
According to Maasai traditional land agreement, no one should be denied access to natural resources such as water and land. Though it is stated it is not quite as explicit. Pipelines transfer water through the arid savannah to the cities and heavily populated areas such as Nairobi. Many communities are forced to tap water ‘illegally’ from such lines due to scarcity of clean drinking water.
Natural Springs are heavily relied upon, springs which are dependent upon Mount Kilimanjaro, ‘The White Mountain’. Once again, this highlights the Maasai dependency upon their relationship with the natural world. There is no security and surety of basic resources. Many are forced to collect unclean fresh water, the source of which is shared with the cattle. Non- governmental organisations are supporting the construction of irrigation systems, utilising the spring water and harnessing fresh water for multiple communities.