A Kenyan Diary: Of Elephants, Maasai Warriors and Empowered African Women and Children
Day Four: After our early morning hike and a hearty buffet breakfast of hot cereals, omelets, toast and fruit, we head out to visit Kisaruni All-Girls Boarding Secondary School. High school for Kenyan children is not free, so most girls leave school after grade eight. Most of them stay home to look after their families, fetching water, firewood, weeding the gardens, cooking tea and looking after younger siblings. Some of them get married. Traditionally, Maasai men have more than one wife, so a 14-year-old girl could be married off to a 50-year-old man who already has several wives. While those traditions are changing and this generation of young girls will probably choose their own spouses, they still need the approval of their parents. For most young teenage girls, the idea of going to high school is a very big dream.
Free The Children built Kisaruni School and has 41 girls who have just started Form 2 (grade 10) and 50 girls in Form 1 (grade nine).With the help of renowned educational therapist, Dr Barbara Hoskins from California, the education facilitators provide opportunities for the girls to excel. Girls are admitted after interviews with them and their families to determine need. The girls are sponsored by benefactors who provide a scholarship of $10,000 to see a girl through four years of secondary school. Their education focuses on empowerment built on their cultural values and diversity. Dr. Barbara Hoskins sees an enormous change in confidence in the second year girls already. “When they first arrived in form one, they spoke with their eyes looking down at the floor,” she says. “Now in form two, they can speak to the entire student body with their heads raised in pride.”
Besides the enormous advantage the girls will enjoy through an education, Kisaruni School has also brought peace to the community. Girls from both the Maasai and Kipsigis tribes attend and the parents not only helped break ground for the building of the school, but also come every Friday to teach cultural values to the girls.
From here, we cross the hills to a Maasai community, where the Maasai Mamas greet us under a tree where they have spread an enormous colorful blanket. They invite us to sit and thread tiny beads into necklaces and bracelets. These mamas are part of Me to We Artisans, a program empowering women to earn an income for their families by selling these century-old traditional craft pieces. I ask one Mama helping me thread my beads how old she is. She smiles slyly and says “five million years.” The truth is, most Kenyans don’t know how old they are, even the young Maasai warriors who think they’re probably about 24 years old, but with no birth certificates, cannot be sure.
Nearby is a Sikirar elementary school and the children have been waiting patiently for our arrival. They greet us by grabbing our hands and ushering us into their play area or in some cases, leaping into the arms of the men in our group. They sing and dance for us, pulling us in to join their dance. One of the young men in our group says “We get more adulation in five minutes with these kids than a rock star would.” The children are joined by their teachers as well as many of the proud parents from the community. They love to have their pictures taken because most of them don’t have mirrors, so this gives them an opportunity to see themselves. Obviously, despite a lack of electronic equipment, they’ve had lots of experience with digital cameras because they know exactly which button to push on my camera to view their pictures.
In the evening before dinner, we gather around a campfire to listen to Free The Children’s Kenya Program Director Robin Wiszowaty describe her year of living with a Maasai family. At the end of her story, we are regaled by a group of elders in full colorful traditional dress, who present each of us with a shuka (the traditional Maasai blanket) and spit fermented milk at us. Fortunately Robin had warned us that this was considered their welcome and blessing to visitors.
That night at dinner as we are called upon to share the highlight of our day, few of us can find the words to express our impressions of a day so intensely emotional. We are unanimous in our opinion that we will hold the experience close to our hearts for a very long time.
For more information about booking this meaningful travel adventure, visit www.meritvacations.com or call 1.866.341.1777.
-Bonnie Baker Cowan
Guests of a Me to We Trip to Kenya are treated to a unique African experience of being immersed in the daily life of a fascinating culture. Me to We is an innovative social enterprise that supports the important work of its partner, Free The Children, an educational partner and international charity committed to providing holistic and sustainable infrastructure to developing communities around the world. Me to We donates half of its net profit to Free The Children, while reinvesting the other half to grow the enterprise and its social mission. In a five-part diary series, Bonnie Baker Cowan recounts the impressions of the Kenyan way of life, particularly in its rural and underserved communities and the work Free The Children is doing to help people break the chain of poverty.