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Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya

by Maasai Girls Education Fund
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya
MGEF Scholars Are Eager To Return To School
MGEF Scholars Are Eager To Return To School

Dear Friends,

MGEF started out 2020 by accepting seven new scholarship students, who were chosen by our new junior board members, all MGEF alumni, with input by the elder board members.  This brought our roster up to 136 active students – 48 primary, 46 secondary, 31 post-secondary and 11 students waiting for acceptance into institutions of higher learning.  

We were busy during the first two months of 2020 with the usual beginning of school tasks such as enrolling Form One secondary students in their new schools, making sure students had their supplies and transport to school, and addressing any issues new and old students may have had with their schools.  Then the COVID pandemic became a worldwide crisis.  Shortly after the first positive COVID case in the United States, Kenya had its first case, and like other countries around the world, everyday life in Kenya dramatically changed.  

Once schools were closed on March 16th, all of MGEF’s primary and secondary scholarship students dropped by the office on their way home, many confused, scared and uninformed.  The post-secondary students touched base by phone; though they were more aware of the situation, they were still scared and needed reassurance.  The staff immediately went into action, with instructions about how to help keep them and their families safe and well.  They addressed washing of hands, social distancing, masks (which were difficult to find and must be handmade), isolating at home to stay safe, and most importantly, staying away from boys which now is not just a matter of getting pregnant, but also a matter of life and death.  Many of the children had not even been told why they were being sent home and were in great need of explanations and reassurance.  

The staff also had to make sure that all rescue girls who could not go home (e.g., due to risk of family violence or forced marriage) were safely in place at the schools with rescue centers that MGEF has partnered with for many years.  Transportation and logistics for these rescue students were immediately dealt with.  Thanks to our MGEF-Kajiado staff, all of our girls made it home safely or are in secure rescue shelters.  

Now several months later, MGEF-Kajiado’s Managing Director, Lucy, and Program Director, Abigael, remain vigilant about keeping in contact with all of the scholarship students.  We are very happy to report that as of now, everyone is healthy though COVID cases in Kenya continue to rise.  Unfortunately, we have discovered that our students’ families are struggling to provide food for their families.  The meager living that they once survived on has been lost due to closures of markets.  They can no longer sell their milk, livestock or beads.  The girls, who are usually away at boarding school, have become an extra mouth to feed during an extremely tough time.  MGEF decided to send a stipend for food to our students’ families to help.  This will not only keep our girls fed but they will also become the only source of food for the entire family during the shutdown.  This will raise their value to the family and will deter any thoughts of the girls being married off before they are safely back in school.  

Kenya had originally hoped to reopen schools at the end of June, but they have decided it is too soon and made the announcement just last week that they would reopen schools in September.  We were relieved, for we feared it might be too soon with respect to COVID, but yet, at the same time, we know it is best for our girls to be in school where they are safe from forced female genital cutting  and early marriage.  

Another development from the pandemic has been the decision by many universities and colleges to switch to online learning.  This has enabled quite a few of our post-secondary students to continue their studies.  Though this has been a real challenge for most of our students because they live in rural areas where internet access is very limited.  A few girls who have smart phones have been able to access information so they can continue their studies without too much trouble. Others have had to borrow phones which is very unreliable.  Due to this situation, MGEF decided it was necessary to invest in some laptops for the students to borrow for their classes.

As we all navigate through this difficult time, MGEF hopes all are safe and well and would like to thank everyone for their generous support of MGEF.  I have received many notes from alumnae, students, board members and other friends in Kenya.  All send their love and are so thankful for all you have done for their community through the education of their daughters, sisters, mothers and aunts.  

 

Thank you

 

Heather

2020 MGEF Scholarship Recipient Joan
2020 MGEF Scholarship Recipient Joan
MGEF Alumni Help Mentor Maasai Girls During COVID
MGEF Alumni Help Mentor Maasai Girls During COVID
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MGEF Students Listening at Mentoring Workshop
MGEF Students Listening at Mentoring Workshop

Dear Friends,

What an incredible year it has been for the Maasai Girls Education Fund! December 2019 was full of celebrations of many new graduates from various stages of their education—six from post-secondary institutions, six from primary school, and twelve from secondary school.  Most of these scholars are the first young women in their families to achieve this.  Many, as young girls, only dreamed of this day, and now it has become reality.   

MGEF ended the year with 130 students on our roster, 49 primary, 47 secondary and 34 post-secondary students. MGEF now has 83 alumnae, with 73 of these young women completing post-secondary education!

Mentoring Workshop 2019

For the second year in a row, our Annual Mentoring Workshop was facilitated entirely by MGEF alumnae.  Our Alumnae sisterhood has made it their goal to invite all our graduates over the last 20 years to mentor our younger students, engaging our new graduates as well as our older alumnae, who are now well-established empowered women working throughout Kenya. As an example, Jane, a graduate from 2011 who is a dentist, spoke to our current students about what it takes to be a good leader, and the impact you can have not only on your own personal life but on others also. The mentoring workshop is a safe place for all to ask questions, solve issues, and bond with each other.  What makes MGEF special is the feeling of family that is encouraged among the staff, alumnae and current students.  There is no problem too great or small to bring forward for all to share.

MGEF was also fortunate at this year’s Mentoring Workshop to have our friend Chief Felix come and speak and encourage the girls to continue their academic journey.  Felix is a prominent chief in the Namanga division of Kajiado County.  Earlier this year he brought MGEF a young girl who was from his area that was unable to go to school due to lack of school fees.  He was so touched by our acceptance of this young woman and what MGEF does that he and his family donated five acres of land to MGEF.  In the future, we would like to utilize this great gift to establish a rural community outreach center and bring us even closer to those in need.  

Life Skills Workshops 2019

In 2019 MGEF received a grant to conduct 26 Life Skills Workshops (LSWs).  The Workshops were held in the Namanga Division of Kajiado County, and are conducted for Maasai girls and boys, as well as men and women, throughout Maasai communities in Kajiado County to address the social customs and cultural beliefs that prevent Maasai girls from getting an education.  They present information and teach participants about barriers to education among the Maasai, including traditional cultural practices such as female genital cutting (FGC), forced marriage and early pregnancy. To date, 16,273 Maasai girls, boys, women and men have attended MGEF’s Life Skills Workshops. 

The LSW’s truly give us insights into the landscape of what is happening in the heart of the Maasai people we serve in Kenya, and these insights help us craft our future plans to best fit Maasai girls’ needs.  We have discovered, for example, that there has been much progress in attitudes about girls’ education in Maasai communities nearer more urban areas, but affordability still remains an insurmountable obstacle to education for too many.  The further out into the bush we go, however, the more FGM and early marriage is practiced for tradition’s sake.  This is why our Life Skills Workshops are so critical, and underscores the need for increased rural outreach.

MGEF-Kajiado Kenyan Board is growing

MGEF-Kajiado has always had a Board of Directors, Maasai women that serve as advisors with all of our programs.  They play a crucial role in our selection process for new scholarships, and their approval is the first step to being accepted into MGEF.  When there is a girl in need of rescue or school fees, they go to the board member of their local division—an empowered educated Maasai woman from her local community—more often than not, a teacher. Once the board member meets with the applicant and helps them fill out an application, her application is forwarded to the MGEF Kajiado staff and, finally, the US Executive Director.  Until recently there has been only one board member from each division. The MGEF alumnae, however, decided that the best, most impactful way they could remain involved with and give back to MGEF was to start becoming board members themselves. This December the Kajiado Board revised its by-laws to include two board members per division and welcomed seven new MGEF alumnae as junior board members! Everyone is so excited to have them aboard.  They have many new and exciting ideas and are full of energy to get started.   

New Scholars

In Kenya, the school year starts in January.  Therefore, every January we try to add as many girls as we think we might be able to find sponsors for—this year we are picking up 8! Choosing new scholars is an exciting and rewarding experience, but also very difficult.  MGEF receives so many applications and daily visits at the office from desperate girls and their parents that it is impossible to accept them all, and we try very hard to find the most needy of the students among them, the girls who without our help would have absolutely no chance of going to school.  The new junior board members were very excited to become a part of this process, and worked closely with their senior board members to pick the recipients of the 2020 MGEF scholarships in their divisions.  

With the eight new girls added this January, MGEF started 2020 with 136 active students.  Our roster consists of 47 primary, 46 secondary, 32 post-secondary students, with 12 pending post-secondary awaiting acceptance to various institutions of higher education.  Most pending post-secondary students are busy taking computer classes to prepare themselves for their future academic pursuits.

On behalf of the Maasai Community and the Maasai Girls Education Fund, I would like to thank our many supporters, both individuals and foundations. Your generous support and commitment to Maasai Girls education is critical to our success and to the continued success of our students. 

 

With much gratitude,

Heather McKay

MGEF Alumna Facilitates Mentoring Workshop
MGEF Alumna Facilitates Mentoring Workshop
Discussion at the End of an Adult LSW
Discussion at the End of an Adult LSW
Chief Felix Speaks at the Annual Parent Meeting
Chief Felix Speaks at the Annual Parent Meeting
The Board Introduces Alumnae Junior Board Members
The Board Introduces Alumnae Junior Board Members
2020 MGEF Scholarship Recipient from Isinya
2020 MGEF Scholarship Recipient from Isinya
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MGEF Students Arrive for Term 3 Supplies
MGEF Students Arrive for Term 3 Supplies

Hello friends,

Back to School

As fall arrives, I wanted to share with you some of my adventures from my most recent trip to Kenya in early September. I strategically planned this visit so that I would be at the MGEF-Kajiado office in Kenya when all our scholarship students checked in to pick up their Term 3 school fees and supplies. For days, the office was abuzz with scholars of all ages. Everyone was excited to go back to school and finish up the last term of the school year. Many of the girls enthusiastically told me about their progress in school and their future dreams. Like students all over the world, as they progress through school, they learn more about their interests and strengths. It is such an honor and a delight for me to watch them identify careers that they are truly passionate about.

During my visit, a group of 19 students who all go to a local boarding school called AIC Primary, came to the MGEF-Kajiado office. AIC is a great friend to MGEF. It is not only a primary boarding school, but also a rescue center. Many of our students cannot go home during the holidays due to violence or threat of female genital cutting (FGC) and early forced marriage. AIC helps keep our MGEF students safe by allowing those enrolled at AIC, and some enrolled at other schools, to spend their holidays together as a family of MGEF sisters.    

Faith

When our scholarship students from AIC Primary School came to the MGEF-Kajiado office, a tall shy girl came along with them. She was dressed in well worn clothes and seemed frightened. After about an hour, a teacher arrived and spoke to Lucy, MGEF-Kajiado’s Managing Director. Lucy called me over to meet the 11 year old girl whose name was Faith. Faith had a story that truly touched my heart.  

Faith comes from a very poor polygamist family of 21 children and had never gone to school. She has 10 brothers and 10 sisters. Her mother is one of three wives and has three boys as well as Faith and her sister. Her younger brother was severely handicapped with cerebral palsy and Faith was assigned at an early age to take care of him. Her mother took Faith’s little brother to a rescue center that takes care of handicapped children. The rescue center is also a school, although Faith’s brother was not able to attend classes due to the severity of his illness. Faith’s mother sent her along to be his caretaker (but not to go to school). The first grade teacher at this school felt sorry for Faith and noticed she was interested to learn, so she would often sneak the bright little girl into her class. During the school year, Faith’s brother took a turn for the worse and sadly passed away.  After his passing, however, the first grade teacher refused to send her home because without the job of taking care of her brother, she knew Faith would be quickly married off. Faith’s presence, however, had to be hidden from the school principal who would send her home because no one was paying her school fees. With the help of a few other teachers, the first grade teacher bought Faith a school uniform and continued to sneak Faith into her class. To stay undiscovered during the school day, Faith could not go to breakfast, lunch or recess. The other children would combine their food and bring it to her for lunch and the teacher would bring her something from home for breakfast. The first grade teacher also got permission from AIC Primary School to allow Faith to sleep there at nights. After classes, Faith would sneak out and walk to AIC, about 0.5 km away, to spend the night.  While at AIC, Faith met our MGEF students. Upon learning that AIC’s MGEF students were coming to the office to get their supplies and also visit with the US Executive Director, the teacher arranged to bring Faith at the same time to tell us her story and fill out a scholarship application.

The first grade teacher emphasized to me and MGEF’s Managing Director that Faith is eager to learn and very bright. Upon hearing her story and reviewing her application, MGEF accepted Faith as our newest scholarship recipient. Faith’s eyes swelled with tears when she learned she would become an MGEF student. She hugged me and would not let go.  

Rescuing girls like Faith and giving them the opportunity to become educated and ultimately economically self-sufficient is truly what MGEF is about and why I love this job. Faith now attends AIC Primary as a regular boarding student and is all smiles. 

Chief Felix’s Donation

In early 2019, a young progressive Maasai chief named Felix from Namanga Division arrived at the MGEF-Kajaido office with a little girl named Vivian. Felix is a proponent of education for Maasai girls and boys. He had found Vivian herding a group of goats along the side of the road. He asked why she was not in school, since he knew she had attended and graduated from primary school. Vivian said that her parents could not afford secondary school fees. Vivian comes from a polygamist family with nine children. Her parents are not employed and cannot read or write. They rely on a few goats and sheep to survive.  

Felix went to meet with Vivian’s parents who told him that she did very well in school, but that they could barely put food on the table much less send her to secondary school. Felix had heard of MGEF and brought Vivian with him on the 1 ½ hour journey to the MGEF office. There he helped her fill out a scholarship application, after which MGEF accepted Vivian as a scholarship recipient. For the first time in years, she now goes to school without fear of being sent home due to lack of school fees. She is in Form 1 at Kimana Secondary School. 

Felix was so touched by MGEF’s response to Vivian’s plight that he went home to his family and spoke with them about our organization. He then returned to the office to inform us that his family has agreed to donate 5 acres of land to MGEF, in thanks for the work we do on behalf of Maasai girls and the broader community. Felix’s generosity and dedication to education is deeply admirable.  He embodies the positive change that is occurring among educated Maasai men and women as they work to further educate their community and help their community rise out of poverty.  

Visiting a Maasai Village

During the second week of my trip, Marilyn (one of our sponsors), her husband Scott and her friend Gloria came to see MGEF-Kajiado in action and to visit Marilyn’s student, Grace. What a wonderful group they were, eager to learn about the Maasai and experience this culture to the fullest in two days. As you can imagine, it was a busy two days.  

First our wonderful Maasai friend and supporter, Chief Felix, offered to take our guests to a boma , which is a Maasai family home that often consists of many family members and huts. For example, when a son gets married, he will bring his wife to the family boma and build a manyatta (a small hut) for them to live in and raise their family. The size of a boma can vary greatly as it depends on the number of sons who have chosen to stay and live a traditional life. This boma was in Felix’s ward of Namanga. He drove us along a winding dusty road far out into the country. It was beautiful, though very dry due to the drought. We stopped briefly at a trough fed by a water tower that the community had built for Maasai in the area to bring their cattle to drink, and met some Maasai herdsmen there.  At the nearby boma, we received a very warm and appreciative welcome for the small staples that we brought, such as sugar and flour. With pride, the family members showed us their individual manyattas (homes) and the enclosures where they keep their livestock at night. Though it was a short visit, our visitors got a true glimpse into their lives.  

After our visit to the boma, we drove to Felix’s house where we met his family and had lunch. Of course many of his neighbors joined us to meet the visitors from far away. They were just as fascinated with us and our culture as we were with theirs. Chief Felix is a well-educated man. When asked why he returned to his home area rather than choosing a more modern life in Nairobi, he replied that he loves his people and wants to retain his beautiful culture, while at the same time working to change some of the old traditions that are detrimental to the health and well-being of the Maasai community.  

Grace

The next day, our group visited Marilyn’s student, Grace, at her school. Though Grace is shy, Marilyn seemed to create an instant bond with her. We also visited Grace’s mother in her modest little home. She welcomed us with open arms and served hot tea as we chatted. She does not speak English, so all was translated by Lucy, though her gratitude needed no translation.  

Thank you

It is always amazing when I visit MGEF-Kajiado, to witness all of the successes and the determination of our wonderful scholars, and also the deep commitment of many Maasai, like Faith’s first grade teacher and Chief Felix, who give of themselves to help the Maasai community.  Added to this is the generosity of our sponsors, such as Gloria, who after hearing Faith’s story on the way to the boma is now sponsoring her education. Imagine that someone, who does not know them and who lives far away, can come into their lives and change their futures for the better.

Thank you so much for your support.

 Heather McKay

New MGEF Student Faith
New MGEF Student Faith
Chief Felix Presents Five Acres to MGEF
Chief Felix Presents Five Acres to MGEF
Visit to a Local Boma
Visit to a Local Boma
Grace Meets Her Sponsor
Grace Meets Her Sponsor
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AIC Primary School, Girls Life Skill Workshop
AIC Primary School, Girls Life Skill Workshop

Dear Friends,

This letter finds me preparing for a trip to Kenya at the end of August, to work alongside the MGEF-Kajiado staff, meeting with students to monitor their progress, speaking with them about challenges they may be facing and giving encouragement as they head back to school for Term 3.

Sponsorship

August in Kenya is the summer break for school children. In late August, the students will return for Term 3, which is the last, very short trimester of the school year, ending in late October. The new school year will then start the first week of January 2020. Because the intervening school break period is very long, we hold our Annual Mentoring Workshop for Scholarship students at the end of November. This workshop focuses on helping our students keep on track, not lose sight of their dreams and goals, and to be aware of signs that they might be married off. We do everything possible to ensure the success of our students, which is evident in our high graduation rates, well above those for girls among the Maasai and in Kenya overall, and our low dropout rate, far below the norm for Maasai girls.

Currently, MGEF provides scholarships to 128 Maasai girls and women with 48 primary, 45 secondary, 30 post-secondary and five students awaiting acceptance to institutions of higher learning. This spring MGEF celebrated five new graduates from post-secondary schools, bringing our alumnae up to 80 with 70 of these scholars completing some form of higher education. Of the 225 students who have enrolled in our Scholarship Program, 92% have stayed in school. Only 17 have dropped out from primary or secondary school, most during MGEF’s early years of operation, due to cultural pressures or early pregnancy. 

Our Scholarship Program recipients continue to amaze us, as these determined girls and young woman chart their paths forward. One example is Lois, who comes from a polygamist family of one father, three wives and 26 children. Her father removed her from school in Class 3 to tend cattle.  Lois dreamed of returning to school, but because her father forbade it, she ran away to her cousin’s home and begged them to help her go to school. They brought her to MGEF in late 2017 to fill out an application and she was accepted to begin Class 4 in January 2018. Her first year was a huge success - Lois won the “best performance award” at our Annual Mentoring Workshop with a high score of 690 out of 700 possible points, which is almost a perfect grade point average. This year, she continues to maintain her high grades and has made many friends. Though she is still very quiet and shy, she now flashes a confident smile.

Life Skills Workshops

This year, MGEF conducted 26 Life Skills Workshops (LSWs), 13 for adults and 13 for children.  The workshops were held in the Namanga Division of Kajiado County. The LSWs address cultural barriers and social customs that prevent Maasai girls from getting an education. Topics covered include harmful effects of early marriage, teen pregnancy and female genital cutting (FGC). With a decade of experience conducting workshops, we have learned that the most effective strategy for promoting change is to conduct them for both the younger and older generations within a short time frame and in the same area. Therefore, we conducted the children’s workshops and the adult workshops in the same villages, within the same month. To date, 16,276 Maasai girls, boys, women and men have attended MGEF’s LSWs.  

The workshops for children, which are held in primary school for Class 6 through Class 8, continue to show progress and success, but there is still much to be done. The Namanga Division is very diverse, and thus our LSWs were conducted in very rural areas to fairly modern villages. Much to the surprise of the MGEF staff and the LSW facilitators, Meto Primary, which is in a very modern village, suffered the most compared to other LSW locations in terms of FGC and early marriage and were seemingly embedded in old traditions. The girls there are not only circumcised very young, but they also incorrectly believed that all girls in Kenya were circumcised. Though these observations were discouraging, the facilitators spent much of the workshop dispelling the old traditional beliefs and spoke in depth about the ill effects of FGC on women, ultimately enabling the workshops to have a positive outcome. At the end of the workshops, both girls and boys stated they would not circumcise their daughters and that education is the only way out of the cycle of poverty that the Maasai community endures. It was also encouraging to hear in the boy’s workshop that they would try to be much better at protecting their sisters. These girls and boys are the very children that we strive to educate.  I was touched by a question that one of the boys had at the end of the workshop, “How do I make my life beautiful?”  

The adult workshops also provide insight into the progress we are seeing in breaking the traditional beliefs that perpetuate poverty in the Maasai community. In the adult workshops, the men and women were separated into two groups by gender. Each group was presented with information about six topics, either directly or indirectly related to barriers to education, after which there was a question and answer session. This was followed by an open discussion with both men and women present. The six topics were: importance of education, school dropout rates, cultural practices (such as FGC and early marriage), HIV, nutrition, and water and sanitation. At the end of the workshop, the men and women are brought together to discuss what they have learned and how they can promote change. The discussions often become very lively, as it is a unique format in which they can converse about issues openly. We are very encouraged to now see that the adults’ conversations are less about whether to educate their children, but rather how to make sure to keep them in school. Though these are still very real issues to solve, we are encouraged and impressed by the huge step forward the community has made in understanding the importance of education to the survival of the Maasai community. 

MGEF’s strong reputation in the community can be seen in its ongoing efforts to help rescue Maasai girls from challenging situations. In June 2019, Lucy, MGEF-Kajiado Managing Director, was returning from an LSW workshop when Pacifica, MGEF-Kajiado office assistant, called with important news. One of MGEF-Kajiado’s board members had come to the office with a local chief and two girls, named Florence and Namelok, in desperate need of rescue. The two sisters’ mother is an alcoholic and had abandoned them to sell alcohol in the street at a nearby village. Their father is a very old man with three wives and he does not support these girls or the wife who has left him. Florence and Namelok were staying with a stepbrother who was planning to circumcise them and had already received promises of marriage from two Maasai men from Tanzania. Each man had offered 30,000 shillings (about $300) and a case of soda as a dowry for each girl. Defying the stepbrother’s plan, their uncle gave the girls 100 Kenyan shillings (about $1) and told them to run to their mother, but their mother wanted nothing to do with them. Namelok, the younger sister, managed to send a message to her school teacher, telling her why she was not in school. The teacher contacted the local chief, who brought the girls to the attention of the MGEF board member in the area. With an imminent move to Tanzania on the horizon, these girls needed immediate rescuing. MGEF took swift action, bringing the girls to a boarding school close to the MGEF-Kajiado office. The girls are now safe. They love their new school and have become friends with other MGEF students also attending this school.

It is with your support that we are able to rescue these two girls, and others like them, and change their future of poverty, hard labor and most likely violence. Thank you so much for making our work possible.

Engaboli Primary School, Boy Life Skills Workshop
Engaboli Primary School, Boy Life Skills Workshop
Rescue Girls, Florence and Namelok
Rescue Girls, Florence and Namelok
MGEF-Kajiado Staff
MGEF-Kajiado Staff
Lois, Primary School Student
Lois, Primary School Student
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New Scholarship Student Esther
New Scholarship Student Esther

Dear Friends,

We are excited to update you with news of MGEF’s activities over the past several months in Kajiado, Kenya.

Scholarship Program

In Kenya, the school year starts in January and ends the last week of October, with early November being the time to study for end-of-year exams for those graduating from primary or secondary school.   Term 1 begins the second week of January and ends at the beginning of April with Term 2 starting the next week.  

MGEF was thrilled to be able to add five needy Maasai students in January to our Scholarship roster, and five more for Term 2, thanks to many supporters and sponsors.  This brings our roster up to 131 active students with 45 primary, 46 secondary, 35 post-secondary students and five pending students awaiting acceptance into institutions of higher learning.  

With Term 2 having just begun, the MGEF-Kajiado office was bustling these past few weeks with students coming by to pick up their Term 2 school supplies and school fees.

Staff Update 

Early this year, long-time MGEF Program Director, Margaret, informed us that she had been offered and accepted a job closer to where her husband works.  For the past several years, Margaret’s husband has worked far from Kajiado, the town where the MGEF-Kajiado office is located.  He was only able to return home to Kajiado occasionally.  We have appreciated Margaret’s dedicated service to MGEF and were saddened to see her go, but we completely understand her desire to move her family to be with her husband.  

MGEF was very excited, however, to bring aboard one of our own alumnae, Abigael, as the new Program Director.  Abigael graduated in 2016 from Costa Rica’s EARTH University with a degree in Agricultural Science and Natural Resource Management. She attended EARTH University as a recipient of theMastercard Foundation Scholarship program.  Abigael is very knowledgeable about MGEF’s programs, having been a Scholarship recipient herself, an organizer of MGEF’s alumnae network, and a facilitator in our Life Skills Workshops and our student Mentoring Workshops.  We are delighted to have Abigael return to her home in Kajiado to work for MGEF.  

Life Skills Workshops

MGEF received a grant to conduct 26 Life Skills Workshops (LSWs) in 2019.   The workshops will be held in the Namanga Division of Kajiado County.  The LSWs are conducted for boys and girls, and men and women, throughout Maasai communities in Kajiado County to address the social customs and cultural beliefs that prevent Maasai girls from getting an education.  They present information and teach participants about barriers to education among the Maasai (e.g., traditional cultural practices such as female genital cutting (FGC), forced marriage and early pregnancy) and help improve attitudes about and support for girls’ education, which will enable girls to financially contribute to the family far more than a dowry of a few cows.  To date, 13,794 Maasai girls, boys, women and men have attended MGEF’s LSWs. 

By the end of April, we had conducted 10 LSWs for adults.  In each of these workshops, the men and women were separated into two groups. Each group was presented with information about six topics, either directly or indirectly related to barriers to education, after which there was a question and answer session.  This was followed by an open discussion with both men and women present.  The six topics were: importance of education, school dropout rates, cultural practices (such as FGC and early marriage), HIV, nutrition, and water and sanitation.  In every workshop, the participants asked questions and engaged in group discussions.  Most of the participants were illiterate with very little or no formal education.  The Maasai are a very proud people and having an opportunity to learn and discuss these topics in a nonjudgmental environment, despite their lack of education, is important. 

In each of the 10 workshops conducted, the first topic covered was the importance of education. We were pleased to see much progress in terms of the participants’ attitudes towards education.  In almost every workshop, the men and women felt that education was critical for helping the next generation and improving life in the Maasai community.  With this as a base belief, the conversations turned to the problem of dropout rates. After the facilitator’s presentation, the participants agreed that enrollment in primary school has improved but once the students move to higher primary grades, there is an increase in dropouts, especially among girls.  

The facilitator then encouraged the groups to brainstorm about the dropout problem, both men and woman, and asked each group to present their conclusions and possible solutions. A common theme was presented at all of the workshops.  Among many in the Maasai culture, it is believed that once a girl is circumcised or has reached puberty, she is considered to be an adult and thus should no longer be given advice or directions about life by her mother or father. This results in little communication or guidance from her parents, especially from a girl’s father.  The participants explained that even a 15-minute conversation between a father and his teenage daughter can raise suspicions in the community.  Mothers also feel they cannot give advice to their daughters, especially about sexual behavior.  Since these girls are young teenagers, they may not make wise decisions, often resulting in unplanned pregnancies, which cause girls to drop out of school.  It was also pointed out that dropout rates increase for boys with age because they too were treated like adults and thus given many family responsibilities (e.g., tending to livestock), conveying an impression that boys do not need to continue with school.  The facilitators spoke to the men and women about how these traditions can be barriers to education and encouraged the participants to speak to their daughters to help them realize the importance of staying in school and making good decisions about their personal behaviors.  To see this kind of discussion even five years ago, especially from Maasai men, would have been unheard of.  To hear fathers agree that their children, both boys and girls, should go to school and then agree to try to change their attitudes and traditions to help keep them in school is a huge step forward.  

The topic of water and sanitation led to a discussion of government policies and rights to land and water among the Maasai.  The participants said they are starting to realize that the education of their sons and daughters is necessary to survive in the 21stcentury, right down to having water.  Because most of the adult participants are illiterate, they realize they do not understand government policies and often are taken advantage of when it comes to land rights and legal issues.  They recognize they are at a disadvantage when advocating for their rights, and that their advocates could in fact be their educated sons and daughters.

We also have seen progress in attitudes towards FGC.  Both men and women participants understood that FGC is illegal, and that the numbers of girls circumcised is falling each year, but they also acknowledged that it is still practiced.  Both men and women also understood health risks associated with FGC as reasons the practice should stop, including bleeding (which can lead to death), spread of HIV, infections and problems during pregnancy.  Eliminating FGC from the Maasai culture is still a challenge, because the old beliefs are still strong among some, especially older women who feel the tradition should continue.  MGEF has seen huge steps forward in attitudes about FGC, but long-held superstitions are still strong.   

Women’s Business Training

MGEF also conducts Women’s Business Training (WBT) workshops to help rural Maasai women with little to no education start and sustain small businesses and become self-sufficient.  Since we started the WBT program in April 2013,300 women have attended 10 WBT Workshops.    Each WBT Workshop has 30 Maasai women participants.  This year, Abigael will visit the WBT groups to follow-up on their progress, and to hear their suggestions and ideas for the future.  Our workshops increase the confidence of these Maasai women, and the businesses they start benefit not only their extended families but also the broader Maasai community.

It is with your help and support that our 131 Scholarship students are able to reach their goals one step at a time and that the Maasai community is continuing to increase its commitment to education.

 

Thank you 

Heather McKay

MGEF Life Skills Workshop
MGEF Life Skills Workshop
MGEF's New Program Director, Abigael
MGEF's New Program Director, Abigael
Women Participating in MGEF's Life Skills Workshop
Women Participating in MGEF's Life Skills Workshop
Faith's First Day at her New School
Faith's First Day at her New School
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Organization Information

Maasai Girls Education Fund

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Heather McKay
Executive Director
Washington, DC United States
$47,557 raised of $95,000 goal
 
399 donations
$47,443 to go
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