New Scholarship Student Esther
We are excited to update you with news of MGEF’s activities over the past several months in Kajiado, Kenya.
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.
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.
MGEF Life Skills Workshop
MGEF's New Program Director, Abigael
Women Participating in MGEF's Life Skills Workshop
Faith's First Day at her New School