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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
The Tenth Women's Business Training Group
The Tenth Women's Business Training Group

Dear Friends,

I have just returned from a busy trip to Kenya, where I was able to visit many students at their new schools with Lucy Ntayia, Director of our MGEF Kajiado office. I was very impressed with the new schools and their administrators, and how well our students had settled in. They are all thriving and doing well in their studies.   At present, MGEF has 125 scholars, 46 primary, 33 secondary and 39 post secondary with an additional seven pending post secondary students who are waiting for their acceptances to various technical schools, colleges and universities. It was such a pleasure to be in the office when two of our pending post-secondary students arrived to share the good news of their acceptance to universities.   It is so amazing to see these determined young women achieving their dreams of attending post secondary schools, something that, not long ago, was unheard of in the Maasai community of Kenya.

Life Skills Workshops

In mid July MGEF conducted the second half of the Life Skills Workshops (LSWs) for 2017, with seven workshops held in Magadi, which is a very remote district of Kajiado country.   The workshops were well attended with MGEF reaching 694 children, 354 boys and 340 girls.   Unfortunately, this area is very much entrenched in the traditions of FGC and early marriage. The dropout rate for girls is very high especially between primary and secondary school.   The MGEF facilitators were very happy that the students, the girls especially, were full of questions and discussion.   How can HIV and TB be prevented? How can girls avoid Female Genital Cutting (FGC)? These were some of the many questions from participants. If these workshops have given even a small number of girls the inspiration to continue to be strong, determined and stay in school, we have succeeded.

Women’s Business Training

Due to the Kenyan elections, Margaret Mereyian, our Program Director in Kenya, decided to conduct the tenth cohort of our Women’s Business Training (WBT) the third week of August instead of late July. The 30 women attended the three-day business training workshop where they learned the fundamentals of business. On the fourth day, they broke up into six groups and came up with a business plan to execute their new endeavors. After much discussion amongst all thirty women on whether the six new businesses were marketable, the groups went with the facilitator to buy their start up supplies. On my visit, I was able to see the newly opened businesses and I was very impressed with these women. There was a produce stand, a hair salon, and a jewelry store to name a few. The women who had chosen to buy and sell sheep were the most successful that morning, making a profit of $15 per sheep. They had sold six sheep in the first hour that they were open.

The Alumnae

The alumnae are powerfully motivating to younger girls and they have already prompted significant positive change in their own Maasai communities. They mentor younger girls, volunteer at the Kajiado office, advocate for women’s rights and girls’ education, and contribute to the deep sense of sisterhood shared by MGEF’s students. Leading by example, they raise the status of women in the eyes of the Maasai community. They empower others to find their voice in decisions that directly affect their lives and bodies, including those of their sisters and daughters.

This past weekend, Evelyn, who is an MGEF alumna that teaches high school in the town of Kajiado, arranged for five of the alumnae and MGEF staff to go to a local orphanage and served them lunch and give them all haircuts. It was a fun day and very inspirational for the children. Many of the little girls asked questions of the alumnae and also shared their dreams and aspirations.

During this trip I was visited by Doctor Gloria, an MGEF alumna who graduated last December from medical school. She works in a hospital that is not far from the MGEF Kajiado office. Gloria is thrilled by her new role and is very excited to be giving back to the community. Now, when one of our students becomes sick, we call Doctor Gloria. While out to dinner with Gloria, she said to me, “I am so happy now, I am able to support myself and I am even able to buy you dinner.” Her comment highlights the impact education has on someone who grew up in extreme poverty. She was very proud, as she should be, to be self sufficient while having the ability to provide for others. It was a long and hard road for Gloria but she stuck with it and is now in a place she only dreamed of.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is watching the students grow and blossom. This past trip, I was able to visit several girls that came to me in December with hopes of getting scholarships to be able to go back to school. They had run away from the threat of FGC, early marriage, poverty or a violent father. They were hungry, unsure of their future and frightened. You could see the pain and fear in their eyes. I visited three such girls this trip. When I first met them last December, they would not look me in the eye and were too shy or frightened to speak.   Now they look me in the eye with confidence while laughing and joking with their fellow MGEF classmates. It is moments like these that make all of the work we do worthwhile. We would not be able to change so many lives without the emotional and financial support from sponsors and donors like you.

Thanks to all those who help make our work possible.

Susan is Accepted to the University of Nairobi
Susan is Accepted to the University of Nairobi
Lucy, MGEF Kajiado Director, with New Students
Lucy, MGEF Kajiado Director, with New Students
Doctor Gloria & Margaret, MGEF Program Director
Doctor Gloria & Margaret, MGEF Program Director
Women's Business Training Produce Stand
Women's Business Training Produce Stand
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Students Gather Under a Tree
Students Gather Under a Tree

Dear friends,

It has been a very busy spring at the Maasai Girls Education Fund. The students started their second term in early May, after a two week spring break. The Kajiado staff was very busy welcoming the girls as they stopped by on their way to school for supplies and to present their report cards from term one. At present, MGEF has 126 scholars, 46 primary, 34 secondary and 32 post secondary with an additional 14 pending post secondary students who are waiting for their acceptances to various technical schools, colleges and universities.

Life Skills Workshops

Next week, MGEF will be conducting its second half of the Life Skills Workshops (LSWs) for 2017, with seven workshops in the Magadi division of Kenya’s Kajiado County. This area is very remote. Many of the schools consist simply of students and a teacher gathered under a tree with few supplies or books. These children are in great need of our workshops because Maasai girls in remote areas are the most vulnerable to the old, but unfortunately still practiced, traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and early marriage. Children in these areas have had very little exposure to any other ways of life beyond the traditional Maasai culture. The futures of these girls will most likely consist of a 6th grade education at most and marriage to a much older man with several wives in exchange for a dowry of a few cows. Life will consist of many children, manual labor and severe poverty. The LSWs in this area will help to make a dent in the traditions that put Maasai children at risk of disease, violence and poverty. The workshops, which are conducted for both boys and girls (in separate groups), inform the children of their right to an education, the physical and mental repercussions of FGC, and how early marriage perpetuates the vicious cycle of poverty. Other topics include the spread of HIV and other sexual diseases, the girls right to say no to sexual advances and the boys’ duty as strong Maasai men to stop violence towards women. MGEF has learned, through experience, that it takes one step at a time to change hundreds of years of tradition.

Women’s Business Training

As stated in our Spring Update, MGEF will be conducting the tenth cohort of its Women’s Business Training (WBT) program in July. Margaret, our Program Director, has set up the training for 30 women who are excited to start and have already begun putting together ideas for their businesses. The 30 women will attend a three-day initial workshop during which they will learn the fundamentals of running a business. They will then be broken up into six groups of five and each group will chose a business. They will put together a business plan and present this to the other five groups to obtain input and comment on the viability of each plan. Once the plan has been finalized, Margaret will then help each group buy their initial business supplies.  

The most important goal for these women is to develop a sustainable business. They must learn to reinvest and look towards the future instead of just the present. MGEF is very proud of these women. Since we started the WBT program, we have had 270 women attend and 249 still have an active business. These businesses not only help them support their families and fight against poverty, but also raise their status in the community and give them more control over their lives.

Abigael

MGEF’s alumna, Abigael, joined us as guest speaker at our 3rd Annual Fundraiser held on June 9th in Washington, DC. Abigael’s situation as a Maasai girl in Kenya was not unusual - she almost had to drop out of school in 6th grade because her family couldn’t afford school fees. Her destiny changed, however, with determination, hard work and an MGEF scholarship to continue her education. Abigael went on to college and graduated from Earth University in Costa Rica with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Science and Natural Resource Management. She recently worked with the Maa Trust in the Maasai Mara helping women learn sustainable gardening techniques and looks forward to promoting sustainable agriculture in her community.

While in the Washington DC area, MGEF and Abigael were thrilled when a local master gardener and sustainable agriculture landscaper, who has been a long time MGEF supporter, offered to spend a day with Abigael, touring several of Maryland’s most successful organic farms. Abigael was impressed to learn how these farms, both small and large, are able to be successful financially as well as highly productive, providing lessons that she can hopefully apply even in the very different Kenya climate.

Caroline

This past May, MGEF was proud to learn that another one of our students has been accepted to medical school. Caroline graduated in 2013 with a nursing degree and has been working in her hometown of Loitokitok for three years. In 2017, she decided to apply to medical school. In April, when Caroline told MGEF that she had been chosen to participate in the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders held in New York City during the summer of 2017, we were so excited and proud. We had no idea that she would top that with her news of starting medical school in the fall. Caroline will be the future colleague of Gloria, MGEF’s first medical student to graduate as a physician in 2016. It is so exciting to see our scholarship alumni, including Abigael, Caroline and Gloria, become self-sufficient women and reach their dreams, step by step with hard work and determination.

I will close with a quote from Abigael’s speech given to more than 100 MGEF supporters who attended our DC fundraiser: “To our sponsors, who are laying the groundwork to change lives in the Maasai community and in Kenya, be reminded that what we do for ourselves, dies with us, but what we do for others and the world remain and is immortal.”

MGEF thanks all of you for your generous support!

New MGEF Scholar
New MGEF Scholar
Life Skills Workshop 2017
Life Skills Workshop 2017
Abigael, MGEF President, Staff and Board Members
Abigael, MGEF President, Staff and Board Members
Abigael with Her Sponsor Terese
Abigael with Her Sponsor Terese
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Students participate in LSW workshop, March 2017
Students participate in LSW workshop, March 2017

Dear Friends,

After a very celebratory end of the year, MGEF staff and students have been busy settling into 2017. While our scholarship students are focusing on the new school year, MGEF staff continue to manage, organize and implement MGEF’s Scholarship Program, Life Skills Workshops and Women’s Business Training Workshops.

Scholarship Program

At the beginning of 2017, 12 girls (seven primary and five secondary) from various divisions of Kajiado County, were brought to us by MGEF’s local Board Members or mothers and fathers in search of rescue and assistance to attend school. Each with their own story, either of poverty or a father, uncle or brother planning to marry her off due to financial burdens. In the Maasai community, an unmarried girl is considered a financial burden to an already struggling family and the dowry of two or more cows often becomes a short-term answer.

The addition of 12 new girls brings our roster up to 127 scholarship students, 46 primary, 35 secondary, 28 post-secondary and 18 waiting acceptances to a post-secondary school to start in late spring or early fall.

During my trip to attend the mentoring workshop this past December, I held one-on-one meetings with each student to discuss their dreams and goals and how to achieve them. I was very impressed to see that our students realize that they have a say in their future and are aspiring to reach higher and higher in their goals. One secondary student wants to be a neurosurgeon, another a pilot and one little ten year old girl, who is very good in math, dreams of becoming an engineer. The students, buoyed by their recent interactions with our first doctor and soon to be lawyer, are ever more inspired to work hard and dream high.

Life Skills Workshops

MGEF was fortunate to receive a grant to conduct 14 Life Skills Workshops (LSWs) for girl and boys and eight LSWs for elders and mothers in 2017. The LSWs for girls and boys, ages 10 and older, are held in primary schools throughout Kajiado County. These workshops are conducted at the same time at each location, but in separate classrooms. The participants are taught how pregnancy occurs, how HIV is spread, and how to prevent these outcomes. They learn about the harmful effects of female genital cutting (FGC), including increased maternal and infant mortality. Girls learn about the reproductive system, which will help them take control over their bodies and their lives. The boys’ workshops also address gender equality and their role as Maasai men to end violence against women. Workshop participants are informed about the “rights of a child” under Kenya’s Children’s Act, including the right to an education and the benefits of education, and that marriage under the age of 16 and circumcision of girls is illegal in Kenya.

The LSWs for elders and mothers (men and women) address the same topics as those covered in the workshops for girls and boys, as well as emphasizing the greater economic benefits of educating daughters (versus the dowry received from her marriage). The workshops encourage mothers and fathers to teach sex education, and to prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV by dispelling age-old beliefs. They embolden mothers to explain the facts of life to their daughters and provide supervision once they reach puberty, a new role, which is historically taboo in the Maasai culture. The workshops for men include Chiefs and elders who can be particularly influential in changing cultural attitudes in the Maasai community.

In March, MGEF staff conducted seven of the LSWs for boy and girls in the Loitokitok area of Kenya, located very near the Tanzania border. A total of 350 girls and 379 boys, who are in primary school, attended these workshops.   The students are given a questionnaire at the beginning of the workshop and then another at the end to see what they have learned and to help us monitor and evaluate this program. The results were very positive. But we know a continuous effort is required because it is hard to change long-standing traditions against the education of girls amongst many cultures and the Maasai are no different. It takes consistency, patience and understanding of the culture, which is why our staff in Kajiado, who are themselves Maasai, are so vital to our success.

MGEF Women’s Business Training Workshops

In September 2016, MGEF’s Women’s Business Training (WBT) Program enabled 30 women, our ninth cohort of participants, to work together to start six new businesses, thanks to new seed grants provided to continue this long-standing program. At the end of 2016, when participants had reached their three month mark, all of the women were still in business and able to contribute to the group’s joint savings account each month. The workshop was held in Esonorua, where a very long drought has put extreme pressures on the community. Usually these women would suffer as their husbands and sons move further away in search of water for their cattle, leaving them with very little to survive on. MGEF-Kajiado’s recent report on the Esonorua WBT states that the participants are extremely proud of the fact that they were able to feed their children and even pay some bills with money they had earned. One woman was able to pay secondary school fees for her two children. At the two-week WBT follow-up meeting with the facilitator, one woman was very distraught because her child was sick and she did not have the money to get to the hospital, which was 15 kilometers away. The other participants wanted to help but had just started their businesses and had no money. But three months later, they all were not so helpless. To the participants, this is actually an amazing dream come true, to have some financial control over their lives and the lives of their children. Margaret, Program Manager, at our MGEF Kajiado office, facilitates the WBT workshop and has scheduled the six month follow up for early April. We look forward to a positive report.

MGEF is excited to conduct its tenth WBT cohort of 30 women in the summer 2017.   Since we started the WBT program in April 2013, 270 Maasai women have attended MGEFs workshops, and 249 are still active businesswomen, some after nearly four years—a 92% success rate! 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.

 MGEF looks forward to a very busy and successful year of scholars and workshops. We thank everyone for their support in this journey to achieve our mission to improve the literacy, health and economic well being of Maasai women and their families in Kenya through the education of girls and their communities.

With gratitude

Heather

Diana dreams of becoming an engineer.
Diana dreams of becoming an engineer.
WBT vegetable stand
WBT vegetable stand
LSW for boys, March 2017
LSW for boys, March 2017
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Heather McKay with Dr. Gloria
Heather McKay with Dr. Gloria

Dear Friends, 

I have just returned from the MGEF Annual December Mentoring Workshop and Annual Banquet in Kajiado, Kenya. This annual event brings all MGEF students and alumnae together to support each other, share their stories, their struggles and their success. This year the celebrations were many with the graduations of five primary students, 17 secondary students and another six young Maasai women completed college and university degrees this year — including our first Medical School graduate. 

I was so proud to congratulate in person our six new college and university graduates, four of whom participated in the Mentoring Workshop. Their very presence gave inspiration to our younger girls and motivated their junior peers to dare to dream big as they witnessed what success, hard work, and determination can achieve. I would like to share the especially moving stories of two of our 2016 graduates at the Mentoring Workshop this year.

 Doctor Gloria

“Doctor Gloria,“ as she’s now called, participated in the entire 3-day workshop. Her primary presentation was a profoundly moving, honest, insightful account of her experiences throughout her education, and she shared how at times she, too, struggled and wanted to give up. She told us she would call her father at those times, and, amazingly, he would encourage her. This was a striking story to many of our younger girls—a Maasai father encouraging his daughter to realize her dreams was simply unheard of not that long ago. A few days before, I’d had the honor of attending Dr. Gloria’s medical school graduation, and the continuous look of pride on her father’s face was worth a million words. 

Throughout the mentoring workshop their first “own doctor” was asked by the girls to explain the anatomy of their bodies, what sexual diseases are and how to prevent them. It was incredible to see these girls, normally so shy about their bodies, open up and ask someone they trust such intimate questions.

Veronicah

MGEF 2016 college graduate, Veronicah, is about to start her first year teaching secondary school, and she shared her personal story at the Mentoring Workshop.

Veronicah’s account was an especially poignant one: in that in addition to poverty and cultural obstacles, she has had to overcome physical disabilities to achieve her dream. Veronicah depends on a crutch to walk, and one eye is crossed and does not function; still, she powered through to graduate from college and become a leader among her peers. She spoke about “Character—What it Is, and What It Brings to Your Life.” Indeed, Veronicah’s own strength of character was powerfully moving, and has been an inspiration to all of us.

MGEF Women’s Business Training Workshops

MGEF’s Women’s Business Training Program continues to make a difference for the many women who have missed their opportunity for formal education.  In 2016, 30 Maasai women started new businesses, thanks to our program and our seed grants to support new businesses. Since we started the program in April of 2013, 270 Maasai women have attended MGEF’s workshops, and 249 are still active businesswomen, some after nearly four years—a 92% success rate! This business program provides rural Maasai women who have little or no education an alternate path to achieving financial independence. Our workshops increase the confidence of these Maasai women, and the businesses they start benefit the entire extended family, giving these proud Maasai women the opportunity to contribute to the health and education of their children and community.

MGEF Life Skills Workshops

A decade ago MGEF launched a new initiative—Life Skills Workshops for Girls. More than 11,500 Maasai have attended our Life Skills Workshops (LSW) since. The workshops are designed to keep girls in school by teaching skills that prevent teen pregnancy, reduce early marriage and female genital cutting (FGC), and the spread of HIV—all significant factors contributing to girls’ dropping out of school and taboo subjects in the Maasai culture. Since its inception in 2006 our LSW program has expanded to include not only workshops for girls, but also separate workshops for boys, chiefs and elders, and mothers. In each workshop, participants are taught how pregnancy occurs, how HIV is spread, and how to prevent these outcomes. They learn about the harmful effects of FGC, including increased maternal and infant mortality.  Girls practice how to say “No”to pressures for casual sex, and they learn how to prevent pregnancy. The boys’ workshops address gender equality and boys’ roles as Maasai men in ending violence and discrimination against women. All workshop participants are informed about the “Rights of a Child” under Kenya’s Children’s Act, which affirms a girl’s right to an education, and declares marriage under the age of 16 and circumcision of girls illegal.

For more than 16 years, MGEF has worked in partnership with the Maasai community to improve the economic well-being of Maasai women in Kenya, increase enrollment of girls in school and help them circumvent cultural pressures to drop out of school. With your help and ongoing support, we are breaking the bonds of poverty so that Maasai girls, women, their families, their communities and future generations of all Maasai will have a better life. Thanks to you, we are succeeding!

MGEF's youngest new student, 5-year old Ropian
MGEF's youngest new student, 5-year old Ropian
Maasai women soon to start their own businesses
Maasai women soon to start their own businesses
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Supporters of the WBT workshops meet participants
Supporters of the WBT workshops meet participants

This Fall Update letter comes on the heels of my return from a very productive trip to Kenya. During this trip, I visited some of the more distant schools attended by our Scholarship Program students and worked with MGEF’s excellent Kajiado Office staff to prepare for upcoming Woman’s Business Training (WBT) Workshops. The WBT Program, one of MGEF’s Community Education Program (CEP) activities, is provided for rural Maasai women who have little or no education and live in extreme poverty. They are taught the basic concepts of setting up and running a business and are then given seed money to open their own businesses. To date, 240 women have attended MGEF’s business training workshops, and 219 are still active businesswomen—a 91% success rate.   These workshops not only directly benefit the financial well-being of the women and their families, by providing income for food, health care and schooling, but also dramatically increase their confidence and feeling of self-worth.. We are very excited to have recently received a grant to conduct additional WBT Workshops over the next several months.

 

I was also extremely excited and proud to be able to visit with some MGEF Scholarship students who are finishing up their post-secondary degrees and graduating this December. I was very fortunate to have been invited to lunch at the boma of Nancy, who will be receiving a Bachelor of Environmental Health Degree and has a job awaiting her upon graduation. She impressed me with the egg and chicken business she started during her last year of school. Nancy showed me her chicken coop in which she had 100 egg producing chickens (bought as baby chicks) and which she is now getting ready to sell as broiler chickens. She will reinvest the proceeds into 100 more chicks and has future plans to expand her egg and chicken business in the future.

 

I also had the pleasure of visiting with Gloria for dinner, whom we have spoken of in previous update letters. She will be graduating from medical school and will become MGEF’s first doctor. After her eight week rotation in the Washington DC area last fall, she fell in love with radiology which is a much needed expertise in Kenya. After graduation, she will conduct a one year residency at the hospital in Kajiado, not far from our MGEF Kajiado office. In her future she envisions opening a clinic in her hometown area.

 

Another MGEF student, Abigael, will also graduate this December with a degree in Agricultural Science and Natural Resource Management. From 2004 through 2012, Abigael was an MGEF Scholarship student. In 2012, MGEF was so proud to learn that she had received a full scholarship to the EARTH University in Costa Rica. This week, Abigael will be in Washington, DC as a scholar participating in the Global Youth Opportunities Summit! After the conference, we will be celebrating her accomplishments with MGEF supporters.

 

When I arrived in Kenya earlier this month, MGEF was providing scholarships to 121 Maasai girls and young women (42 primary, 40 secondary, 35 post secondary and four pending post secondary). But during my visit to the St. Clare School in Loitokitok, we added another secondary student to our roster. The Head Teacher requested that we take on this student as she was very bright but had been in and out of school because of a lack of school fees. Her father had asked the school to please find a sponsor because she was a burden on the family’s meager income and as a result, he was going to have to marry her off. He wanted his daughter to attend school but his hands were tied. I decided to immediately add her to the roster, knowing that Tracey Pyles, MGEF President and daughter of its Founder, Barbara Shaw, would concur.   The headmaster told us as we left that the student had received the news and would be back at school that afternoon. In addition, MGEF has also already accepted seven new applicants who will start school in January 2017.

 

We are very grateful to all of our sponsors and supporters. To see three confident, promising Maasai women, all supported by MGEF, graduate post-secondary school makes all of our work and your support worth every cent.

 

Thank you

One MGEF graduate with another soon to be graduate
One MGEF graduate with another soon to be graduate
A new addition to the MGEF family
A new addition to the MGEF family
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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
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