Heather McKay with Dr. Gloria
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,“ 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.
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
Maasai women soon to start their own businesses