Mentoring Workshop December 2015
This news update finds me, Heather McKay Executive Director the Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF), in Kajiado, Kenya attending the 2015 Mentoring Workshop and Annual Graduation Banquet. The Mentoring Workshop is a two day event held once a year in December at the end of the school year, just before girls return home for a month break from classes. It was started in 2010 to connect our adolescent scholarship students with more mature MGEF students and graduates in supportive, educational environment where the girls share their personal stories, their challenges, and where the younger girls receive support and encouragement to remain enrolled in school and return to classes after the school break. The annual Mentoring Workshop, which is attended by all MGEF scholars who are past puberty, is deliberately scheduled to precede the school break in December and January, a time when girls are at home in their villages and therefore most susceptible to cultural pressures, most risk of Female Genetial Cutting (FGC), being married off and of becoming pregnant.
This school break period is also a time when the girls themselves can be especially conflicted about choosing an education over living the traditional Maasai life. The pressure to undergo circumcision and get married, and even to have unprotected sex, can be overwhelming to girls at this stage. They are actually sometimes offered money for sex, and they often do not even yet know how pregnancy happens. In the Mentoring Workshop, MGEF facilitators, guest speakers and alumni provide professional advice as well as health and life skills education, discussing social barriers to academic success such as early marriage and pregnancy, self-esteem, contraceptives, and the dangers of HIV and FGC. The goal is to empower the students with information, and thereby help them make smart choices in support of their education.
This year Mentoring workshop was well attended with 58 students attending and 2 of MGEF alumnae. There were 24 primary, 27 secondary and 7 post secondary girls who attended the workshop. The first day Evelyn Naserian, one of MGEF alumna who is now a local secondary teacher, started the morning talking to the girls about how to not get discouraged and to make their goals in school and in life simple and attainable, do your best and try to improve each day. She spoke about how they can improve their grades one step at a time. If you are receiving a D this semester than strive for a C the next grade period. Keep a good attitude and be confident and believe in yourself. Pick a career but have a back up one in case your grades do not allow for your first choice. There was singing and fun games between lectures that helped the girls relax, get to know each other and bond.
The second day, Lucy Resiato, who has been a teacher throughout the Kajiado area for over 20 years, took over with the difficult and sensitive job of speaking very frankly about Female Genital Cutting (FGC). It is of great importance that the girls know all that can go wrong right after the procedure and throughout the rest of their lives such as infection, painful intercourse, and often a very painful delivery. She told the girls of the warning signs that their ceremony might be in the near future with plans being made and that they must run to a rescue center immediately. They must not believe the myth, that they have been told since they were a small child, which falsely informs them that they will be better off after having this procedure. They are told, by their community, if they do not undergo this very painful and dangerous procedure no one will marry them and if they do get pregnant the child will bring bad luck unless they are circumcised just weeks before giving birth, which will make the delivery of the child almost unbearably painful. Then the students were shown a movie to which was very explicit. As I looked around the room and saw their faces of shock and sometimes grief, I felt heart broken for those who had already experienced this tragedy. At the end of the movie, Lucy Ntayia, the director of MGEF Kajiado, had a conversation for those who had already experienced this horrific tradition, assuring them that it does not mean your life is over and that you must not feel shame and not let it stop you from your dreams.
The last guest speaker was Sation Parmuat who is Miss Tourism of Kajiado. She received her degree in Tourism and Management only 2 years ago. She was very inspirational to the girls as she spoke of her ability to support herself and to travel. The girls were mesmerized and come away believing that they too could achieve their dreams with hard work and determination.
Annual Meeting, which was the day after the Mentoring Workshops, was well attended with many parents and family members coming with very proud smiles on their faces. The girls did skits and sang traditional Maasai songs for the parents. Various parents and students spoke of the good progress and the goals still left to achieve. We also celebrated the graduation of two primary, eight secondary and two post secondary MGEF students. Each graduate stood and was recognized by all with a round of applause and cheers of congratulations. The parents were beaming with pride.
In October, Gloria Mumeita, MGEF first medical student, boarded an airplane for the first time to come to America for eight weeks of shadowing doctors at Suburban Hospital and the National Institutes of Health. The trip was organized and financed by Tracey Pyles, an emergency physician at Suburban, and president of MGEF.
The 23-year-old, who grew up in a hut made of dirt and sticks in the Kajiado District of Kenya, is now in her fifth and final year of medical school at the University of Nairobi. She’s on her way to becoming the third Maasai woman doctor ever. “When I look back I can’t believe I got to medical school,” she says.
Mumeita is a role model for other Maasai girls and their families. As more Maasai girls become educated, their fathers are learning that daughters with jobs provide more financial support to their families than a one-time marriage dowry of five cows. She is a local hero and we here at MGEF are so proud and impressed with her unwavering determination to reach her dream of becoming a doctor and returning to her village to help the people in her community.
Thank you all for your support. Without your help our mission would not be possible and the wonderful minds of Gloria and the other girls would never reach their potential. That would be such a loss for not only the Maasai Community but for the world.
With much gratitude
Annual Meeting December 2015
Gloria Mumeita and MGEF President Dr Tracey Pyles