Project #9231

Empower Maasai Girls in Kenya

by Maasai Girls Education Fund
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.


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
Maasai women soon to start their own businesses
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
New 2016 MGEF Scholar
New 2016 MGEF Scholar

Dear Friends,

I cannot believe summer is already here.   The first half of the year has flown by and I am so proud of what MGEF has accomplished in the last 6 months.   

As we have been reminded this year, there is still an urgent need to support girl’s education among the Maasai in Kajiado, Kenya.  As mentioned in the Spring Update letter, MGEF took on 19 new students in early 2016 in need of rescue from either early marriage or poverty and successfully enrolled them in school.  During my March site visit trip to Kenya, I visited the schools and met many of the new girls.   At one of the schools, I learned of four more girls who would be sent home due to lack of school fees unless sponsors could immediately be found.  In consultation with Tracey Pyles, President of MGEF, we decided to rescue these young women and add them to our scholarship student roster.  In early June, Lucy Ntayia, Managing Director of the MGEF office in Kajiado Kenya, was deeply concerned about the fate of three new MGEF applicants and we thus also accepted them to our scholarship program.  Overall, we have added an unprecedented 26 new students since January 2016 and, with deep gratitude to our supporters, have found sponsors for all but five of the new scholars.  MGEF now supports 118 scholarship students, 42 in primary, 39 in secondary, 32 in post secondary and 5 pending post secondary as they await their exam scores.   

MGEF was delighted to bring Lucy Ntayia to Washington DC as our guest of honor at our 2nd Annual Fundraiser held on June 3rd.   This exciting event brought together many old and new supporters of MGEF who learned first-hand from Lucy of the continuing urgent need to promote girls education among the Maasai, through scholarships and community workshops.  We are thankful for our friends and supporters who worked so hard for this event and provided auction items.  Some of most special auction items were the beautiful Maasai jewelry handmade by the parents of MGEF’s students, which Lucy brought with her to DC. It was not only a delight for the guest at the event but also very important to the Maasai community to feel they were able to contribute to their daughters, granddaughters or sisters education. The fundraiser was a great success, resulting in donations to MGEFs general fund, which provides us with the ability to rescue girls in need, and sponsorships for three college students and two of the recently added new secondary school students. 

Lucy is an incredible spokesman for her country and for the Maasai.  She talked about the many successes of MGEF’s alumnae, of which she is one, and of the progress of the girls still in school.  She spoke of the incredible difference she has seen taken place over the decade she has been at MGEF in Kajiado and of the work still left to be done.  She expressed her love and respect for Barbara Shaw, MGEF’s Founder and President Tracey Pyles mother, explained how grateful she is to be able to help carry on Barbara’s mission to improve the literacy, health and economic well-being of Maasai women in Kenya and their families through education of girls and their communities. 

Our scholarship students in Kenya are in school until their summer break in August.  Many will go home to their families but some must stay at school during the break for fear of being forcibly married off or undergoing Female Genital Cutting (FGC) while at home.  During my March visit to schools, I realized that these girls have become family and fortunately the ones who cannot go home benefit from having their other MGEF sisters with them.  These strong bonds of sisterhood are evidence of how MGEF is making a positive difference in these girls’ lives, beyond providing them with a formal education, by promoting a safe place for a community of strong, educated, and self-reliant Maasai girls and women.

Thank you all for your support.   None of this would be possible if not for the generosity and help from all of you.

Heather McKay

Lucy Ntayia, MGEF Director in Kajiado, Kenya
Lucy Ntayia, MGEF Director in Kajiado, Kenya
MGEF Students at School in Kajiado, Kenya
MGEF Students at School in Kajiado, Kenya
Baraka school girls and Lucy Ntayia
Baraka school girls and Lucy Ntayia

Dear Friends,


Coming up in April, I will have been a part of the Maasai Girls Education Fund for a full year. And what an amazing year! It’s been a lot of hard work, but well worth the many hours I’ve put in to get to know our students, their schools, and MGEF’s considerable history. Becoming a member of such an incredible team has literally been life-changing for me. Every day I am moved by the dedication of so many wonderful women and men that I have met on both sides of the organization, in the US and in Kenya. I’ve been touched by the compassion and generosity of our donors, impressed by the hard work of our staff and board members, and, especially, inspired by the sheer determination and grit of the Maasai girls themselves as they work to overcome so many obstacles on the way to achieving their dreams.


MGEF started off 2016 with 19 new girls coming to us in need of desperate help. Many had left their homes to escape early marriage and/or female genital cutting (FGC), while others came to us simply because their families were unable to pay school fees. The lack of school fees, however, meant that they, too, would soon be married off for a small dowry of a few cows. A marriageable girl is considered a burden to a family that lives in poverty, and marrying the child off has two immediate benefits: there is one less mouth to feed, and there are new cows, the Maasai currency equivalent, from her future husband.


MGEF President Tracey Pyles and I decided we would accept and rescue all 19 of the girls and immediately put them in school—an unprecedented number to have added to our roster all at once. But exceptional times sometimes call for exceptional actions, and a prolonged drought has stressed an already impoverished people. More and younger girls than ever were in immediate need and imminent danger of FGC and marriage—including a few as young as nine. As Lucy Ntayia, our Kajiado Office Director, worked diligently to get all of the girls enrolled in boarding schools, Tracey, the US Board and I took on the challenge of finding sponsors for all of the new girls. Some amazing things happened during this process, as many people opened their hearts and sponsored girls! There were even a few people who though unable to support a girl by themselves, found friends or colleagues to share sponsorship and still send a Maasai girl to school. We are proud to say that as of this week, every single one of the new girls is safe, and attending school with only 3 left who need sponsors!


MGEF is also proud and excited about a new and promising alliance with a middle school class at the E.A. Young Academy, a private school in Texas. A small but mighty group of 11-14 year old compassionate and committed students started a movement to create handmade items (primarily jewelry and artwork) to raise money to support girls’ education globally. They spent months searching for an organization worthy of their support, and finally settled on MGEF as a perfect match! With the help of their dedicated teacher, Ms Raymond, they worked together to host a school-wide fundraising event in January, SOAR with Girls’ Education. Tracey Pyles attended the event and was deeply moved and proud as the kids performed a short play (written by one of the students) about her mother, MGEF Founder Barbara Shaw, and the beginning of Maasai Girls Education Fund. The students also read their own poetry, performed dances and songs, and sold their handmade jewelry and artwork. The night was such a success, the students made more than twice their goal and are now supporting two Maasai girls in school—two Maasai peers halfway around the planet. Three more event attendees were also inspired to sponsor girls, so on this one night MGEF gained sponsorship for 5 Maasai girls to go to school, and made innumerable new friends.


Finally, as mentioned in the December 2015 update, MGEF’s first medical student, Gloria, spent eight weeks in the US this fall shadowing doctors at Suburban Hospital and the National Institutes of Health. MGEF was thrilled when the Voice of America (VOA) contacted us interested in covering Gloria’s story, and came to film and interview both her and Tracey. What better timing than on International Women’s Day to complete the project and have it debut online and on televisions around the world?? We are enormously grateful to the VOA for doing such a thorough and accurate job of telling and sharing Gloria’s story and her journey to becoming a doctor. MGEF is also proud our story made the top ten list of best VOA videos, and Ms Taboh was invited to appear on The Correspondents to talk about Gloria and MGEF on VOA TV. Please click on these links to see both the VOA’s short film on Gloria and The Correspondents segment with Ms Taboh's interview.

Once again, we at MGEF express tremendous thanks to you for your support. Through education, patience and perseverance, we are accomplishing our goal of improving the literacy, health and economic well being of Maasai women and their families. We could not do it without the your generous support of Maasai girls and their dreams.

With gratitude,

E.R. Young Academy Event
E.R. Young Academy Event
Moi Girls School & Director Heather McKay
Moi Girls School & Director Heather McKay


Mentoring Workshop December 2015
Mentoring Workshop December 2015

Dear Friends,

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

Heather McKay

Executive Director

Annual Meeting December 2015
Annual Meeting December 2015
Gloria Mumeita and MGEF President Dr Tracey Pyles
Gloria Mumeita and MGEF President Dr Tracey Pyles

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Organization Information

Maasai Girls Education Fund

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Heather McKay
Washington, DC United States
$39,847 raised of $95,000 goal
268 donations
$55,153 to go
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