TIA is very aware that the glimpses of Africa it provides are often 40 or 50 years old. They represent an Africa of the past. In fact, a recent article in The Christian Science magazine noted “Today’s young Africans are already rapidly joining the digital revolution. They are more advanced than those in most countries in using mobile devices for cashless money transfers. In fact, although most Africans still live without electricity, they have more mobile devices than toothbrushes.”
This week TIA is pleased to offer a post by Teri Gabrielsen who has been working with a school in Maasailand since 2007. She is one of a number of highly motivated people making unheralded contributions to Africa and Africans. Here’s her story:
Growing up, I never thought I’d do anything other than teach. Every relative on my mother’s side either taught elementary school or at a university. After receiving my teaching degree, I taught at a local school for three years, and always had this yearning to travel to far away countries and teach in a culture that was completely foreign to me. My fantasy was to be among indigenous children, far less advantaged than myself, and teach what I could in order to advance their lives.
When our two children were 8 and 10, their world-traveling “Nana” loved Kenya and invited us all on safari. Although Kenya is abundant with wildlife and landscapes with snow-capped mountains and sandy beaches, it is the people I eventually learned to love. Tim Melesi of Tim Melesi Safaris had hired an industrious 27-year-old Maasai, James Ole Kamete, to find the best animal viewing while on game drives.
Sitting on the roof with Kamete was one of my highlights, talking with him in broken English or just sitting together in silence. Over the course of ten days, Kamete shared with me his dream of starting a school someday. During Kamete’s childhood, the British government required at least one person in each village to attend school. Kamete was selected, and his wealthy uncle paid his way through eighth grade. Kamete felt blessed and decided he needed to give back. He wanted to start an elementary school for his village and the surrounding communities.
On our last day on safari, Kamete invited us to visit his village and see his “school.” When we arrived, Kamete was under a large acacia tree with five children writing the alphabet with sticks in the dirt. I was never so sure what my life work would be until that moment. Then I KNEW what I had to do.
I told Kamete I’d come back in 10 years when my children were in college and help in whatever way I could to fulfill his dream. In 2007, Africa Schools of Kenya, or ASK, was formed, a non-profit 501c3 organization headquartered in Santa Barbara, CA. ASK has overseen the construction of school buildings. It has provided funding and facilitated and underwritten the development and implementation of specific educational programs. These encourage building awareness on critical global issues such as healthcare and healthy living, environmental and financial sustainability, animal and wildlife conservation, and cultural diversity.
In the area of healthy living we’ve made important progress. Over years, we have had many conversations around the health risks of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. For over 500 years now, the Maasai people in Kenya and Tanzania have traditionally performed the ritual of FGM signifying a girl’s rite of passage to womanhood. While ASK slowly taught the girls about the myths and misconception of FGM, as well as the health risks of FGM and early pregnancy, a change started to happen from within the Esiteti community.
In April of 2012, the community had their first two-day Alternative Rite of Passage, or ARP, using Maasai facilitators with 57 female participants. There are now over 240 ARP graduates, and three two-day ARPs are performed, each year. The most recent ARP had four student participants from the local community and 18 from neighboring areas of the Kajiado district.
ASK also underwrites six other programs, including mobile health clinics coordinated by Dr. Elizabeth Toro, an OBGYN and board member of ASK and Direct Relief. Testing for HIV is also provided followed by a monthly anti-retro viral treatment program, which is ongoing.
Scholarships are provided to qualified students starting in 4th grade through 12th grade. ASK subsidizes teacher training certifications for the uncertified teachers, as well as, cross-cultural exchanges with schools all over the world. ASK developed an income stream for the women contracting 280 women, to make large quantities of traditional Maasai jewelry using fair trade standards. Esiteti Primary School is currently self-sustaining because of the sales of the beaded jewelry program initiated by ASK. There over 25 retailers across the U.S. selling Maasai crafts and are sold throughout the U.S. The bead business is now handled by Beads of Esiteti (www.beadsofesiteti.com).
Today, Kamete is the founder of a six-classroom state-of-the-art elementary school. The children have insatiable appetites for knowledge, and what they learn, they pass on to their parents who are illiterate. Esiteti Primary School has 360 students from ages 4 to 15 years. Six of the 10 teachers are certified and were provided by the Kenyan government. A girls’ boarding school houses 57 girls year round. It provides a safe haven for the girls living far away from school; and it protects them from animal attacks, rape, taken as wives, or families forcing them to participate in the ancient ritual of FGM and early marriage. The remaining boys and girls live near the school and walk home each day.
Teachers are responsible for following the Kenyan curriculum, yet there are very few textbooks at Esiteti School. English and Swahili are the two of the three languages spoken, and Maa is the tribal language. Starting 4th grade, hundreds of students receive scholarships through high school. This program is sponsored by ASK and over 240 student sponsored. High school tuition can be cost prohibitive for student’s parents without some financial support.
I’ve found that so much can be accomplished for the good of people if they just do something. So little goes so far when working with people that have so very little. For example, $240 a year or $4.50 a week can give a child an education enabling him to think for himself. That’s the price of a Starbuck’s Frappuccino. The U.S. and Kenyan team for Africa Schools of Kenya are proud to be approaching their ten-year anniversary working with the Maasai in Kenya.
For more information about ASK or to make a donation, go to www.ASKenya.org.