Date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Location: Narok, Kenya
No one laughed at my “your shoe’s untied” joke here! Just like being at home.
I was awakened twice in the middle of the night – once by the need to pee (normal) and once by the 4am wakeup call from the mosque next to the Chambai Hotel (soon to be normal). Other than that – I slept just exactly like I hadn’t slept in almost 3 days.
Several small “1st world disasters” struck first thing in the morning.
All this falls in the “Life is mostly good” category. On s scale from 1-10 with 1 being “formatting a document in Microsoft word” and 10 being “can’t mention that in a PG-rated blog”. I would give this morning a 5. Things were about to really improve.
Our morning trip was to Altan Maasai school about an hour west of Narok. This school has a very interesting history and is illustrative of the challenges of surviving, raising a family and supporting education in East Africa. This area is a vast Savannah bordering the National Parks of Maasai Mara and as such are on the edge of real wildlife. The Maasai homesteads are spread out and the children walk up to 10 km each way to and from school every day. (this is not the same 10 km our parents and grandparents walked to and from school in the US (barefoot, uphill both ways). This is a real journey.) The community had lost a child to a lion attack while walking to school and two young children had drowned in a “dry” riverbed during a rainstorm. The community – led by the women – rallied and convinced the men to act. One of the fathers with two wives and 14 children donated the first 5 acres for a site to build a school. Others joined and with the support of Asante Africa Foundation they have built a primary school. There are now 160 children attending a primary feeder school (ages 4-7) with 3 classrooms, 4 teachers and about 20 total desks. Asante Africa Foundation teamed with (DIG something) to put in toilets and they have a very nice rainfall collection and storage system (now they need rainfall). The school is built high on a hill overlooking the riverbed (I’m not as sure about the lions).
After spending an hour or so with the kids and teachers, we attended a community meeting with the local parents and tribal leaders in one of the classrooms. Fred Lesakale (the head of our Tanzania team) did a spectacular job leading the community meeting. (This is a very willing community). Fred told the story in Maa (Native Maasai tougue ) about three stones holding up the pot of water. One stone is the student, one is the teacher and one is the parent. If any single stone is removed – the pot spills its water.
I was photographing the event – and practicing my 1 or 2 Swahili phrases. At one point I stepped out to photograph the kids a little more and the meeting came to a stop. The women of the community demanded I come back in and continue photographing before the meeting restarted. They love to see their pictures! I wish I was that important back in the US.
Fred did an absolutely awesome job. Although he comes from the Tumburu tribe, he speaks both Swahili and Maa. Fred’s intellect, leadership capabilities and command of the spoken word in the Maasai Native language make him a very powerful community leader and a critical part of Asante Africa Foundation’s current and future ventures.
I also had the chance to photograph the local leader who had donated the land for the new school (and his two wives). I wanted to pose them with each kissing him on his cheeks at the same time…I resisted my western ways. Would have been a great shot!
We then traveled back through the riverbed where the two children had drowned. Luckily (for us and our car) there had not been much rain this season and the river was mainly dry. Rain is the first basic necessity of these people – without it their livestock die (and they soon follow). I pray for rain (after we get the car through the riverbed).
We traveled to Lengina Secondary school in the same region and met with 9 young women and their Mamas that are participating in our Girls program. This program teaches young girls the critical skills to stay in school. This knowledge helps protect them from sexual abuse and intimidation and the fear and embarrassments of their transition to young adulthood. The numbers are stunning! Dropout rates, early marriage, FGM, rape and early pregnancy in these rural areas for young women are stunning. Lengina is a great example of the success of our Girls program with only two young women dropping out of school last year.
You can see the growing cultural transition in the young women. They are seeing opportunity for girls in the world and their families are beginning to embrace the change and empowerment that comes with it. These Mamas (all illiterate) are very supportive of education for their girls. Things are changing from within. We’re just here to help.
Erna and I interviewed the young women with their mamas about the program. Interviews in the field are always challenging. Prepare to hear some interesting sounds in the background: kids playing, wind whipping down the plane, goats and cows and the occasional motorcycle in the distance. “It is what it is!” Life is too rich to edit.