If anyone tells us that it is not possible to change the world, change a community that is rooted in cultural practices, we would would not hesitate to point them to this community of Masai where change is happening.
We have been working in Monduli among the Masai for close to 5 years now with our partner Monduli Pastoralists Development Initiative (MPDI). In Monduli, SFEA first roled out the Early Childhood Care and Development program (ECCD), then we introduced our livelihood program and recently, our Bonga program was rolled out.
The Masai are well known for their strong cultural beliefs and practices that have unfortunately alienated them from the rest of the world. Many including governments have not regarded them in development, fronting their culture as a hindrance. There have been a number of failed attempts in the introduction of the various development program. Our experience has been different and this is why.
When we, together with MPDI first set out to work in Masai, the approach was to ride on the Masai social structure and system. In Masai, every member of the Boma (household unit) has a role to play. The Men and older boys are responsible for protection of the home and property. During drought, they ensure that the cattle have pasture to eat. Currently most of the Masai are choosing to settle and only move away during the drought season to look for water and pasture for the cattle. The women ensure that the home is well maintained, there’s enough water to drink for the cows. Goats and sheep. The little children would look after the sheep and goats while the smallest (0-5-yearold) would stay at home with the grandmothers.
During the day, it is common to find a grandmother with several children from a Boma. Grandmothers look at after the children while everyone else goes to attend to their duties. In understanding this, we used it to introduce ECCD program in the community. Because the formal schools were far away, even the children that were ready to join pre-primary could not walk the long distances. There was therefore a huge number left at home or sent to look after the goats and sheep. MPDI approached the men since they are the decision makers according to the Masai culture and asked them to be part of the ECCD schools committees in their sub-villages.
Once they welcomed the idea, centres were set up where grandmothers would keep even the children from the neighbours. Each Boma would then contribute to the maize flour for making poridge and the mother would take turns to stay behind and assist in the cooking. With time, MPDI lobbied for professional ECCD care givers from the government to be sent to already existing ECCD centre. The parents were soon enrolled in SF’s livelihood program (Community Managed Microfinance) where they started doing regular savings and an Education fund to assist in feeding the children and paung for extra ECCD care givers. The introduction of ECCD helped in providing a learning community for children before they joined primary school. Today there are over 42 ECCD centres in the 5 villages we work in.
Mr. Thobias Saitoti who is the sub-village chairperson has a daughter at Eserian ECCD centre and he is actively involved in the village development. Both him and Mr. Long’ida Lelya who is the ECCD committee chairperson strongly believe that the Masai will embrace education for their children. They both shared that the ECCD program has helped prepare their children for primary school.
“The world has changed. Earlier we used to depend on livestock but now, the world has no place for the uneducated and our children cannot be confined to our world of cattle.” Shared Mr. Long’ida.
The world has changed. Earlier we used to depend on livestock but now, the world has no place for the uneducated and our children cannot be confined to our world of cattle. Shared Mr. Long’ida.
Mr. Thobias further said that they used to value only boys’ education out of ignorance but now they know the value in educating the girl. They shared that in Enguik village, the parents are now embracing education for both girls and boys and when they hear of a parent that plans to marry off their daughter at a young age, they immediately intervene and stop it. So the community does the ‘policing’ to protect young girls from forced early marriages.
In the two villages visited, Eserian village currently has 43 children in the ECCD program while Nengi lorit which is in the neighbouring village has 59 children enrolled.
It is very encouraging to see that a community that once felt threatened with Education embracing it and putting in place mechanisms to promote it. If you don’t believe in change, we hope that you see how possible it is and hopefully join us as we create many more stories of impact.
We dream of a world, where every child can access quality education, where every girl can finish her studies and decide when and whom to marry, where every woman knows she can make a valuable contribution. A world where men rally and advocate for the lives of their daughters as equally as they do for their sons. A world filled with opportunities for all to choose from. A world free from poverty, It is possible!