Lisa’s in school!

Lisa — Eager and Ready to Learn.

It was February 2015, on my second sojourn to Maasailand in Kenya when I decided to sponsor annual school fees for a girl student. Along with the two other committee members of the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP) our ten day itinerary also included an evening meal at the family home of John Sakuda. John had been a valued facilitator at our scheduled MCEP visits in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 while he lived in America. He returned to Kenya shortly thereafter.

When we arranged our 2015 fact finding trip we were looking forward to seeing him again. As it happened, we were thrilled to discover that John would be our guide during our sojourn to the village. The day before flying back to America, we drove to John’s home  where I met Lisa–one of his daughters–and decided to sponsor her education. Lisa is now in “Grade Two” and like other Maasai children, thrives on attending school. Each December I donate the required $150.00 annual tuition that also pays for her mandatory school uniform.

Recently I emailed John asking for a picture of Lisa and how she was progressing at school.

John writes that she is almost 3 feet tall and 45 pounds. He adds, “… Lisa’s favorite toy is her cat, a real cat … she loves this cat the most. Whenever she comes from school she has to feed it. Sometimes the cat goes in the neighborhood but Lisa makes sure she brings him back to her home. Lisa is afraid of cows. She says they are wild animals and they have horns that can harm people. Yet Lisa has no fear of goats.”

John continues, “I used to have goats at home. Lisa liked them and she could milk them and give her Mum Susan the milk for the family’s chai (black tea with sugar and milk).” The Maasai diet of chapatti (similar to a flour tortilla), meat, Sukuma (chopped kale or collards in oil)  or variations of Sukuma are favorites in Lisa’s diet. “She helps at home, sweeping the house…washing dishes and taking responsibility for washing her socks and school uniform.” John writes that Lisa never fails to tell him how much “… she loves me…”. And finally he writes …”always Lisa asks me to remind her … to do her homework.” 

Lisa is one child in John’s large family that includes a son in university and two other sons in high school, all benefiting from some amount of MCEP donations. Another daughter is under the sponsorship of a church.

There are children–mostly girl children–in developing countries across the planet where some cultures do not allow girls to attend school. Fortunately, the NGO that  MCEP partners with encourages girls to get an education.

The other morning while listening to BBC/NPR–they reported on Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl  who in 2012 at age 15, nearly died after an assassination attempt on her life because of her public advocacy for girls’ education. Now graduated and 20 years old Malala visits and interacts with girls in developing countries who are  denied an education. MCEP is familiar with Malala because one of our Maasai woman was featured in my April 19, 2015 post (Leah Loto: Also known as Mama Leah). For a brief time Leah was employed by ‘Free The Children’ the Canadian organization that Malala is affiliated with.

In 1999 during my first sojourn to the African country of Ghana, a young girl walked up to me and asked for my address. Annabelle Elliamo was in her mid-teens and living with her widowed father. A few weeks into our correspondence she asked me to help her with tuition fees so she could finish her education. Annabelle is now a teacher in her Ghanaian village.

Typical school grounds and building for Maasai students

It’s Lisa’s journey to learn now and I’ve no doubt she will follow in the path of the other Maasai  students who’ve been sponsored by MCEP I’ve no doubt that she too will become a major contributor to her community.

A Maasai school classroom



Leah Lato: Also known as “Mama Leah”

Leah on Free the Children siteOn the left is a photo of Leah Lato taken from the facebook page of Me to We, a program of the Canadian organization Free The Children. Along with this image is a post written by a program volunteer praising the work of ‘Mama Leah’, my final interview of Maasai women who are making positive differences in their community. Read more about Me to We below.

On our last evening in Olosho oibor we are invited for dinner at the compound of Leah and husband John ole Sakuda. She is John’s first wife in a polygamous marriage with 2nd wife Susan Sakuda, featured in the April 2, 2015 post ‘Teacher’. I manage to steal Leah from her cooking hut for our interview. We sit on chairs in front of her manyatta with rays from the late afternoon sun splashing our faces while Susan Naserian and Susan Sakuda finish the preparations for a nutritious stew of fresh carrots, peas and potatoes, fresh cabbage lightly turned in a hot skillet to a crunchy delight and chipati–a flat bread much like a flour tortilla. Children are playing in the compound and the voices of Alice, Phyllis and John drift out to us from inside the manyatta.

Leah grew up in a polygamous family born from her father’s third wife. She is one of nine siblings that include three brothers and five sisters. Although she wanted to complete her education through high school, she left school after the 8th grade. A skillful beader she sold her jewelry in the market. After she becomes the first wife of John Sakuda their son Richard is born in 1992 followed by two more sons—Benjamin in 1995, Shadrach in 1998 and lastly Julia, a daughter in 2008.

In 2008 when an American aid program sends people to Kenya, Leah agrees to host one of the group’s staff–Robin–in her home. Robin stays in Kenya for 6 months, embracing the culture and even learning some Swahili. “She became my daughter”, Leah explains to me. Robin returns to Chicago and while there learns that a Canadian organization–Free The Children–is seeking people to facilitate its program in different countries. Free The Children partners with communities to raise funds and awareness for children around the globe. Robin’s familiarity with Kenya and the Swahili language in 2010 returns her to this country she loves where she is again hosted by Leah.

When Robin asks Leah to bead jewelry for consideration in the organization’s funding program, she is offered employment with them. Her experience with the Maasai women from the Olorien co-op gives her easy access to 25 women to bead 500 oringas which are approved for shipment. Oringas are wooden sticks, about an inch in circumference and just a little over a foot long, carried by Maasai elders as a sign of tribal leadership. The 25 women receive payment for their work with Free The Children which continues when other beaded items—belts, bracelets and key chains are created and shipped to the United Kingdom.

The organization offers Leah employment with their program, Me to We. As described on their facebook page it is “… an innovatice social enterprise that provides people with better choices for a better world. We offer socially conscious and environmentally friendly products as well as life-changing experiences.” The program is active in other countries around the globe where children’s lives are at risk. Leah becomes a designated spokesperson for the Maasai culture, traveling to the UK to represent Me to We at an event sponsored by Virgin Atlantic Airlines. During a trip to Canada Leah meets the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafazi, the Pakistani youth who in 2012 was nearly killed just because she attended school. Malala is helping the organization raise awareness about the plight of children around the globe. Leah’s duties with Me to We include describing the Maasai culture, women’s empowerment, children’s education and the need for clean water. The income from this salaried position enables her to purchase materials to build a brick house on her compound and pay the tuition for her children’s education.

The beading groups Leah oversees now number 200 and expand beyond Olosho oibor to Kajiado and the Maasai Mara. The groups gather at scheduledDSC_1513 times to complete beading orders for different overseas organizations. During our stay in the village there are two separate beading circles of women finishing two different orders: Key chains in the shape of a lion; and delicate chain bracelets with a hint of beads. When these items are sold the net profits are donated to Free The Children, with half “… reinvested to grow the enterprise and its social mission.”

Now back to Robin—Leah’s “daughter”. On a brief return visit to Chicago Robin gets engaged and decides she wants to be married in the Maasai tradition. In June of this year her family and some friends will travel to the Olosho oibor village to witness a traditional Maasai wedding at John and Leah’s compound. Maasai weddings bring many people together. The women of the village will smear Robin’s body with a paste mixture of oil and the red-colored soil of Kenya. Robin will be draped with Maasai jewelry from head to toe. Since Robin and her husband-to-be will make their home in Kenya, they may possibly receive gifts of cattle and goats from guests at the wedding.

From a village in southwest Kenya to venues around the globe: Well done Mama Leah.