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

 

 

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“Luck”

(Photos by Doreen Stratton)

Five Maasai men walked on to the platform at the Hamilton, New Jersey Train Station. Instinctively, Phyllis Eckelmeyer walked over to them, because her daughter was leaving the next week to spend a year teaching in Kenya. She reached out her hand and said,  “Hello, do you speak English?” The Maasai were traveling to New York City to participate in the 2004 United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. They were an indigenous tribe of hundreds from across the globe traveling to the UN for this Forum.

The Forum as described in the UN’s 2005 archives’ focus was to “… deal with indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.”

Sharing the train to New York with the Maasai, Eckelmeyer heard how their lives were negatively impacted due to diseased-laden water. They said their two-minute speech before the UN would speak to the need for potable disease-free  water. After her return to Bucks County Eckelmeyer vowed– “I want to raise $30,000 to drill a well that’ll bring water to this Maasai village.”

She formed a non-profit: Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP). MCEP then came under the umbrella of Frog Pond Productions, an educational (501)(c)(3) organization in Point Pleasant Bucks County. A partnership was formed with an NGO in Kenya–Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO), so that American donations could enhance SIMOO’s programs. Shortly thereafter, local media coverage brought a $30,000 anonymous donation to MCEP’s mailbox.

(MCEP Archive photo:  The drilling of “Christy’s Well”)

To document the drilling of this first well, in December 2005 Frog Pond and MCEP traveled to Kenya with a film crew. The well was named “Christy’s Well” after the anonymous donor. A Philadelphia film company–Shooters Post and Transfer–volunteered the crew and editing talents that ultimately produced a half-hour documentary titled QUENCH. The initial screening of QUENCH would take place in October 2014 at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Since 2005 and every year afterwards, at least two Maasai have traveled to Bucks County. They spoke in thousands of schools, houses of worship and professional organizations about their culture and heritage. Their message resulted in annual sponsorships to over 100 Maasai children in primary or secondary schools and colleges. More  importantly  donations came in for water projects. There are now seven wells sited across this village that encompasses an area the size of Bucks County.

“… three more wells.”

Maasai herders and women pay a small fee of a few shillings for the water they draw from the wells. Designated Maasai men are responsible for maintaining the wells, collecting fees, and ensuring that diesel fuel is available to keep the pumps operational. Pipelines snake away from the wells to strategically placed cisterns so that women walk less than two miles to fetch potable disease-free water. MCEP’s primary goal is for ten wells to be sited across their village. We are determined to secure funding for the final three wells.

Since 2005 women have also come into their own. Last March and April 2015, I posted  six blogs about Maasai women and their journey toward lives as independent business owners. Two are pictured below with Phyllis, taken when in 2015 I traveled to Kenya with Phyllis and Education Coordinator Alice Sparks. We toured well sites, schools and spent enjoyable hours with our Maasai friends, delighting over the positive changes since our visits a few years ago.

Sarah Senewa and Grace Suyianta Salau with Phyllis Eckelmeyer

These changes are also bringing progress (some good, some not so good) to the Maasai village. A safe house is sheltering and educating over 100 young girls who had fled from early arranged marriages or female genital mutilation (FGM is banned in Kenya). The Kenyan government is constructing a vocational school where village boys and girls can enroll to gain income earning skills. Giant transmission towers are planted across Maasailand as they march from Nairobi toward Mombasa on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Oil has been discovered offshore from Mombasa and this infrastructure will bring a cultural crises to the Maasai community.

Water is Important.

The wells have brought land speculators to Olosho oibor who wave small amounts of cash in front of landowners in attempts to persuade them to sell their land. SIMOO is pushing back against the speculators by cautioning their tribal members the consequences of selling their land: How it would lead to the extinction of their ancient culture and heritage. Although we noticed  contemporary homes under construction we also spotted hand-painted signs declaring properties Not For Sale.

Land speculators invading Maasailand. One of several  “no sale” signs we saw during our tour.

“A drought is decimating the Maasai community … “

Climate change has created a drought that is decimating the Maasai community as well as many other parts of Africa. I wrote about it’s effect on the Maasai in my February 17, 2017 post, “Climate Change is real”. Shortages of food are so prevalent that the Massai have forsaken their valued herds in favor to feed their most vulnerable: the elderly and the young. MCEP recently wired funds so SIMOO could set up a food security program.

The Maasai word for “Luck” is Namunyak (Na-men-YAK). “Luck” can sometimes move beyond one positive gesture. The Maasai decreed that Eckelmeyer be given the name “Namunyak” to honor how a handshake between strangers transformed their village. I get goosebumps looking back at the many gifts that have come to the Maasai since her 2004 greeting on that Hamilton New Jersey train platform. The gift I cherish the most is the empathy and curious energy always expressed by youngsters in classrooms and assemblies after listening to our Maasai friends.

On Friday April 7, Phyllis Eckelmeyer will receive the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for her Humanitarian efforts.

Congratulations Namunyak!

Phyllis, John Sakuda and Alice Sparks taken at our 2015 Fact Finding Tour. John was our rock star on visits to schools in 2011 and 2012 while living in America. He is now back in Kenya caring for his family and cattle.

 

Cecil: “Simba”

“Did you ever kill a lion?”

That question was always asked by children wherever and whenever our Kenyan Maasai friends spoke at presentations on behalf of the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project’s visits inside numerous Bucks and Montgomery  County schools. I was reminded of their curiosity when the outrage blew up after the killing of Cecil the lion by that big game hunter.

Those children’s innocent pursuit for knowledge led me to contrast the tortuous slaughter of Cecil the Lion  with the Maasai’s decision to disband their ancient tribal custom of killing lions. Years and even generations before big game hunting in Kenya was banned in 1977, this indigenous tribe killed lions to establish their bravery as Warriors. However, after diseases such as rabies or canine distemper and the rise of unlawful poaching, the Maasai began the practice of olamayio, the Maa word that means ‘Group Hunting’. Now the Maasai hunt to kill lions only when the animal suffers from those diseases which could threaten their cattle, goats or sheep.

This piece of Maasai jewelry is called 'issurri'. It is a special ornament worn only by mothers whose sons are going through the Rite of Passage, also known as Warrior-hood (moranship)

This piece of Maasai jewelry is called ‘issurri’. It is a special ornament worn only by mothers whose sons are going through the Rite of Passage, also known as Warrior-hood (moranship)

Olamayio, is also practiced in the Maasai ‘Rite of Paasage’, the cultural ceremony where young males become adults through their transition to Warriors. The ritual no longer ends with the killing of a lion. Instead whichever boy in the group runs the fastest to reach out and grab the lion’s tail receives the honor of Warrior, thereby representing all the other boys in the olamayio who  complete their ‘Rite of Passage’ with him. More importantly the Maasai don’t eat the meat of lions or any wildlife, limiting that aspect of their diet to goat and beef.

The NGO we partner with–Simba Maasai Outreach Organization–is committed to preserve wildlife in the land surrounding their Olosho oibor village. The Lioness–the identifying name for females–is never hunted because her role is to ensure the continuation of the species. The Maasai’s reverence for the lioness is reflected in a true story that occurred several years ago in Olosho oibor: A lioness protected a lost child until found by the villagers. In time I believe this incident that is already a legend throughout Olosho oibor will become a Maasai folktale the elder women will tell over and again to their grandchildren.

The outrage since Cecil’s death remains loud and worldwide.  Researchers at Oxford University in Great Britain had for over ten years observed Cecil through a tracking device on his neck as he roamed the terrain in Zimbabwe’s National Park. Now that’s lost. Positive reactions include more awareness about the threatened loss of wildlife in Africa and around the globe. Some airlines will no longer transport carcasses of killed wildlife in the belly of their planes. Zimbabwe is attempting to extradite dentist Walter Palmer to their country to face charges for his “illegal” kill. The dentist remains in hiding since his hunt/kill of Cecil.

Return to the Motherland

?????????????????Today, February 19 I travel to Kenya, East Africa—the Cradle of Civilization. This is my fourth Sojourn to the Motherland and my second to Kenya. In my other two Sojourns, 1999 carried my soul to Ghana where I walked inside the dungeons that imprisoned my African ancestors. In 2000 I rubbed  my hands across finely carved blocks of stone that created the Egyptian Pyramids.

I will travel with Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Alice Sparks. We form the volunteer triage for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP). For eight days we will live in the Maasai village of Olosho oibor–a village that is thriving because of the generous financial support from thousands of adults and school children in Bucks County and beyond.

When MCEP was founded in 2005 the goal was to raise funds for the drilling of a well that would bring potable water to the Maasai. Seen below at left is the first well–Christy’s Well— named so for its generous benefactor. This well was drilled in December 2005. It continues to bring potable water to the 5,000 Maasai living in Olosho oibor. A film crew accompanied MCEP Co-founders Phyllis Eckelmeyer and Jennifer Ellsworth to this drilling. A half hour documentary, QUENCH is completed and will be distributed to schools and other supporters of MCEP.

Ten years on–

7-2005 *There are now seven wells sited across Maasailand.

*One hundred Maasai children are benefitting from education sponsorships.

*The Maasai have installed pipelines and cisterns that carry water from the wells to schools, greenhouses and infirmaries.

*Maasai women have established a beading co-op that brings additional income into their households.

I’ll journal while in Kenya as blogging might be impossible with our busy itinerary. We’ll tour the wells, the schools, the greenhouses and meet with Maasai who have been instrumental in many of these improvements. We are also excited about the prospect of filming elder Maasai women while they retell ancient and indigenous folktales that have been carried down from previous generations. The Maasai language is not written down; and from these oral stories we will print children’s coloring books, similar to one we printed in 2011 titled The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel.

What’s on My Bucket List for Kenya? 1) Inhale the scent of Africa as soon as I walk outside of the Nairobi Air Terminal; 2) Rise early one morning to milk a cow; 3) Feel the burden of carrying a jerry can on my back filled with water; 4) Visit the Market in Ngong Hills; 5) Walk the earth in the Rift Valley; 6) Attend the Maasai Sunday church service; 7) And everything else to absorb this last half of Black History Month 2015 while I Sojourn in Kenya, East Africa.