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




A Dot Com in Ngong Town

IMG_1815Sarah Senewa

Ngong town in the Ngong Hills is a bustling town about an hour south west of Nairobi. Whatever you need you can buy it in Nygong town. This community is a place where crossing the main street with cars and motorcycles and trucks and buses and vans traveling every which way–you better be fast. There are numerous services here, beginning with Barclay Bank.

There are also eateries, grocery stores, hardware stores, meat markets, schools, roadside vendors, garment makers (think Grace—in my previous post), cell phone charging shops and internet cafes. For this post, you’ll learn all about one of these internet cafes: Osotura Café, founded and owned by Sarah Senewa.

Sarah, one of 5 siblings is fortunate enough to graduate from high school and continue her education at Maasai Technical Institute, studying Secretarial and Computer Studies. She is currently married to John Parsitau. John is the coordinator for SIMOO’s education Program. He is involved in enrollments and sponsorship of Maasai students supported by MCEP donors. While doing an internship for her secretarial course, she meets John. It’s becoming more common for Maasai young women to meet their future husbands outside of arranged marriages. When John and Sarah decide to marry, a meeting is arranged where John’s father and uncles visit Sarah’s family. Their homes are hundreds of miles from each other.

In 2010 when Sarah is 29 years old, she travels to Bucks County for her first and only visit. John will stay at home to look after their three sons—Brian Lenaiyia, and twins Collins Teeka and Frankline Parsitau. The experience and confidence she gains from speaking at MCEP presentations opens a window that will lead her to exploit the knowledge she learned from her computer training.

In 2012 she decides to open a computer café in Ngong town. Finding space in Ngong is a challenge because of its competitive proximity to Nairobi. Using sales from her bead work commissions, she’s able to pay the rent deposit, buy furniture and materials to partition the cyber café. John also gives her financial support by selling some of his livestock so she’s able to purchase computers, a photo copy machine, a printer and the application for an internet connection.

Sarah enrolls in an advance computer course at Jomo Kenyatta University in May 2013. MCEP is able to find a sponsor to help Sarah with her tuition fee. “I am always grateful for the generous support MCEP offered me and many Maasai children.”

In June 2015, she will graduate with a Diploma in Information Technology. When Sarah is not at school she works in the café where she employs one full time and one part time employee. Her future goals are to expand the inventory with stationery and offer computer equipment, repairs and maintenance.



How Dreams Come True

DSC_1356Grace Suyianta Salau

Grace is also a beader with the Olorien co-op. Although married at the Olosho oibor village, her original home of birth is Enkorika village. In this village the women combine beads with fabric, usually on shirts or dresses or small accessory items such as purses in a unique way not found in other Maasai sections. Grace’s leap into self-employment begins when she forms Nalepo Enterprises in 2009 after realizing that milk for cereal is not available in the community. She finds a small space in Ngong Hills where she opens a Milk Shop. After buying the milk wholesale, she processes it for sale in her shop, adding sugar and flour to the shelves. As her business grows, she hires three employees: two women and a man.  To make it more convenient for her customers she enlists a money transfer service on her phone, as an M-pesa Agent. This is a technology that uses the Safaricom (service provider) platform to transfer money and make payments.

It is 2012 and a customer contacts Grace to ask her to design and create a bridal gown along with beaded shirts for the men who will be in the wedding party.

Inventory is needed to complete this bridal request. In order to buy the fabric and other materials she sells the milk company and the money transfer service. She hires a tailor and for the next six months she and two women make the fashions from her home. Images from the wedding appear on Kenya Television Network (KTN). The minister, Bishop Julius Tinkoi, who presided over the wedding begins to receive calls from people asking, “Who made the dresses for that wedding party?” With this sudden interest for her work Grace puts together a promotional book of photographs. A computer donated to her by Robert Stafford of New Canaan Congregational Church, Connecticut (USA) helps in promoting her products. She uploads them on her face book page and OLX online market. Soon she is receiving numerous orders.

In 2013 Grace travels to Bucks County for the second time to represent SIMOO at presentations scheduled by MCEP. Her husband of six years, DanielDSC_1397 Salau Rogei is the Program Assistant for SIMOO. He will stay at home in Kenya with their three children: Two girls–Linah Silantoi and Faith  Rayon–and a boy, Isaac Sabaya. Grace brings several of her original beaded dresses and accessories which are added to the table of Maasai original jewelry. Sales from this day are returned to help with Maasai children’s school fees. We give Thumbs Up to Grace after leafing through her album of photos. One of her dresses for sale on the table calls my name. I buy it and know that because of this transaction a child will attend school.

A short time after Grace returns to Kenya she leases a small rental space in Ngong Hills. This is where she’ll  manage her sewing business instead of out of her home. In 2014 when a second space one floor up becomes available she takes it and opens a shop to sell her clothes and beaded jewelry.

And that brings us to our visit to Grace’s shop after our excursion at the Ngong Hills Market.

We arrive to find her putting the final touches on a Maasai-themed dress to be worn that evening in a pageant that will crown Miss Tourism Kenya 2015 in Nairobi. We all agree–This is a Huge opportunity for Grace!  Grace’s dress and model were selected to represent Miss Kajiado County at the Nairobi event. Grace brought Linah who is only 6 years old, to the county audition. Linah (in this photo she is third from the left) was thrilled by all the pageant energy and soaks it all in like a sponge in water. Grace tells us how Linah begins copying the way contestants walk across the stage. The pageant organizer Naisiae Karia, so taken with Linah’s outgoing personality, gives her time on stage to greet the audience at the opening of the Miss Kajiado County finals.

The day after the Miss Tourism Kenya 2015 pageant we learn that Grace’s Maasai model came in Second. “That’s ok”, says Grace. “This was her first time in competition.” Grace’s voice tells me: Next Year—She Will Be Back

I ask Grace, What are your goals for the future?

“I want a larger shop. And I plan to set up sales for my clothes through my cell phone and online platform. I hope to target the up-market as well as weddings and fashion shows.”

The clothes she designs carry a well-made finished look. She also celebrates the Maasai colors and fabrics, keeping the traditional while mixing a contemporary look. Grace is currently designing shirts for Moses ole Sakuda. He is a Maasai who serves in the Kenya government’s Parliament for Kajiado West. Moses ole Sakuda will wear Grace’s shirt at an upcoming major political rally that will take place in her home village. Part of her clientele includes staff in the State House who work for MP Sakuda.

Grace is also enrolled in classes for Fashion and Design at a vocational training school in Ngong Hills. One day soon I believe Couture by Grace will be walking down the Red Carpet!



Celebrating Women’s History Month with Maasai Women

To realize the role of Maasai women in their community, you must understand that this indigenous tribe is based on a patriarchal culture that limits women to specific roles. The men are the decisive leaders and the property owners, proud mostly of their livestock which in their  culture is just the same as money. More cows mean more wealth to the man. The women own their jewelry and the milk, dung and urine from the cows. Although the women build the manyattas from the cow dung and urine, manyattas are also considered property that is owned by the man. However, compared to cultures in some other parts of the world where women are severely reduced to be less than dirt on the ground, I praise the forward thinking of the Male Leaders in the Olosho oibor village who support their women and thereby are uplifting the entire community.

Women’s History Month is a celebration about advances accomplished by women everywhere; therefore I will write about five Maasai women from the Olosho oibor village who’ve made a difference. Know that behind each of these women there are hundreds of other Maasai men, women and children who are benefitting from the accomplishments brought about through Susan, Sarah, Veronica, Leah and a second Susan. Each of these Maasai women will be featured separately in an upcoming post.

Before you read about these Maasai women, I introduce you to three other ladies from Bucks County, PA–USA– who are instrumental in helping the Maasai:

Marker in front of American BandstanPhyllis Eckelmeyer:

Cofounded MCEP in 2004 when she first met the Maasai on the Hamilton Train Station platform.
She listened to the struggle occurring in their village of  Olosho oibor. Phyllis could not possibly envision the impact that would occur to the 5,000 Maasai in that village when she vowed, I want to raise money for a well. Seven wells are now strategically placed across this “village” that covers land nearly the size of Bucks County.




Jennifer Ellsworth:

The other co-founder whose corporation, Frog Pond is the non-profit tax exempt umbrella for MCEP.

This past December 2014 Jen traveled to Olosho oibor during a business trip. On her return to America she shared her observations that became a guide for our February 2015 Kenya itinerary.



?????????????????Alice Sparks:

A teacher and long time friend to Phyllis. Alice came on board in 2004 and currently administers the education program for MCEP.

She tracks our American sponsors who donate funds so that children can continue their education from primary all the way through high school. And I can’t forget: Four (4!) Maasai young adults are now attending local colleges.



Women’s History Month! Stupendous!


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.