Vol. 15, No. 9
A Christmas gift for the Maasai people (a potential leader):
One very dry morning last month, just before the onset of the rains, I left the car at the top of a small hill. I tramped a short distance through a heavily forested place to a group of Maasai villages for my regular round of meetings during which we talk about problems the people are having, possible ways to deal with them and have some religious teaching. It is normal to meet Maasai along the path, some on their way to cut firewood others to draw water and still others going to the Endulen shops with their donkeys to buy corn flour, which is their staple diet when milk is insufficient. Coming along the path toward me I noticed a young girl. As other teenage girls soon to be married, she was decked out in a beautiful goatskin skirt covered with intricate patterns of brightly colored beads. She wore an eight inch wide beaded leather belt, the special garb of the unmarried young girl. Its striking patterns of red, blue and white beads complimenting her leather skirt and the bright red cloth tied at her shoulder reaching to her knees. Circling her head she wore a brightly beaded straps, which sparkled like a crown in the early morning sun. Around her neck was the colorful platter of beads fastened together with wire, the everyday necklace of Maasai women and girls. Hers was replete with the sky blue and white beads favored by her age group.
She greeted me in the traditional way of young boys and girls by bowing her head for me to touch her momentarily on the top of her head with my open palm. Then I said hello with the customary words “My little mother, be in good humor”. From then on our conversation was anything but normal. Instead of simply passing on her way, she, in a nervous yet determined tone of voice which bespoke the tremendous effort it must have taken for her to have screwed up her courage to speak to me, a virtual stranger, she blurted out, “I want to go to school.”
This was the beginning of a month of endless and intricate negotiations with her father. She was already “married” in the sense of everything was prepared, and her prospective husband, a man in his late fifties, was distinctly unhappy at the prospect of losing his young bride, to say nothing of her father who was looking foreword to the expansion of his herd of cows, the marriage of Naitira would bring. Her father has now agreed and Naitira will begin our prep school program here on the mission in January. Following the year here, she will begin secondary school and just maybe, after her education, will take her place among the young women in leadership positions here in Maasai country, graduates of our OSOTWA MAASAI EDUCATION FOR LEADERSHIP here at Endulen Mission.
WHAT MAY YET BE
(Contributed by Mike Jemmitte, Canadian volunteer here at Osotwa Prep.)
Osotwa’s academic year runs from mid-January to mid-June, and mid-July to late October. When I arrived in July of 1999, I was just building up steam in Swahili, so initially I sat and the back of the class soaking up appropriate subject vocabulary and observing the teaching methods and student response. Within a couple of months, I became far more active.
Teachers often teach as we were taught. Although my two untrained Maasai colleagues were well meaning and energetic, their traditional methods, especially in English, favored rote verbal repetition, and copying from the blackboard into notebooks. The language style, inherited generations back, was often formal and colonial, and comprehension was usually incidental.
Our class of 36, crowded elbow-to-elbow, seven to a bench, copied answers and errors from each other on exercises and tests, with questionable diligence and invalid test results. Under such circumstances, bright students are often bored, challenged ones lost.
Over a decade and a half, Osotwa had grown marvelously, but I could see a place for improved and varied methods to match the (still limited) resources of time, materials and finances.
Ned and my colleagues were quite open to suggestions for constructive changes.
We introduced a simple entrance exam to select fewer but higher-skilled students. In part, this was undermined by “politics” and we ended up with 24 primary school graduates: only one could write the alphabet in three minutes; a few could barely read Swahili with minimal comprehension; a third had difficulty adding double-digit numbers; and only a small but significant number met our anticipated levels of competence. Teachers and students alike, we rolled up our sleeves and dug in.
The academic timetable was restructured and expanded to accommodate more realistic student levels of interest and energy.
Emphasis was placed on practical, modern English in all the skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing; speed, accuracy and alternative routes to correct answers in math were stressed.
I added an ad-hoc advanced English class, usually once a week, attendance optional, in the second term for the 3 to 8 who participated, we played, worked and laughed strictly in English.
Previously in storage, about 200 story books at all levels and various reference materials, including encyclopedias, maps and current (2000) National Geographic magazines (pictures can spark reading curiosity) are now available in a newly- constructed cabinet. Managing the Osotwa Library, two students demonstrated their organizational skills, responsibility and leadership.
A bulletin board was installed across the top of the blackboard to summarize and reinforce important learning material.
The learning television channels were used as and occasional tools.
Not a music teacher by any stretch of the imagination, I did experience some success working with the students’ natural penchant for singing, a more productive and fun form of rote memorization.
A student vegetable garden was instituted with modest success in tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and broccoli. Individuals and pairs exhibited commitment, cooperation, leadership and physical stamina in the face of a hail storm (piled ten inches/25 cm deep), draught, disease, bug infestations and marauding goats and little children.
In preparation for next year, we will travel as far as 200 km overall in two days to visit four areas where prospective students, interested in furthering their formal education with Osotwa, will be screened for basic and advanced, written and oral math and English skills, and for simple, quick problem-solving. Ned has tried to assure me that only those whom my team and I select without third-party interference will be invited to join the Osotwa community. Our goal is to seek out and nurture potential, modern Maasai leaders.
I hope to expand the daily time allotted to our core subjects, English and Math, while maintaining the valuable place of the social awareness course (including Maasai folklore, women’s rights and men’s responsibilities); General Studies ( a collection of elementary geography, history, science and civics); and “sermon on the mount” teaching.
The advanced English class will be formalized but remain optional and totally fun.
We will have another “creative problem-solving project” (see past newsletters)
1999 move a boulder in 15 days
2000 build a better rattrap in 21 days
2001 (top secret – stay tuned)
Students will continue with library supervision.
What will our garden grow in 2001?
More music! More of the Discovery and National Geographic Channels! Field trips!
Each year we have little more than eight months to raise our students’ fluency and comprehension in literacy and numeracy, to help them be as competitive as possible in secondary and trade schools, to increase their awareness and desire to participate in developing a healthy, secure Maasai future.
I WELCOME THE CHALLENGES OF 2001
As I do every year at Christmas time, I ask your financial help to continue our program for leadership here in Endulen. It is primarily aimed at Maasai girls, although we always end up with more boys than girls due to the difficulty of getting the girls. Education is the key to an articulate leadership among the Maasai people, the way for them to take charge of their affairs. This is our project here at Endulen. If you can manage to send something, it is not a good idea to send a check to East Africa. Often letters are opened and money is stolen.
Thank you for your thoughtfulness in thinking of us and have a great Christmas.