The pastoral Maasai pastoral people dominated East Africa till about a hundred years ago. Then the farming peoples that make up most of the population of Tanzania developed through school and business and even politically. The Maasai remained a marginalized people out on the plains with their cattle, not part of the development that was taking place around them. As Tanzania became a nation, the Maasai had less and less say in the decisions that affected their lives. As time went on, bureaucrats from outside, with little or no real interest in the Maasai people and their welfare came to be making all the decisions about the development of springs and dams for water, the level of health care provided to the Maasai, the providing of schools for their education and so forth. Finally, the point was reached that the Maasai people and no voice in decisions taken about their lives.
When I arrived at Ngorongoro 26 years ago, I came to the conclusion that that the way to turn things around and to help the Maasai get a voice would be through education. Some Maasai must be education and take their place as equals on the decision-making councils in every vital area. At that time few boys and no girls at all were going on to secondary school. The Maasai saw education as destructive, taking their young people away from them, alienating them from the Maasai way of life. In the case of girls, education interfered with their children being married at an early age. I began to look for bright young Maasai boys and girls, and convincing their parents to allow them to get and education. Mostly, parents, who after long discussion came to agree to the education of their children but were still not ready to pay for it. Thus was born our Maasai education project. Since beginning in 1986, we have been able to underwrite the education through secondary school and beyond of almost three hundred Maasai girls and boys. Some of the fruits of this program are five nurses, four clinical medical officers, five lawyers, many teachers, and many others now working in various fields among their people in Maasai country.
We help Maasai boys and girls to qualify for post-primary education and various training programs related to the needs of their own people, e.g., teachers, nurses, lawyers, game scouts, assistant nurses, veterinary assistants, etc. One girl has become a registered nurse is now the assistant director of a center for handicapped Maasai children. Another girl is in law school. One boy has become a lawyer; another priest now studying in Germany. Another girl has been invited to join the Pastoral council of Ngorongoro, the body that advises the Conservation Authority on issues of special concern to the local Maasai people. Another girl is an assistant nurse at the Ngorongoro dispensary and still another girl is a veterinary assistant, helping her own people with health problems among their cattle.
The Maasai have often been reluctant to give up a child to education. Once, not long ago, I had negotiated with a Maasai family over the period of two days and and father and mother of Simaloi had come to agree that their daughter put off immanent marriage and finish secondary school. A couple of days before Morenge Secondary School was due to open I went to the village of Simaloi deep in the bush at Bulati. Her parents had not changed their minds about sending their daughter to school. Simaloi gathered her few belongings, made her goodbyes to her mother, father and sisters and happily got into my land rover. We started out on the six-hour journey to the school located near the central town of Arusha. Passing through a dry river bed not more that ten minutes from the cattle camp of her parents, the car was surrounded by young Maasai warriors, the leader none other that here frustrated husband to be, furious that his promised bride was off to school rather than to his village. We ignored the warriors and began to climb the further bank of the dry riverbed. Suddenly, something heavy and sharp hit the driver’s side window less than a foot from my head, shattered it, andfortunately for me bounced off. I realized I had just had a spear thrown at me. Flooring the accelerator and topping the bank, I took off as fast as I could, bouncing along the track away from there. I was lucky the window was closed.