Developing leaders takes on a special urgency in Maasai country where there is massive pressure from non-Maasai and more sophisticated people. These are after Maasai land and water for purposes of cultivation. The Maasai of Ngorongoro, where there is no cultivation, face other pressures, hunger among them. Only educated and articulate Maasai can reverse this situation. Fr. Gene Hillman began our Spiritan Education efforts in the 1950’s.
I use the resources that I can beg from my Spiritan family, friends and acquaintances, to educate Maasai girls. Maasai parents are more ready to help their sons. With the boys, families have a hope of help once their sons complete their education and find a job. The girls, on the other hand, provide an infusion of cows and goats upon their marriage and sending them to school puts that windfall off for many years.
Sending Lenkangu, a boy, to school was a departure from the usual group that I help and, as it turned out, a good move. Lekangu’s mother came to me fourteen years ago asking for help to educate her son. The family was without resources, their cattle decimated by the cattle disease known to the Maasai as “Olmilo” that I talked about in my blog of a week ago.
I was able to get a substantial reduction of the fees at Arusha Modern School, an English-medium school near Arusha. Enrolled there, Lenkangu attended kindergarten (1 year), Primary School (7 years) and Secondary School (5 years) at that very good school.
Now having graduated from Secondary School, Lenkangu wants to return to Maasai country as a primary school teacher. It is almost unheard of that a secondary school graduate would choose to
be a teacher. The pay is low and the living is difficult. Most choose more lucrative careers connected one way or another with business. I have told Lenkangu that I would do my best to provide some help toward whatever path he might choose. To my delight, he has chosen to be a teacher in Maasailand and to cooperate with me in facilitating the education of Maasai young women.
Lenkangu talks sadly of the sorry state of schools in Maasai country. Generally they are poorly supported and lack books and other teaching materials. Getting their kids to school is far down a list of a Maasai parents’ priorities. Anything can take precedence over the attendance of their child at school. Even something like a mother needing help to cut firewood can prevent a child from showing up for classes. Once at school, a child in a Maasai school spends little time in class. The teachers don’t want to live in the bush and busy themselves writing letters to the education authorities asking for transfers to schools in or near towns where there is access to shops and sources of diversion. Most teachers in Maasai country start some kind of business near their school and are much more concerned with that than spending time in the classroom with their students. Another perennial problem is the salaries. In addition to being quite low, they often arrive months late, making it difficult for a teacher to buy even the food he or she needs.
Years ago, teachers were held in very high regard. The title most used for Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania and Father of the nation was “Mwalimu”, the Swahili word for teacher. In the early days after independence, teachers were the ones chosen for responsible government posts. Now, given the sad state of our education situation, few are ready to undertake this thankless and
Lenkangu will begin his two-year course on July 9th at Arusha Teacher Training College. It is a two-year program and will enable Lenkangu to teach primary school. Once he qualifies, our plan is for him to work with me during leave time and evenings if possible, to provide supplementary study in English and Math for Maasai students. My hope is that eventually, with upgrading courses, Lenkangu will find himself in a position to influence the education situation in Maasai country.