Mary Walker: I’ve laughed; now, I can call it a day
It’s been a year and half since I submitted a piece to Steamboat Today. As many of you know, I had been writing updates about my experiences, observations and insights from my travels to Kenya for several years to assist a group of Maasai girls with post-secondary education.
Today, I can report with great pride (not for myself, but for the girls who put in all the hard work) about what several of the girls in Kenya have accomplished — girls we have all been following for many years.
Susan has now been working as a bookkeeper near Mombasa for three years. Florence has been teaching at the primary school in her home area outside Maasai Mara since completing teachers college two years ago. She recently completed her diploma, a requirement similar to continuing education courses required here in the U.S.
Lorna graduated from Maasai Mara University in December with a degree in business administration and just landed a job with a savings and loan institution in Narok. Caroh graduated from University of Nairobi with a degree in biology and is now working on a post-graduate diploma in medical laboratory sciences.
Janet, who was the first girl to complete a post-secondary program, started teaching at Nkoilale Primary School in 2010 and recently was hired as the head teacher at a neighboring primary school, a major job promotion. She and her husband, a young Maasai man she has known since childhood, have two young children.
You can’t imagine how excited I was when I read her email telling me about her promotion. You can’t imagine how proud I am when I read any email from one of the girls, simply as a measure of how far I’ve watched them come in the past nine years.
I’ve lost touch with many of the other girls I’ve talked about and who many of you supported in various ways thorughout the years, though I often hear though the grapevine about how some of them are doing or where they are.
I still go to Kenya. I spent last Christmas with Caroh at her mother’s shamba (farm) — a mere 100 miles from Nairobi, but a rough, full-day journey well up into the extremely remote mountains outside Naivasha, often impassable except by motorbike.
Too many Maasai girls are still becoming pregnant at an early age, and this, as much as anything, is what holds them back in school, if they are even able to return to school after giving birth.
Lack of accurate information about basic reproductive biology (or, to be blunt, what causes pregnancy) and lack of access to family planning methods, even if a girl is aware of how her own reproductive system functions, are both part of the problem. Cultural factors that favor the “manliness” of procreation over the father’s responsibility for his offspring also conspire to continue to make it very difficult for these girls and young women to pursue their educational potential.
The only way for a Maasai girl to return to school after giving birth in this scenario is for her mother to take over the child-rearing responsibilities, a never-ending cycle that makes it impossible for these women to get a leg up economically, socially or culturally.
I hope for a time when the world sees that cultural differences are really only differences in priorities. And more often than not, these priorities have little to do with choices, but everything to do with day to day survival.
I have little doubt that, faced with the same crises about how to meet the priorities of clean water, feed our children or fight the devastating effects of malaria, typhoid, chronic diarrhea and HIV/AIDS on a daily basis, we would all see that we have much more in common with each other than we think.
Mary Walker, a longtime resident of Clark, first went to Kenya in 2007 to volunteer at a rescue centre for Maasai girls. She has organized assistance for several Maasai young women to attend college and university in Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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