The Maasai Girls of Amboseli
Studying their way towards change and empowerment
By Rupi Mangat
On the dusty plains of Amboseli, Noontomon Lesingo looks at her daughter and niece with envy. They go to school, they speak English and they have ambitions. Abigail Pilamoi, her 16-year-old niece wants to be a lawyer which means she could become the first female Maasai lawyer from her area. Lesingo’s 14-year-old daughter, Leah wants to be a doctor.
Both girls are sponsored by Beads for Education a not for profit organization that is transforming the lives of Maasai girls. All expenses are taken care of to ensure the girls finish university. Since 1993, when Debby Rooney founded BfE, more than 500 Maasai girls have been sponsored by BfE and all are either employed or operating their own businesses.
Each year 30 girls are sponsored. In 2013, BfE built a high school in Kajiado, 200 kilometres from Amboseli. It’s called Tembea the Kiswahili (Kenya’s national language) word for walk because in the early years the Maasai girls, their mothers and sponsors would embark on a week-long walkathon from Kajiado to Amboseli to raise awareness about girls’ education.
The Karat Household
The two girls and their siblings are home because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They help 35-year-old Noontomon milk the cows, look after the kids and collect firewood, all the time keeping an eye out for the wild animals like elephants, buffaloes and lions they live amongst. Lesingo Karat, Noontomon’s husband owns several head of cattle but Amboseli is a drought prone area and many a time, the cattle die. He has two wives and 10 children between them.
“We women have no choice in the decision to how many children we want. It is the man who decides,” states Noontomon.
If it was not for BfE, her husband would marry off his daughters, despite them being underage, in order to get cattle for dowry especially now.
When the girls reach puberty they are circumcised and married even at 13 years, especially for girls who drop out of school because of pregnancy.
Noontomon dressed in her typical Maasai regalia of beads and red dress doesn’t want that life for her girls. “I don’t want them stuck at home like me,” she says. “I had no choice when l was a girl. There were no schools around.” To supplement the income she beads the Maasai jewellery to hawk at the park’s gate. But since the pandemic, that source of income has stopped.
One of their neighbors is 17-year-old Rebecca Naisimoi’s family. Only that she’s not at home but still at school because her father wanted to get her married off so that he could get some dowry during these difficult times from the husband-to-be. Her mother got wind of it and alerted the school. Rebecca’s father was warned by the village chief that it was illegal to marry off an underage girl. Nevertheless, Debby and her assistant Diana Parmeres, also a beneficiary of BfE felt that it was safer for Rebecca to be at school.
A top performer, Naisimoi plans to be a veterinarian specializing in elephants. Her role model is Dr Cynthia Moss, the woman who pioneered research in free-roaming elephants in the Amboseli ecosystem in 1972. Moss continues with her research and is supporting Naisimoi’s education through Beads for Education.
Recently, Rebecca participated in the Yale Young African Scholars leadership program on zoom (instead of flying to Ghana for it because of Covid-19).
For many Maasai girls supported by BfE, they are the first in the family to attend school.
Click on the image above to watch the video about the girls that Beads for Education serves.
NOTE: The author of this article, Rupi Mangat will be our guide during our luxurious safari to Kenya next November 2021. During this exceptional adventure we’ll be staying in a luxury lodge as well as two gorgeous tented camps as we discover the very best of Kenya. During this trip you’ll get to meet the founder of Beads for Education and participate in helping them sponsor a girl so she may receive an education – should you be so inspired.