I meet Sharon Sanayian, a teacher at Losho Primary School in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Sharon’s salary and housing are paid for by the Maasai-American Organization, a small US-based charity, since the government’s budget cannot pay for enough teachers in the district.
When I arrive, she is helping one of her pupils, ten-year-old Margaret, to catch up with her English and Math. The girl is very excited to be able to broaden her horizons beyond the rural and domestic chores that are expected of her. “If I improve my grammar and writing skills, I could go on to clerical college and try to get a job in the civil service,” says Margaret.
The Maasai are traditionally a semi-nomadic people living in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley. Livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep are still their primary source of income, so children are primarily brought up as herders and shepherds. However, increasing numbers of young Maasai pursue other careers.
“My parents were educated,” says Sharon. “My mother is herself a schoolteacher, so they encouraged me to go to teacher training college. I did my practice in other parts of Kenya, but I was determined to come back here, to serve my community. I try to persuade local parents to get more of their girls to come to school, and I believe I am succeeding, as a role-model for them but it is an uphill struggle. The older generation is very conservative in their views and always favor boys over girls, but that is slowly changing.”
The following day, I am invited to a feast in the village of Siana, about 5 km from the reserve. The sacrifice of a goat is a great occasion in this impoverished region, done only on special occasions. In this instance, it is to celebrate the high school graduation of 18-year-old Martine Odupoi. The ceremony itself has a deeper meaning for the men here. Those who killed the goat then drink its blood, thus cleansing themselves and their families of any evil spirits that may haunt their relatives and loved ones.
The whole community enjoys the banquet, sharing every part of the animal and then making a broth from the leftovers, which is combined with millet beer and then passed around in small cups as a toast to good luck in the future.
Martine’s future is clear: she can’t wait to start teacher training college in Nairobi. Inspired by Sharon, she wants to complete her degree and come back to share her enthusiasm with her Maasai people. “Sharon has been a pioneer, since we didn’t have many female local teachers before she started working in Losho Primary,” she says. “I want to follow in her steps and also try to encourage young girls to improve their lives through education. But we need more help, since our central government does not do enough.”