Foothold International has been working with the Maasai people in of the Taita/Taveta region of Kenya since 2009.
Our first outreach to the people of Njoro Maasai was through a free veterinary clinic for the flocks of the Maasai men. We knew that in order to reach the men in this pastoral/patriarchal society with the gospel, it has to be through acknowledging their livelihood, their status symbol… their animals.
To facilitate such an outreach, we worked with Maasai Pastor Isaya Sikuyu of Zion Destiny Church, to make our way into this primitive culture. The Maasai people of East Africa have been marginalized, and their way of life has been threatened by modern-day culture. Therefore, to simply show, up even bringing something beneficial, could get you into serious trouble.
Over 4 days, a U.S. veterinary team vaccinated, treated diseases, and bound the wounds of over 5,000 cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. During this time, others had an opportunity to share the gospel with the men and invite them to the church later each day for discipleship. This outreach led to a follow-up visit the following year with Foothold sponsoring an HIV testing/wellness clinic in collaboration with the county health department.
This outreach had astounding results! While the clinic was intended mainly for women, to our surprise dozens of men showed up, many of them with multiple wives! This was unheard of, as these men are well known for their promiscuity, especially while grazing their flocks on far-away lands during the dry season.
Amazingly, out of 75 people tested, there were 0 HIV positive. Because of logistical/language challenges at this Maasai camp, we turned our attention to other areas nearby. In spite of our absence, God was up to something amazing among this people group.
Fast-forward to 2016, when it was time for Foothold to establish a women’s empowerment project that focused on Water Sanitation, and Hygiene improvements for communities. Our General Manager, Charity Kiriinya proposed working with the Maasai women of Njoro Maasai.
Why the women? In the Maasai culture, women are treated like property, less than cattle. The only income many women have is from the sale of the milk from the husband’s cows at the end of the day. This may average from $2–4 per week. It is on this meager income, she is expected to run the household and should she dare to send the children to school, the husband may say, “I did not bring this child into the world, nor did I send them to school. You pay the fees!” At this, she all too often gives up on any future for her children: The girls stay home to be married off for a dowery as young as 12, and the boys begin grazing dad’s cattle as young as 5 yrs.
Maasai men have one objective in mind, and that is to amass cattle. The more cattle, the more wives you take. More cattle + more wives= more status.
Once again, we met with our friend Pastor Isaya, as we know it is his desire that the men of his community set aside the destructive traditions that objectify women and neglect children.
When we shared our hand-crafted soap idea with him, he said we have a ladies group who has been praying for a project, so they may earn income for their families. The women were called in, and they confirmed this was answered prayer.
They were then quick to start their own (CBO) Community Based Organization. These are basically community based businesses that have boards of directors, and work to better their communities. I heard it once said, “The largest financial institutions in Africa were not founded by men.”
The ladies registered their CBO with the local social services as “Namelok Ladies Group” Namelok in Maasai means “Something sweet.” They said to us, “Wherever the Spirit of God is, you will find something sweet”.
With a $350 micro-loan, materials and utensils were bought. Cherie and Charity taught the ladies group to make hand-crafted soap. Under our model, two soaps are made, the first type is community soap to be sold to friends/neighbors for income. The second type of soap is made for primary school students.
Right away when the soap shop started, they could not make community soap fast enough. Women loved how this soap worked so well. They used it for bathing, washing dishes, and clothes. We also identified 4 primary schools in the area in which to make school soap.
In 2016, the number of bars made for the 4 schools numbered 680, one for each child per month. Three years out, the community soap is sold before it is produced, and the number of school soap bars has increased to over 1500 bars per month. This proves that the simple act of washing hands at critical times means better health, attendance, test scores, and enrollment. Skin disease, diarrhea, and typhoid are hardly an issue, meaning students stay in school.
The monthly school soap bars are subsidized by our partners, Pacha Soap of Hastings, Nebraska.
In 2017, Foothold International set out to fight the effects of Period Poverty in Taveta county. Each month, many girls in rural communities stay home from school since they or their parents cannot afford disposable sanitary pads. Girls know they must stay in school, so they often resort to alternative means of dealing with their periods. This all too often ends with embarrassing accidents, and debilitating infections. Many desperate girls resort to selling their bodies for the 50 cents to pay for disposable pads. These girls frequently end up pregnant, exploited, and contract STDs/HIV.
When a girl misses 40-60 days per year while on her period, she cannot keep up in her studies. As a result, tens of thousands of girls drop out of school simply by virtue of being female. This was unacceptable to us!
In the Maasai community, if a girl does not go to school, she is vulnerable to sexual exploitation by young Maasai men, who are in their season of becoming a Warrior.
Young unmarried Maasai men are called Morans. Part of the duty of a Moran is to condition young girls to be taken by older men as wives. They often impregnate them to prove the girls can give birth because an older man will not consider a barren wife. So, if. You keep a Maasai girl in school, she is likely to be safe. Schools teach young girls how to avoid situations where they are vulnerable to rape. The government will also prosecute rapists even for the sake of tradition.
Along with training by an organization in Kenya that produces washable sanitary pads, Foothold purchased the materials and treadle sewing machine, and we took it 10 miles into the Kenya bush, where the Namelok ladies group began producing Jasiri (Swahili for Bold, Confident, Brave) Washable sanitary pads.
Now, young women are learning about reproductive health and are empowered to stay in school, not missing a day because of their periods.
Jasiri Pads are finding their way into many other areas of Kenya. There are plans in the works for major expansion of Jasiri into all of Kenya.The impact of the Jasiri project will never fully be measured by statistics.
Foothold is so pleased with the success of the Namelok ladies group. With the profits they have accumulated, they paid back their micro-loan in full within a year. Now loans are available to women within the group to help with school fees/uniforms, and sometimes medical expenses.
Members of the group take dividends from the profits at the end of the year. In 2019, beyond their dividends, they also took a 7000 Shilling ($70.00) Christmas bonus. Out of their 7000 shilling bonus, they gave heir husbands 1000 shillings.
This is unheard of! The men are happy. They want to start their own groups now. They are realizing that empowered wives are a good thing. The men have nicknamed the Namelok women’s group, “The Power House”!
They also fired mud bricks and built their own facility. Young women are joining the group and are being mentored by the older women in the ways of Jesus as they learn skills to support their families and community.
In 2018, I sat with Pastor Isaya and asked him if there were any other ways Foothold could assist him in transforming his community, and he said, “Please pray with me about starting a school for Maasai men.” He knew that education was the key to transforming their community for generations to come.
It was then, we came back to Chillicothe, sharing the idea of starting a school for Maasai men. We needed $2400 for the teacher salary for 1 year. We also needed a building which would cost about $4000. For nearly 2 years God was silent in spite of us sharing this project. Then, a former 2-room flour grinding shop came open, and we were able to purchase it for $400. Then, a couple who had heard us speak about the school just came up to us last summer and handed us a check for the teacher salary. How amazing God is!
The soft opening of the school was a success. Our first day we had 11 students, and on Friday we had 33. Maasai men and women are came to school, showing up hours early just to practice their alphabet and numbers.
Moms come with babies, and nursed right in class, older men assisted younger men. They also stay after school to practice. As I mentioned,the students vary in their education experience. Over half never went to school while others may have made it to 2nd, 4th, or even 8th grade. Since our school is accredited by the Kenya Ministry of Education, some of our 8th grade students can become primary schools teachers within 2 years. They are on track to teach at the Maasai school as it grows in their own community.
Immediate Needs for the School:
Still needed are tables for the students to do their work in groups. We are adding two wooden blackboard next week. Various books are needed to assist the students in their studies. Again, $500 would go a long way in taking the school into 2020-2021 year.
Stay tuned for more updates after the grand opening of the school and its progress over the next year.