Today we are heading back to Nairobi. Job is taking us on a slight detour: he has found a good subject for a story for Elaine to write about. My girlfriend is a free-lance writer, and among other things, she writes about issues such as education in the third world.
Job takes us to a small Masai village of about 50 people, where he wants us to meet a woman and her husband. Jackline and Moses Letuluo run the Masai Girl Education Program, which tries to put local girls in school.
The masai are a very traditional society, where little boys are often out in the field all day, tending to cows and goats, and girls have to help in the household. If anyone gets an education, it’s only the boys. Girls are not considered a full part of the family, since after their wedding they’ll become part of their husband’s family anyway. As a result, in the whole of Masai land, there is not one female teacher, and only one woman who has finished secondary education.
Going to school is not automatic, even for boys: the government has abolished school fees some years ago, but school uniforms, books, extracurricular activities and tutoring, even exams, can still cost money. When Jacki talks to parents about letting their daughter go to school, they wonder if she’s making a joke. Girls are for marrying off. The Masai, btw, are polygamous, and a man can take as many wives as he can afford. And no matter how old he gets, any new wife will still be young. In Jacki’s village, there is a 13 year old bride, whose husband is at least 60.
The main reason Jacki wants to get girls to go to school is to postpone or prevent their circumcision. Female circumcision (often called Female Genital Mutilation) is still widely practiced in Kenya among traditional families. In fact, I came across a disturbing item in a Kenya paper that girls who are not circumcised by their parents will later voluntarily undergo the procedure to be able to find a husband. By getting girls educated, Jacki hopes to equip them with information to fight early marriage and automatic circumcision. Her motto is "Educating the girl child is educating the whole society".
Society disapproves of girls going to school. She told us one story of a girl who was sneaked into school by her mother. When her father found out, he threatened to have her circumcised and wedded off, right there and then, at the age of 8. Jacki gradually softened up the old man, first by employing the girl as a help in her own household, then by paying for the schooling of one of the man’s sons. In the end, the girl is allowed to go to school, and now, 3 years later, she is still not circumcised. Jacki has hopes of getting the girl into a boarding school, and maybe preventing her circumcision altogether.
Jacki operates alone, with support of her husband, and she finances her work through her own job in a tourist shop, and with small private donations. It's a small-scale operation; she lives in a village that has no electricity or running water. She hopes to make her organization more stable, and maybe at some point open her own school.