Meet the Maasai
Meet Our Board of Directors
You may have read about the Maasai - how the men once faced down lions and the women adorn themselves with unique beadwork...
About 1.2 million Maasai live in Kenya and Tanzania, once known as Maasailand. They're one of few African groups that lives traditionaly, as herders.
Visiting a Maasai village changes lives.
The Mantells visited in 2012. Driving over the salt pan at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, they pulled up to rural traditional Maasai village or "boma,' called En'Gong Narok. Chief Kelembu led them through a gap in a circular thorn fence that rings the village. Little did they suspect they would be working together as partners in time.
Maasai villages are circular, consisiting of hand-made huts, constructed by women from ashes, dung, sticks and mud.
To the touch they are like concrete or fiberglass. The interiors are humble but cool.
A second, inner fence surrounds a corral, where livestock spent the night. In traditional Maasai culture, livestock hold a special value: They are wealth, income, and only in dire or celebratory times , meat.
In the inner circle people, men on one side, women on the othe,. stood in a crescent. The men began a jumping contest while the women chanted and sang. They soon pulled us into the line to join them.
The visit was fascinating. But the harsh living conditions could not be ignored..
Ex. Over 500 people depended on one barely functional pump water!
There was no sanitation nor power. Only 2 people had phones, and they had to walk far to charge them.
Little girls and women spent hours each day gathering firewood ...
Inside their huts, cooking fires caused damage to eyes and lungs of the very young or old.
Like children everywhere, Maasai children are delightful and bright. They happily called out the alphabet in Maa,and English.
Back home, the Mantells sent school supplies that never arrived, and kept in touch with new Maasai friends. That friendship deepened and grew.
During the 6-year drought in East Africa hand-pump dried up. People were forced to drink from the nearby swamp. Food was scarce. Moses sent photos of bony livestock, too thin to sell.
To help, the Americans sent small amounts as friends.
In 2014, a neighbor in the USA, introduced us to visiting Maasai chief Joseph and Cecelia Tipanko who who had come to the US to speak against female genital removal (FGM) at the United Nations
Just as his wife had educated her husband about genital cutting, Joseph opened the Mantells eyes: He explained that in Maasai tradition girls under went full genital removal (FGM), by means of razor blades, when they were young. That was in preparation for forced marriage to an older man.
FGM though largely illegal, still occurs: More than 200 million women alive today have suffered FGM in 30 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
In rural places like Ngong'Narok, girls were having their private parts removed with unsterilized implements and no pain modulation.
Once the girl recovers, her father receives a few cows for her, then generally becomes a second, third or fourth wife who is expected to produce babies. Or so it has been by tradtion.
Child brides becomes women with no personal freedom. Some die in childbirth, some get fistulae, others are left with infections and serious on-going physical or emotional problems.
Moses Saruni confirmed the harsh truth - female cutting and child marriage was ongoing in Ngong’Narok.
We asked Chief Tipanko to visit the village and speak with the Chief Kelembu about ending female cutting and child marriage
Kelembu, a father of young girls, quickly declared his willingness to end FGM! He authorized a community wide celebration to commemorate the end of the practice in the village - FOREVER.
But he explained that ending child marriage would be harder. Many fathers believed the only way to pay for their sons' education was to sell their daughters.
That's when the Mantells offered to cover school fees, if any fathers were willing to send their daughters to school. Kelembu found 5, and PV Rotary in NJ, USA helped us pay.
Off the 5 girls went to a boarding schools selected by the Chief, kindergarten teacher and village mothers. Everyone waited nervously for their return home on December break ...( The girl pictured here had been scheduled for cutting. She appears below, in the blue shirt, as a student!
The transformation was striking! Within two days, every one of the 21 school age girls in the village now wanted to go to school!
That's how the Maasai Girls Fund started. We now send girls from 2 villages -Thanks to our donors, we sent 52 this year (2023.)
The 5 graduates, whose education we supported, have all married young men of their choice! They will never be cut or traded for cows!
But there's more....!
See ourVILLAGE PROJECTS page to see what we've been doing for the girls' home villages...
On-site Program Director
Chief Angirri Kelembu: Founding Board Member, (seen here with his wife, Nataa)
Avery and Paul Mantell, Founding Members (shown here with the first two college graduates.)
Kenyan human rights activist: en.m.wikipedia.org
OUR NEWEST PARTNER!
Stephanie Willeke joined the team and sponsored 9 girl our initiative expanded to a second village - Natamuse!
Working with teacher Luka Sante and Chief Nasareu Lebakuli, they also provided a water catchment system, emergency food village a car, eand other improvements .