Intrigued and impressed. These were the first feelings I had when I met Jehova Kaika in Moshi.
This young Maasai woman, aged twenty, is one of the first girls in her community who will be graduating to high school soon.
In a community where there is a strong belief in early marriage, her story is an important testimony of the possible empowerment of Maasai women in education.
A childhood struggle to attend school
Jehova is the second born in a family of four children. At an early age, she already expressed her desire to go to school and learn. School fees and equipment costs are high, so her father sold two cows in order to give her a chance to study at primary school.
At that time she had a happy life, dreaming one day of becoming an accountant.
She wanted to do this job because she was constantly observing banks whenever she went to the hospital with her father, and it seemed like a good thing.
Tragically, her parents both died when she was still very young. She then went to live with her uncle. This change was a hard life challenge for her, as she begun having difficulties with access to education. “I was in Standard 7 and lost hope to continue schooling due to the high school fees,” she narrates.
In a community where early marriages are common for girls, she was hopeless without being no means of influencing her condition for the better.
However, she got a chance to escape this situation and to find a way back to school when she met the Asante Africa Foundation.
Meeting with the Asante Africa Foundation
Representatives of the foundation came one day to interview children who had completed primary school.
Jehova was among the group interviewed. A few days later, the school director called her with good news.
She was selected for interviews at three different schools. Accepted into one of them, Jehova had her school fees paid in full by the Asante Africa Foundation and received a basic living assistance for her daily life.
This foundation is an East-African non-profit organization which aims at having major social impact on children’s schooling.
Created in 2007, Asante Africa operates in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
In Tanzania, they have already impacted the lives of over fifty thousand children.
They have an array of programs such as the Leadership and Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI), Girls’ Advancement, Classroom Learning and scholarships act on different facets of education to improve the education experience for both teachers and students as well as empowerment, as with Jehova.
It is important to remember that two out of five girls in Tanzania are still engaged in early marriage, with little to no access to education.
Thanks to this foundation, Jehova has been able to change the course of her life. She attended the LEI Summit in Moshi organised by the foundation to learn leadership and entrepreneurial skills and tools to enable her to pursue future goals in these areas.
With the loss of her parents, she was mentally distracted. They helped her to find her focus again with her studies and to be self-confident about her future.
“The foundation advised and coached me on what matters so I do not give up on my life and helped me learn how to do well in my studies,” she explained. When she succeeded and passed her Form 4 level, her uncle decided that she will not get married until she finishes her studies.
This decision was a great relief for Jehova, giving her a reason to continue her fight for education.
Girls in the Maasai community
Jehova is one of the first girls from her community to go this far in educational journey. Some community members tell her she is doing a great job by going to school. On the other hand, others also say that there is no purpose for her to study. For them, it is useless to send girls to school.
In the Maasai community, a girl’s difficulties in attending school are linked to early marriage. After Standard 7, some families refuse to send girls to school because it is not considered a good investment.
As she will be married, an educated girl will benefit the husband’s family, not the Maasai community and therefore priority is given to boys in education.
However, for Jehova, her family and friends are happy and encourage her not to give up.
Her uncle is particularly proud of her. He says: “I did a great job in refusing early marriage. She will become a great person and improve the life in the community.” Like his niece, he believes that giving girls an education is the key to success and to avoiding a more difficult life.
When people say to Jehova that there is no benefit to studying, she replies on the contrary that you can benefit the community by sharing and spreading what you learn with others.
According to her, a lack of education is toxic for the community, and especially for girls who do not know about their own rights.
It is important to show them and parents that young girls should have the right to attend school. Moreover, as Jehova explains: “More knowledge could erase problems such as early marriage and female genital mutilation, which can also happen in the community.”
With her own journey, she aims to change people mentalities, and to convince them of the necessity to send girls to school.
Prospects for the future
As she eagerly awaits university, Jehova feels that anything is possible now that she passed the most difficult part.
Her current dream is to become a nurse. In order to achieve it, she has started the Certified Bariatric Nurse (CBN) program as she waits for a university placement. Upon completing her studies, she would like to stay and work in Tanzania.
Furthermore, Jehova would like to help remove the educational barriers that prevent girls from getting an education.
She would love to take the time to share her knowledge with other girls in her community, in order to help them fulfil their life goals.
If she is able to, she will try to help families pay school fees for some of their girls.
She also hopes that the Asante Africa Foundation will be able to increase their communication to raise awareness on their availability and readiness to assist girls in these circumstances.
This will hopefully be able to attract donor funds and mobilize communities and individuals that have a similar drive and passion to help girls out of the lack of education predicament.
Thanks to the organization’s help, she now understands that girls are capable of doing many things and that they just need to find an opportunity, an open-door to stretch their wings.
She believes when mentalities are changed, the future will be full of hope.
“When you study, you can change the life of the community and provide knowledge to others who lack education you have. This is more important than early marriage,” she says.
Jehova has fought all her life for access to education, and has succeeded in showing her community the possibility and the necessity for girls to attend school and to know their rights for a better future.
She serves as a beacon of hope for her community and many others who still find themselves struggling with no hope for the future.
Her story is one of many in very rural communities and as much as we have advanced as a larger society, it is imperative not to forget that there are those who struggle for basic necessities and rights.
The fight to empower girls and women is far from over.
It is then the burden of the entire society at large, to rally together and provide or assist platforms and organisations that are already set with this mandate in mind, to raise and promote awareness and push this agenda.