The Nurturing Knowledge project supporting education (mostly girls and women) among the Samburu in Lotuleilei, Kenya is now in its third year. These pastoralists in the northern plain of Samburu Central are one of the scattered parts of the Masai tribe, who were divided into four distant segments by the British when they left East Africa, in order to break their potential for rebellion.
Though they are no threat to the central government that followed the British colonialists, the boys are still raised to be warriors, and in some areas (not Samburu Central, which is isolated from other tribes), still practice cattle-raiding, bride abduction, and revenge killing.
In the developing world, women’s education is the key to social betterment and economic advancement. In the case of the Samburu Mission, the impetus came from within the community, not from outside, which is a central reason for the project’s initial success.
Increases self-sufficiency and offers alternatives to poverty
Decreases reliance solely on grazing
Helps individuals make informed choices about work and lifestyle
Avoids vulnerability to resource exploitation such as mining, drilling, and deforestation
Supports alternative health practices concerning family size, child marriage, teen pregnancy, and female genital cutting.
Female genital cutting is part of the Samburu girls’ initiation ritual, after which they are available for marriage. It is supported and overseen by women, and is the culture’s traditional way of conferring womanhood on girls, sometimes as early as 8-10. It is outlawed by the Kenyan government, but the Samburu are intentionally marginalized, and there is no enforcement by the distant authorities. Some of the other tribes do not practice it.
For instance, Sammy LeToole, the mission director and initiator of the project, married a Turkana, who do not have this practice. Demaris is now a fully integrated member of the Lotuleilei women, despite this significant cultural difference. It is one of the goals of our project to introduce the women to alternatives to this practice, which the girls in secondary school experience in their dorm life away from the village. But this is a delicate matter, over which neither western custom nor the central government have been ceded moral authority.
The Samburu Project is having both success and some growing pains. Fifty children from the Shepherds School have transitioned to formal school, and there remain more than a hundred students of all ages under the tutelage of two dedicated teachers. We now only have enough to fund the Shepherds School through November.
Of the eight girls we originally sponsored for secondary school scholarships, one has graduated, returning to Lotuleilei to volunteer at the Shepherds School. Stella (pictured) would like to become a teacher, but lacks funding at this point. We are committed to supporting the other girls through graduation. Due to the steep rise in tuition, we will not be able to commit to additional students at this time. FUM (Friends United Meeting) has generously volunteered to cover any tuition shortfall we may experience this year, so that none of the girls will have to drop out for lack of funds.
During our committee’s meeting in July with Sammy, we discussed ways to address this year’s budget shortfall. He reported that the adult literacy project has been successful enough that the women are continuing to educate each other at three different levels, without a teacher. So we are discontinuing funding for this sector of the project in favor of the Shepherds School and girls’ secondary scholarships. The Friends Church in Lotuleilei is bringing in resources to help the adult women with income generating activities, which is one of the foci of Sunday gatherings that last from morning to evening, worship followed by work groups of various ages and gender.
During a visit with Sammy to a Quaker gathering in Charlotte. one of the questioners wanted to know if the secondary education opportunity might lead to unfulfilled ambitions for the girls. After Sammy responded by emphasizing all the positives that would follow from their experience and formal degrees, I repeated the question, sensing that he did not understand. Sammy continued to talk about community values, further elaborating what the girls would inevitably share to uplift the people of Samburu, including further education of elder women, who are the opinion leaders. I realized from this exchange that our individualistic values simply don’t exist in Samburu society, long steeped in communitarianism.
“I have single parent. My father died 10 years ago. I really want to be educated because education is the key in my life. I want to help my family and my entire society.” – An excerpt from an annual letter by Evaline, age 18 in Form 2 (Sophmore)
What the girls learn in secondary school will change their lives, the lives of their siblings, and the opportunities for all members of their community and the community that they will marry into. It will carry on to their daughters and sons. Education nurtures the best in all of us.
You may send questions to:
A contribution of any amount is welcome and helpful, made out to
Celo Friends Meeting, Samburu Fund on the “for” line:
Celo Friends Meeting
70 Meetinghouse Lane
Burnsville, NC 28714.