Written by Jerry
The Maasai peoples’ patriarchal society in Kenya and Tanzania is an interesting lens through which to look at both Father’s Day and the impact of Asante Africa Foundation’s work.
Many of the students supported by Asante Africa Foundation are children of the Maasai people. With a rich culture but a lack of education and literacy, the Maasai embrace a centuries-old pastoral culture and shun modern ways of living. Often nomads, generally poor, and resistant to change, the Maasai have few economic resources or avenues available to them. Wealth is measured in livestock and family size. A Maasai father is the family head, protector, provider, and primary decision maker.
A patriarchal society, the Maasai focus their attention on developing boys into men. Girls play a subservient role, tending to their families, while they are tended to for their economic viability as a wife: Girls are often married off in exchange for cattle and cash. For many reasons, young girls are often wed at a very young age, long before they are fully matured. These child brides have no say in their betrothal, and according to Maasai culture, once married they can never divorce or remarry even after their husband’s death. If a child bride is married off to an elderly man she can soon find herself wife to one of her deceased husband’s surviving brothers.
The duties of a wife are to have many children and tend to household chores: cooking, laundering, fetching water, and collecting firewood. For such tasks, education is unnecessary and indeed a destabilizing distraction.
Not understanding their options in life, many Maasai girls aspire to become Maasai wives. We know that many Maasai girls aspire to be more than child brides, water fetchers, and wood gatherers. We know, because they tell us so, that they aspire to be doctors, nurses, educators, engineers, and more. Asante Africa Foundation works to give girls that chance.
An example of this is Jehova, a young Maasai girl (20) in Tanzania whose father and uncle broke tradition by fighting for her education. At an early age, she already expressed her desire to go to school and learn, so her father sold two cows in order to give her a chance to study at primary school. When her father tragically died, she then went to live with her uncle. This change was a hard life challenge for her, as she began 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 with 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 and received a scholarship to attend school. Her uncle is particularly proud of her, saying he fought hard to refuse an early marriage for her. He believes that giving girls an education is the key to success and to avoiding a more difficult life.
Jehova, her father, and her uncle fought for access to education, and Jehova 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.
On this Father’s Day, Asante Africa wants to acknowledge those fathers and father figures who have sacrificed the economic worth of their daughters, our students, for something not immediately measurable. These fathers have broken with the tradition that has perpetually kept girls and women from making their own choices beyond the traditional Maasai culture. These courageous fathers are making a statement that their daughters have more to offer than bearing children, fetching water, and gathering wood. Their daughters can grow up and pursue their dreams.
On this Father’s Day, please show your support for those fathers who have taken the giant step out of the stifling past to support their daughters’ emergence via the Asante Africa Foundation.
Make a gift today to Asante Africa Foundation in honor of your father and all the fathers who have taken a giant step out of their past to support their daughters.