Kasia Parham relates the story of the struggle the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania as they face extinction as a people. The Maasai have lost much of their traditional cattle raising lands through drought, encroachment from large-scale farms and the expansion of national parks that cater to lucrative tourist safaris. In response, many displaced, young Maasai men have migrated to cities in search of employment as security guards and other trades while the uneducated young women have remained at home, ill-prepared for the changes that swirl around them. Emusoi means: discovery or awareness, so The Emusoi Centre proposed an innovative alternative to pending extinction: the education of girls.
Gareth Thomas, a Minister in the UK Department for International Development wrote in the forward to this book, “educating girls is one of the most important investments any country can make in its own future.” For some, this is a radical concept. Too much of the world regards girls and women as property. That portion of the world asks, “Why would a father educate his daughter when he plans to trade her to her future husband, perhaps a much older man, already with many wives?” Maasai fathers have exchanged their girls, as young as twelve, for cattle or even cases of beer.
The author presents stories by six Tanzanian Maasai girls, a perspective from one of their teachers along with addenda and testimony by Maryknoll Missionary, Sister Mary Vertucci: Director of The Emusoi Centre. The author enumerates the benefits of and obstacles to the Emusoi project as she unravels the complex interactions within the ecological, political, social, economic and cultural forces arrayed against the survival of the Maasai.
At first appearance, this richly illustrated, 56 page book seems destined for a young audience. Actually, young adults may find its contents challenging, but will, perhaps learn why the Maasai girls and their mothers have placed such a high premium on education. Both generations have risked emotional and physical suffering, including running away from home and beatings by husbands and fathers. All of this happened so that educated girls could begin to save the Maasai from assimilation and cultural extinction.
The author’s startling description of the role of women in this ancient society will evoke an immediate response in all readers. The good news is that The Emusoi Centre and its mission to educate girls have endured. In its first ten years, the enrollment at Emusoi sponsored programs, rose from six to more than 600 girls in primary, secondary, university and graduate schools. Some early graduates of the Emusoi program have joined the Centre’s staff. These and future alumnae will insure the longevity of the Emusoi dream for generations of Maasai girls. Through the efforts of The Emusoi Centre, the Maasai may also endure as a unique people.
Unlike many developmental efforts that separate native peoples from their land, heritage and language, the program of The Emusoi Centre arms the Maasai with the means to resist the destructive influences of disease, poverty, ignorance, and bureaucracy, with women trained in medicine, business, education and law. The Emusoi Centre offers the prospect of a Maasai people surviving indefinitely on their own land, with the best of their culture intact.
This publication, certainly appropriate for school-wide teen reading programs, fits many a niche. Every school child in the developed world needs the perspective provided herein, not only as a lesson in cultural diversity, but as a means of appreciating their own educational and economic advantages. The book could serve as a prologue to that famous “coming of age” conversation between parents and children. It can assist citizens of developed nations as they refocus their world view to embrace and revere a broader vision of cultural diversity. It also details contact information and specific directions for channeling funds to The Emusoi Centre.