Rimas Tankile Morris
I’m one of nine children and I was born second last. I grew up in the late 1970s, in a small Maasai village 30 kms from Narok in Kenya. As a girl I quickly learnt my position in the family and the society. Education was only meant for boys especially those who are regarded as very useless in looking after the livestock. They were sent off to school as a way to punish them and the Maasai in those days did not value formal education.
As a girl when you are born, the father counts you as a dowry cheque to be cashed at marriage. Often the girls were groomed to learn how to construct a house, take care if the children and look after the goats. My role was to look after the goats with my sister. I considered myself good at it compared to my sister who spent most of the time climbing trees, eating wild fruits, and telling me what to do.
This is the story I remember so well. One day the chief came to our village and collected us all to go the school, as teachers had no children to teach. When I arrived at the school, we were asked to reach over our heads and grasp our ears. If we could hold our ears we were considered old enough to go to school. I went to the class and I was taught in Maasai, Swahili and English. At the end of the day I compared school and looking after the goats. I loved school; it was interesting learning something new. I also saw that boys in school were many.
I was clever at school and passed my exams with very high marks, enough to be offered a place at a National School in Nairobi. At high school, I wanted to be a ranger with Kenya Wildlife Service. To be honest I liked the uniforms. But my grandmother was against me doing anything that meant holding a gun, and advised me to become a teacher. So I trained as a teacher and when I passed my certificate I taught for 5 years in the government Sekenani primary school in the Maasai Mara.
It was here, in 1997, that I met my future husband, Chris Morris (pictured above with Ann, Bill and I), a British man bringing tourists to our school (Ann and Bill Alton were some of the visitors when I met them). Chris and I moved to the UK in 2001 and now I work part time for the Development Education Centre in Sheffield. I spend a lot of time in South Yorkshire schools talking to children about the reality of life in Kenya – it’s not all about children with flies in their eyes.
This is my story, which is shared by only a few Maasai girls who have been lucky to make it in one way or another. My determination in making a difference, even for a few women and children, is the main reason behind this Alton Maasai Project.
Ann & Bill Alton
We are an American couple living in San Francisco, California. This is our story.
Bill and I learned about the need for schools in Kenya the day we arrived on our first trip. A car had hit me, and we could not take our planned vacation. When I was able to travel, it was winter and Bill wanted warmth! I spun a globe around, closed my eyes, and pointed. My finger fell on Africa! Researching the web, I discovered a fair-traded tour company, IntoAfrica UK Ltd, and off we went. We were the only participants. The tour guides learned I was a teacher and whisked us off to a school that rainy, early 6 am morning.
We traveled precipitously on a muddy road in a Land Rover. The school had many children, seated on narrow desks, 3 to a desk, sharing 1 book. The floor was mud: boards allowed passage. There was no playground equipment and no latrines (plumbing and electricity is only known in the larger cities.) Water is a major problem all over Kenya, and this school had none. This was the first of several schools we visited, and at one of the schools, I met Rimas Tankile. She was one of the first Maasai women to become a teacher. Our friendship has endured.
This December, we visited Rimas’s “boma” (family homestead) there was a pit latrine but no electricity, and water came from the river or the roof when it rained. Cooking was done in a small section of the bedroom on a low, charcoal brazier. Although made of mud and cow-dung, with a mud floor, it was rectangular and more modern than the round, traditional Masaai home next door where Rimas’s mother lived. Early the next morning, Rimas said we were going on a walk.
After a 5 mile hike we met a group of women who lived in a traditional boma, far from schools and any roads. None of the women have attended school. They were married to men selected by their families when they were 10 or 12. Plural marriage is practiced, and the comfort of sister wives is important because women do most of the work. The older children can walk the long distance to the Olgilai Primary School. However, elephants and other wild animals make it too dangerous for the young children. Daily living is challenging and the women in the boma we visited would very much like a primary school for their younger children.
Bill and I went to Africa to see the animals, but what we came home remembering was the people, and we were filled with a desire to assist them however we can.