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About MCEP
Supporting the Maasai in Kenya since 2005

Mission Statement

Since 2005 The Maasai Cultural Exchange Project (MCEP) has helped "quench the thirst for water and education" for Maasai tribal villages in Kenya, East Africa. Our primary fund raising supports wells to provide clean and reliable water and providing school fees for the education of adults and children. The film fund supported the production of the feature length documentary "Quench" filmed in Kenya. MCEP works in association with Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO) a Kenyan NGO, to directly benefit a community of approximately 5,000 Maasai in the village of Olosho-oibor. Our Maasai friends have visited the US to attend the United Nations Forum on Indigenous People's Affairs and make numerous community presentations about the Maasai culture.

A Chance Meeting Brings History

It was a Spring day in 2004 when the Maasai met Phyllis Eckelmeyer. She was at the Hamilton, NJ train station waiting to travel to New York City. She noticed five Maasai men in traditional garb standing on the platform.

It was by coincidence that Phyllis' daughter Allyson, was leaving for Kenya the following week to teach chemistry at the Rift Valley Academy. Instinctively, Phyllis introduced herself to these Maasai. They told her they were traveling to New York to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues. Francis ole Sakuda, spokesman for the men, said they were Maasai from the Rift Valley in Kenya. They knew the school where Allyson would be teaching for the next year. Francis, fluent in English shared his email address with Phyllis which led to a dinner invitation at the Eckelmeyer home the following evening. It was then that the Maasai guests described their desperate need for water, education for their children and an eagerness to empower the Maasai women of the tribe. The next year a non-profit was formed and the rest is history.        

Achievements

Since 2004, MCEP's programs have helped bring life-sustaining changes to the Maasai.

* There are now seven water wells in Maasailand improving health and living standards and giving women more time to spend on other sustainable work and education opportunities.

* There is better infrastructure with miles of pipeline and hundreds of cisterns reaching out to schools and infirmaries.

* Three greenhouses have been funded and built to grow and sell vegetables to improve nutrition and produce added household income.

* Maasai women sell intricate beadwork to raise funds for their children's education. MCEP introduced them to a business opportunity which led to the formation of women cooperatives. Women were taught to make and export a specialty hair comb called Hairzing on an American home shopping channel. This led to further cooperatives.

* Women's groups also plant and sell crops using drip irrigation for watering crops.

* Poultry and Eggs are now being raised and sold to add to food security.

* Education funds have helped over 100 primary students further their education to high school and even college.

* Original Maasai folktale (The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel) was translated into 2 versions: English and Swahili and also English and Maa, the indigenous Maasai language. The Maa translation is vital to the Maasai effort to preserve their mother tongue and unique culture. The folktale has been used in hundreds of schools, churches and community programs in America and Maasailand to teach lessons about bullying, courage and justice.

* Maasai guests have been hosted over a dozen times in the USA since 2004 and have captured the interest of over ten thousand school children, civic groups, church and community groups doing cultural presentations.

* In return, many American visitors have travelled to the Maasai village in Kenya and been hosted by our friends. Students and faculty from Buckingham Friends School and families who have met the Maasai have been welcomed.

The Maasai People written by Alice Sparks

The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley. They have a population of approximately 500,000 people. They were once a proud and self-sufficient society who lived in an area of lush lands where their animals could graze freely, the land was not privately owned, but shared by everyone. However, the government took away much of their best land to establish national parks and reserves, leaving the Maasai without critical water sources and grazing areas. The land they have left is arid or semi-arid, lacks reliable clean water sources and they often experience droughts. Because of their tradition of sharing, no one is denied access to the water and land that is available.

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Livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep are the primary source of income. To the Maasai, having a cow is like us having money in the bank. Livestock are traded for other livestock, cash, vegetables and other products or services that they need. If a family wants a sheep for slaughter, it can go to another family and trade for a young bull. “Meishoo iyiook enkai inkishu o-nkera” is a Maasai prayer which means, “May Creator give us cattle and children.”


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The Maasai rely on meat, milk and blood from cattle for protein and caloric needs. People drink blood on special occasions. It is very rich in protein and is good for the immune system. More recently, the Maasai have grown dependent on food produced in other areas such as maize meal (unga wa mahindi), rice, potatoes and cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves). Since cultivated land is no longer suitable for grazing, they usually must trade for these vegetables. Very recently, they have started growing some of their own crops which either requires them to fence in the area to protect if from wild animals, or to construct greenhouses.

The Maasai houses, Inkajijik, are arranged in a circular fashion. They are loaf-shaped and made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and urine. There is no electricity or running water. Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family. The women are also noted for their beautiful beadwork, and sell their jewelry to earn money for the education of their children.

In the past the Maasai were nomadic. But today their villages are more permanent as women and children stay in the compound and the young men, (called warriors), and boys are responsible for herding livestock. Although the young men are called “Warriors” they are a peaceful people who learn to use the spear, sword and shield to protect their village and cattle. In periods of drought the men must go very far away to find suitable grazing land and must move their herds frequently in search of food for their cattle. As global warming becomes more of an issue, the weather patterns are no longer predictable, so that following grazing land is not as easy.

giraffe

The children have many responsibilities. Girls must help their mothers take care of younger children, get water, collect firewood and milk cattle. Boys must help with the herding and care of the animals. Parents and children are now seeing the value of education and are making a big effort to have their children attend school.

Even though a recent law made primary education free, the government often does not supply an adequate number of teachers. The Ilnagarrooj Primary School has 450 students and 8 teachers supplied by the government. The parents hired 4 additional teachers. The salary for these additional teachers is a community responsibility and each villager with a child in school has to sell a goat, sheep or cow to cover school uniforms, basic school supplies and the teachers’ salaries. It is mandatory for each child to wear a school uniform and shoes in Kenya’s public schools. Books are supplied by the government, but often not enough are provided and it is common for 3 children to share one book. Classrooms and desks are built by the community.

Schools are often over five miles from where students live, and they walk each day, five days a week. Because of the dangers of wild animals on their walk to school and the distance they must go, most children start school when they are older. Many cannot go to school continuously because their families cannot afford the school fees or the children are needed to do work at home. Therefore, it is not unusual to see older children, and even adults, still in primary school. Presently there is a grassroots push by the Maasai to open small feeder schools for children in kindergarten to third grade. These would be closer to the children’s homes so they could start school at age 5 or 6.

High schools are usually boarding schools, and very expensive, (approximately $700-$800 US dollars a year.) Therefore, most Maasai children cannot go beyond the 8th grade of Primary school. Country wide standard examinations must be passed in order to continue in school at the higher grades. Maasai children are competing against students living in the cities who have electricity, abundant teachers, small class sizes, school supplies and computers. Colleges and Universities are available, but extremely expensive and most students must board, so the cost is quite prohibitive, (approximately $2500 to $3500 US dollars per semester.)

The Maasai have a long tradition and knowledge of using herbal medicines. From the plant life that is available, they have treatments and preventative practices for the various illnesses that they encounter. They may also visit dispensaries and clinics in cities when the need arises.

If you were living among the Maasai, you would hear them speaking in a language called Maa. When speaking to those from other places in Africa, you might hear them speak in Swahili. Those who have visited us in the United States, have learned to speak excellent English. English is now taught in the primary schools starting in grade 4. So today, many Maasai children would be able to speak and write to you in English even though their parents could not.

Some Maasai phrases you might hear include:

The vowels sounds for: a (short a), e (long a), i (long e), o (long o), u (oo) ;

Supa—The greeting—hello, hi

Ipa—the answer to the greeting Swahili for hello

Karibu—Welcome—as in welcome to my house

Ashe—Thank you

Ashe oleng—Thank you very much

Ole Sere—Good-bye

Simba—Lion in both languages, Maa and Swahili

Water—enkare