Case studies profile Kabissa members that inspire our volunteers and the entire Kabissa community. They are meant to provide Kabissa’s members with key learnings and spark ideas and discussion.

In this case study, we tell the story of the Maasai Girls Education Fund, highlighting its impact on the girls of the Maasai community in Kenya who otherwise would not have had a chance to go to school and create bright futures for themselves. 

The Challenge

Education for women is a challenge in many parts of the world, in particular the women of the Maasai tribe of Kenya – a proud culture that in the process of preserving its traditions and customs, maintains a practice of keeping women undereducated and illiterate. This reality was brought to light to Maasai Girls Education Fund founder Barbara Lee Shaw more than a decade ago, in 1999.

On the request of a member of the Maasai community, Shaw began a photography project hoping to capture images that would encapsulate the beauty and mystic qualities of the nomadic culture. However, this project would prove to be much bigger than even she expected when she met two Maasai girls, Ntanin Tarayia and Sempeyo Sarinke.

Shaw learned that the two girls were fated to live the lives of their mothers and countless other Maasai women before them: never taught to read or write, nor learn a language other than their native Maa. In addition to their lack of formal education, the girls were expecting to be married off to a man of their father’s choice by the age of fifteen and to bear as many children as possible, regardless of their economic or emotional capacity to care for them. The plight of these two girls inspired Shaw to create an organization that would provide another option for girls like them.

The Goal

The statistics for Maasai girls are staggering: only 48% of Maasai girls in Kenya ever enroll in school – and of those that enroll, only 5% ever reach secondary school level. The Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF) has worked for more than ten years to reverse this trend by sponsoring the education of Maasai girls, improving the literacy, economic status and health of these women, and in turn, the Maasai people.

This fruits of MGEF’s efforts have revealed themselves through sponsorship recipients graduating college and starting careers, such as Simantoi Kilama, sponsored from 2000 – 2006, who now works in Nairobi as a public health nurse. Apart from proving to herself her value and importance as an educated professional, Ms. Kilama has also demonstrated to the younger generation of Maasai women that there is an alternative to the typical life presented to them.

The Model

MGEF’s primary focus is on providing Maasai girls with continuous scholarships, in the form of long-term sponsorships to attend boarding schools until they have the skills and knowledge to enter the workforce in Kenya.

MGEF also sponsors workshops that address other issues that hold Maasai women back, such as practices that sustain illiteracy, contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and support female genital mutilation. These Life Skills Workshops are tailored to both sexes and not only educate on the detrimental effects of these practices, but also include practical skills that help improve the economic and social health of the culture as a whole.

Finally, the organization has created a legacy program by holding an annual reception for all MGEF students, providing them with role models to encourage them in their academic achievements and help them think about potential career options by networking with professional Maasai women.

The Role of Technology in Achieving Success

Technology plays a major role in MGEF’s success by providing stronger credibility and increased exposure for the organization. The MGEF website (www.maasaigirlseducation.org) makes it easier for donors to learn more about the organization and even about a particular girl they can sponsor. Donors are even able to select how far their contributions go by choosing to donate a small sum to buy a pair of shoes, a bit more for sponsoring a workshop or making a long-term financial commitment by taking the financial responsibility of sponsoring a girl’s full education.

The proliferation of the internet in Kenya in smaller villages also allows MGEF to share videos in their workshops, helping to educate and spread the success stories to many other Maasai throughout the country.

Operationally, technology has been a key in keeping costs low for the organization, improving communication and increasing productivity for MGEF and its partners, allowing more of the money received to go straight to the education fund.

Social networks like Kabissa (MGEF on Kabissa: http://mgef.kabissa.org) have also been a major factor in helping MGEF achieve success, by helping the organization benchmark and learn best practices from similar organizations within the network. Social media has also helped MGEF increase its donor base and gain financial support from individual contributors and foundations.

Greatest Successes and Lessons Learned

MGEF’s greatest success is the positive relationship it has developed with the Maasai community. The organization credits the enthusiasm, respect and insight of the Maasai as a major contributor to its success.

The greatest lesson learned over the many years operating MGEF has been to never give up on a student. Low scores in primary and secondary schools are not always a reflection of a girl’s ability in post-secondary school. While some girls go on to more academic trades, others excel in vocational schools – it is important to not see grades as a reflection of skill, but rather as potential in other forms of education.

Goals for the Future

MGEF’s hope for the future is to continue its progress by gaining more financial support from individuals and foundations. This goal appears to be well on its way, as evidenced by MGEF’s recent acceptance into the Google Grants award program. This program allows the organization to venture into search engine advertising, furthering its exposure to like-minded people and organizations. 

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