Speaking in Solidarity

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|| By Mary Vertucci, M.M.

The kidnapping of some 300 Nigerian schoolgirls in April by Islamic extremists opposing education for women struck a chord with young Maasai women at the Emusoi Centre in Arusha, Tanzania, where I am director. They too fight an uphill battle for education in a pastoralist society that values girls for the dowry of cattle they gain for their family through marriage. We Maryknoll Sisters founded Emusoi Centre in 1999 to help pastoralist girls escape early forced marriages and prepare for higher education. (See story, March/April Maryknoll, page 40.) Four of these young women share their thoughts here.

Niniyai Menyelayok:

When the news broke that our Nigerian sisters were kidnapped because of the ideology that women should not be educated, I could empathize. African women are like commodities to be bartered.I am one of the few lucky girls in my Maasai village to break the cycle of being uneducated. My family opposed my decision to continue my schooling, but I know they will realize I can help our family not just by getting a dowry when they marry me off. I have just completed my secondary studies and hope to continue to college/university. I plan to go back to help my family and change their idea about girls and education.

Dorah Joseph Mollel:

With my mother’s support, I was able to get a scholarship from Emusoi Centre to continue my education. I know there are more centers similar to Emusoi that are trying to help girls all over the world. Some of them are having problems with funds and are even attacked by people who oppose their works, but they continue.

When I think of our Nigerian sisters and my Maasai sisters whose rights to education are being opposed, I feel bad, but I do not lose hope. I know that girls who are educated like me are mobilizing to share what they have learned with their villages.

Lightness Rogey:

I am one of the Maasai girls whose parents are opposed to education beyond primary school. Both my parents are uneducated and hold on to the tradition that the only way I can help them is to marry me off and get the marriage dowry. Having no support from my community, I decided to run away and ask help from Emusoi Centre.

The Emusoi Centre has been supporting me since 2007 when I attended their pre-secondary program. This year, I finished teacher training for primary school. I hope to go back to my village and show my parents what an educated girl like me can do for our community.

Namitu Lengulayai:

As a Maasai girl, I know how it feels not to be supported by the community in my desire to go to school. My decision to continue my education is still being opposed by my family.
But we are more than just a way to increase wealth for our families. Education is our key to end the discrimination, to know our rights and find our voice.

As a future primary school teacher, I hope to be assigned by the government to a Maasai village so I can be a role model for other young Maasai girls.

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