OSILIGI: Hope for Maasai people
Made to measure: elementary school for the Maasai
“We haven’t enough cattle, so my parents can’t send me to school”, says Damaris Timorit, a 10-year-old Maasai boy. It’s a long way to the nearest village school and, moreover: “In the dry season we can’t go to school anyway, because then we’re moving around with our animals looking for grass and water.” Damaris and his family have a semi-permanent address in the Laikipia District of Kenya. For a few weeks during the year they inhabit a round mud-hut, but most of the time they are on the move because of the animals. Taking goats and cattle to the remote watering places and pastures is an important job for the Maasai, children included – more important than attending school.
But without education, as no-one knows better than the Maasai themselves, their children will have no future in Kenyan society. This was one reason why in 1995 the Laikipiak Maasai formed an organization called OSILIGI.
In the Maasai language this means “Hope”.
In one of the first projects OSILIGI organized reading and writing courses geared to the nomadic life. In April, August and December, when the nomadic herdsmen are settled, a teacher comes to the village. During these weeks, Damaris and the other children have concentrated lessons. This made-to-measure education is considerably cheaper than state elementary school. In 4 years, OSILIGI has reached 380 children with this programme, mainly from poor families. As nomadic herdsmen, the Maasai daily experience how their traditional way of life and farming is threatened in a changing Kenyan society. At their watering places, gravel and sand are being extracted, upsetting the water balance. “Our land and our life as nomads are being destroyed by military exercises by foreign and Kenyan armed forces. Giant farms, safari parks, companies: all these things threaten our ownership rights”, says John Letai of OSILIGI. Many parts of the unrestricted land on which they and their herds depend, are today in private ownership. The Maasai have no title to land of their own. OSILIGI is therefore campaigning for land rights for unrestricted access to pasturage with the resources of a modern cooperative: an E-Mail connection, an office and a trained project manager Osiligi defends the rights of the Laikipiak Maasai to land and cultural identity at UN level and at international Conferences, and is thus also campaigning for a way of life which lends itself to the meagre land in the Laikipia District, as the Elder Mokorino Ole Mepukori says.