As the adage goes, ‘don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.’ Now consider walking five miles instead of just one, at the tender age of eight (without your parents and with no shoes on your feet) at four o’clock in the morning, in complete darkness on the outskirts of Kenya’s Masai Mara where you can (and do) encounter dangerous wild animals en route. All this, just to get to school each day. Then, tired after a day of learning, you’ll need to repeat that same arduous journey home.
Meet Simon Saitoti. Twenty-eight years ago, he was that courageous eight-year-old Maasai boy braving the dark, lonely walk to school, determined to get himself an education and a brighter future. Accomplishing just that, Simon is now the esteemed Regional Programme Officer for our social development partner, Africa Foundation. Humbling and heartfelt, this is Simon’s story.
Determined to succeed
A typical Maasai childhood is short-lived. Traditional roles are upheld, which ultimately force children to grow up quickly. The unsafe and unaccompanied school walks through Big Five country are commonplace for Maasai children, but only for those privileged enough to go to school.
The many far less fortunate children are expected to stay behind and adopt adult responsibilities, such as grazing the cattle, tending to the livestock and walking unfathomable distances to collect water.
Although Simon is fiercely proud of his culture and still adheres to many Maasai traditions to this day, he never envisioned a traditional life for himself and made sure, from an early age, that he excelled in school.