As we slowly start winding down toward the year’s end (and highly anticipated festivities), the penultimate month of the year is traditionally associated with giving thanks and expressing gratitude. With this in mind, for the month of November we will be highlighting some of our favourite feel-good stories and travel itineraries that pay it forward and make a meaningful difference to our planet and its wildlife and people.
Today’s story of empowerment and upliftment takes us to the world-famous and game-rich plains of Kenya’s Masai Mara, where a small group of strong, fearless Maasai women are breaking down cultural boundaries and inspiring a new generation of never-before-seen gender equality among their traditionally male-dominated communities.
There’s no denying that the women of Africa are resourceful, industrious and unrelentingly resilient. In the Maasai culture specifically, it is the women that are responsible for the daily household chores and cooking, the physical construction and ongoing maintenance of the homes, the child-rearing, as well as the time-consuming and burdensome task of collecting firewood and clean water each and every day.
Despite so much responsibility resting solely on their shoulders, a woman’s ‘place’ in traditional African society is often a precarious one. Historically, Maasai women have been forbidden from owning their own property and from accumulating their own worldly goods, cash included, but thankfully these long-held customs are slowly changing.
In the Enkereri community, which is situated close to &Beyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp, a pioneering group of enterprising women are turning tradition on its head and are not only earning a steady income for themselves (which in turn supports their families), but are also ensuring an education (and brighter future) for their children.
Ramato Nooretet Kipas is the chairwoman of the 20 Women Group from Enkereri. Supported and empowered by Africa Foundation (our social development partner), these entrepreneurs have successfully established their own beekeeping project, which supplies our &Beyond lodges in Kenya with delicious, fresh Maasai honey. The beehives were supplied by Africa Foundation, however it is the determination and unwavering entrepreneurial spirit of these resolute women that keeps the business thriving. The 20 Women Group depends on this income for their livelihood and that of their families.
In Kenya’s Saparingo community, which is also situated close to &Beyond Kichwa Tembo, a strong-willed woman by the name of Naisenya Seyio drives a number of projects focused on education. A single mother of six that never had the opportunity to attend school herself, this outspoken activist is an advocate for education and has put two of her sons through university. The only way Naisenya was able to manage this extraordinary feat is by tending to their family livestock on her own, on a daily basis, instead of adhering to the long-held tradition of relying on the children to carry out this traditional task.
Naisenya’s son George, who was the well-deserving beneficiary of a CLEF (Community Leaders Education Fund) bursary through Africa Foundation and &Beyond, studied actuarial science while his brother Emmanuel excelled in statistics.
A regular volunteer at Saparingo Primary School, Naisenya mobilised her fellow women to pay it forward in the construction of the school. Under her inspiring leadership, each woman in the community collected sand from the nearby river to donate as construction material, a task that continued until the first classroom was complete. And more recently, when the school needed fencing, Naisenya outdid everyone else by donating five times the required materials for the work to be completed.
In the nearby Olorien community, Natasha Emily Nailenya was one of our very first CLEF bursary recipients in Kenya. Rebelling against village customs, Natasha fled her home at the young age of 13 in order to escape the confines of an early arranged marriage and instead lived with her aunt while she attended school. Determined to succeed, she qualified for a bursary to study agriculture at the University of Nairobi and became the first woman in her community to graduate. Moving on to even greater success, Natasha has now received government sponsorship to study for an MA in environmental governance.
Each of these extraordinary and strong-willed women is an inspiration to others in their community. Leading by example, these women are dedicating their lives to changing social norms and improving not only their own lives, but also those of others. We are proud to have played a role, however small, in their lives and they inspire us to carry on telling their exceptional stories to the world. “Here’s to strong women. May we know them; may we be them; may we raise them.”