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Sylvia Kaoilel

My name is Sylvia Koilel and I am 27 years old. I grew up near Mt. Suswa but live in Ewuaso now with my husband and seven children, ages 12 to 9 months. I completed two years of primary school before my father unenrolled me because he did not believe in education for women. After that, I was married and had my first child when I was 15. I taught myself Swahili so I could communicate better in the market where I sell charcoal. My husband tries to provide for us, but was recently fired from his job and suffers from a chronic, unknown illness that demands most of his income. In order to pay his medical bills, he relies on pastoral work which means that he is often away from home. I too am often away from home. After making charcoal, I go to town to sell it in Ewuaso. If I cannot sell it there, I walk to the market in Mai Mahiu, which usually takes me away from home for about two days. When I am gone, my oldest child, Nymian, looks after the others and takes care of household chores. I can usually earn about $3.50 per week by selling charcoal and doing small chores for others in town. My biggest challenge is providing a good life for my children. I want to be able to send my children to school and build a permanent home. I know that I am stressed, but I also know that my children are stressed. I want them to live a life free of unnecessary stress.

Planton Musei

My name is Planton Musei and I am somewhere around 60 years old, I’ve lost count during the many seasons I have been around. I have been married since I was a young girl, and currently find myself having to assist one of my sons, Sapati, in caring for his children. Sapati lives nomadically as a pastoral goat herder as the Maasai have for generations, making very little money from this. He and his wife Kitivinga had three children, and then, about one year ago, she died giving birth to their fourth child. Sapati is now unable to make enough money to support his children, and is away so much that the responsibility of caring for these kids has fallen to me. My goal is to help my son build a house to live in with his children while helping pay the children’s school fees. Once I have a stable income I can care for my grandkids more effectively and also take better care of my own children – one of whom is sick. As a mother, I feel it is in my nature to care for the children around me. The reality, though, is that without a stable income this task is almost impossible.

Tumeli Seketo

My name is Tumeli Seketo and I am 40 years old. I have never been married and I have seven children between the ages of 24 and 4. My life has been difficult, because I was born mute. This has left me unable to clearly communicate with virtually everyone around me, making me feel very isolated. Some of my children are the product of rape, but I love them all. My seven children and I reside in two small manyattas given to me by my brother Simon. His wife, Helen, has been a blessing in my life. I help her with chores and in return she helps me communicate with others. I typically earn $1.50 per week by selling chapatti tortillas in the market and by doing beadwork. I have no initial capital for these things so I rely on the charity of my brother. I am grateful to both Simon and Helen for their help in my life. My biggest challenge is providing for my children while relying on others, because I cannot speak. I hope to be independent eventually and be able to adequately care for my children and myself. If I had a stable income, I would pay for food and school fees for my children and be able to live in dignity.

Mary Twkuo

My name is Mary Twkuo and I am 33. I grew up near a free primary school in a small Maasai village called Najalea. However, I was never allowed to study since my father did not see the value of education in a pastoral and nomadic society such as ours. I moved to Ewuaso when my father had me married at 13. I have six kids and we all live in a small manyatta. I taught myself Swahili to be able to sell thing in larger markets further from home. It is difficult to support my family since my husband, Steven, has no consistent source of income and I make about $2 every week.

I am forced to beg my neighbors for food to feed my children many times because of our dire situation. I have a passion for herbology, and know how to make many traditional Maasai treatments. I would eventually like to use this knowledge to start my own business, or to at least spread it to others who also cannot afford modern medicines. My goal is to feed my children well and make sure they receive an education, beyond that I want only to be independent.

Naomi Koilel

My name is Naomi Koilel and I am 38 years old. My husband and I live outside of Ewuaso with our six children, ages 18 to 5. My primary means of income is collecting firewood to make charcoal. This process takes about four days, after which I try to sell the charcoal in town. I can usually earn about $5 per week doing this if the charcoal making process is successful. When I am not making or selling charcoal, I care for my children and do chores around our two manyattas. My biggest challenge is being able to afford school for my children. I want all my children to receive an education, but I cannot afford the exam fees and other school costs. I would also like to build a permanent home for my family. If I had a stable income I would pay all the school fees for my children and begin saving for a permanent home.

Mary Katiany

My name is Mary Katiany. I am 33 and have seven young children. All eight of us live in a small manyatta My husband is not able to support us with his work as a nomadic goat herder, so it falls to me to care for our children. This is almost impossible because of an injury I have sustained since I was young. I fell in an accident, severly deforming my foot, and I have not been able to walk distances farther than ½ mile since then. This has led me to be almost entirely dependent on the charity of neighbors and family – all of whom have their own struggles. My children do most of the chores around the home because of my foot condition, which takes away from the time they could spend enjoying childhood and learning. I want a stable job so that I can be empowered and not have to depend on my neighbors and family. My goal is to be independent in supporting my children, and I know that once I am, I will be able to help them lead happy and successful lives.

Helen Simel

My name is Helen Simel and I am 35 years old. When I was younger, I completed primary school and the first year of secondary school but was forced to discontinue my education because of money problems. I married my husband when I was 18 and have since had six children, between the ages of 16 and 3. My husband’s sister, Tumeli, is my best friend and is mute. I learned international sign language in order to better communicate with her and help support her family. I usually earn around a $15 weekly income. Aside from chores and housework, I make beads and sell them. I also spend a significant amount of time communicating for Tumeli and helping her with daily life. I am motivated to start a business in order to help more members of the community, but I lack the means to do so. I enjoy making bead products and would like to use it as a reliable source of income so that I can care for my children properly, save to open a business, and allow more time to assist the disabled of Ewuaso. I want to help mothers become empowered and be able to help their own kids as well.

Pauline Naisie

My name is Pauline Naisie, I am twenty-eight years old and I have seven kids. I had my first child when I was thirteen and my youngest just last year. I am from a Maasai village called Ngong, but moved to Ewuaso when I was thirteen. I went to school until seventh grade, but had to leave school to help care for my father and was married shortly after that. Currently, my whole family lives in a small metal shack within the town. We rely on the support of my husband, who makes very little as a local pastor. My life is full of challenges, but the biggest by far is feeding my kids and sending them to school. My goal is for all of my children to finish secondary school one day and live a better life than the one they have right now. This goal is only achievable if I have a source of income, with which I can help my husband bear the load of seven children.

Mary Parsaloi

My name is Mary Parsaloi and I am about 35 years old. I grew up in a very small Maasai village in Narok county, but moved to Ewuaso when I was married at thirteen. I have seven kids and live with six of them and my husband near the town center. We live in town instead of outside where most Maasai make their homes, because I suffer from asthma and the dust of the desert is too much for me to handle. I never had an education, but when I was quite young I worked in Nairobi as a housemaid for a wealthy family. While there, I learned of the value of education and decided that my children would go to school. Since I’ve been married, this has been a point of debate between my husband and myself. There are many old Maasai perceptions against the value of an education in a nomadic and pastoral society. I used to have to send my kids to school secretly while my husband was migrating with our goats to greener pastures. More recently, my husband has reluctantly agreed that the children should have an education, but this is a challenge because of school fees. At the end of the day, as long as my kids have food and are in school I am personally satisfied – when they don’t have these basic things, it hurts me. My goal is to eventually build a home where my family can live one day and I can watch my children become successful adults.

Joyce Lemponi

My name is Joyce Lemponi, I’m twenty-seven years old and have five kids ranging from about one to fourteen-years old. We all live in a small traditional Maasai home called a manyatta that is about the size of a one-car garage, but only five feet tall. Life has never been particularly easy for me, we migrated with my father from Ngong to Ewuaso when I was still young, and I was married at about thirteen years of age. Recently, my husband was killed in a car accident. Without a consistent source of income, I can make about $3 a week by trying to resell products such as rice and potatoes in the market at a profit. This is a gamble since I don’t really have the capital to sustain a loss if the market does not go well. I dream of one day being able to have enough money to properly feed my children and send them to school. I want to spend my days working towards a goal and not simply scraping by as I am right now. Eventually I would like to open my own small store, but for now I would be very happy with the opportunity to work.

Joyce Twkuo

My name is Joyce Twkuo and I am 35 with seven kids, all between fifteen and one-year old. We live together in a medium sized manyatta, about the size of three parking spaces and five feet tall. My husband, co-wife Mary and I have tried to live as traditional Maasai. Unfortunately, the current three year drought, drastic reduction in the area of traditional grazing lands of the Maasai, and modern developments in Kenya have made our lifestyle all but impossible. I can only make around $5 a week if I am lucky. My children are now starving and the only escape from this dying way of life that I can see for them is to send them to school. My goal is to keep my children in school so that they have a bright future and can find a consistent job. Once I have a stable source of income I will be empowered to care for my children and improve my own living situation.

Mary Lerionka Siampala

My name is Mary Siampala and I am 31 with seven kids, two of whom are twins that have not yet turned one. I grew up in Ewuaso and have had a better life than some of the women who live near me, but life is still difficult. I have no solid source of income, and will look around for work cleaning or cooking most days. This leaves me very little time to spend with my children since when I return home it is usually late and I still have to tend to the house chores. On a good week, I will make about $14. The fact that I am looking for work all day forces my older children to tend to the home, which reduces the time they can spend on their homework and on being a child. My goal is for all of my children to receive a college education one day, and if I have the opportunity, to complete my own studies.

Evalyn Tobiko

My name is Evalyn Tobiko and I am 24 years old. I live in a small brick house in Ewuaso with my two children, ages 9 and four, and am expecting another. Until recently, my husband lived with us and provided for most of our needs. Unfortunately, he took his own life at the beginning of July 2017. It is unclear why exactly he chose to do this but it may have had something to do with the difficulties of supporting our family. As an expecting mother with no husband, I deal with a number of physical and psychological challenges. Currently, my biggest challenge in life is providing for my children, because I have no source of income. Right now, my only source of wealth is seven goats left from my husband, of which I sell three per year to pay school fees. Because of this, I must rely largely on my neighbors for support. My main goal is to provide a comfortable life for my children. If I had a reliable income, I would ensure that my children receive an education, and possibly start a business someday.

Pauline (Mameson) Kipishan

My name is Pauline Kipishan but I prefer to go by Mameson. I am 32 years old, the sole wife of my husband, and mother to five children between the ages of 13 and 3. We live a traditional Maasai lifestyle. My husband tends to livestock and is often away for weeks at a time, while I take care of the children and our manyatta. The current drought has affected our livestock and water sources making our daily life a struggle, not to mention the challenges of adapting to a modernizing world. Our family typically earns $10 per week. I divide my time between caring for my children, doing beadwork, and doing chores such as collecting water and gathering firewood. My biggest challenge is providing ample care for my children as well as taking care of our homestead. My primary goal is to educate my children and provide them with a permanent home to live in. Eventually I would like to start my own beadwork business. With a stable income, I would pay the school fees for my children and ensure they are raised properly.

Jane Akuldo

My name is Jane Akuldo and I am 28 years old. My six children, ages 15 to 4, and I live in a 12’ by 15’ manyatta near Ewuaso. I had my first child when I was 13 and was married at age 15. I became a widow four years ago, making my previously difficult life even more burdensome. I taught myself Swahili in order to communicate better at the market. I earn about $4 per week by buying goods such as beans and maize and reselling them in the market at a profit once a week. Because I am investing in products without knowing whether or not I will be able to sell them, my biggest challenge is a lack of reliable income. My goals are to build a permanent home for my family and send my children to school. With a stable income, I would be able to pay the school fees for my children and ensure they are educated.

Florence Simpiri

My name is Florence Simpiri and I am 24 years old. I live outside of Ewuaso with my three children, ages 5 to 2 and was widowed in 2013 due to a traffic accident. I finished six years of primary school but dropped out when I first became pregnant. Before my husband died, life was challenging but manageable. Since his passing, it has become much more difficult. I can typically earn $4 per week by gathering firewood and selling it. I also do chores in town for pennies. My biggest challenge is being a young, single mother of three. My goals are to educate my children, create a stable life for them, and try to start my own business. With a stable income, I would reliably feed my children, pay their school fees, and possibly save for polytechnic classes so that I’d learn the skills to start my own business.


Editor’s Note

While many of the women introduced above were aware of their ages during our interviews, a few were not sure how to answer the question, “How old are you?” because of how Maasai view time differently than most people. For Maasai, time is determined by events, such as droughts or floods, and not necessarily by year. Maasai typically recognize age-sets or generations rather than individual ages. Those born within a given period of time are associated with a particular age-set due to their social organization and societal hierarchy of age-sets.

Additionally, many women are married as young as the age of 13 and begin having children around the same time. While this is not typical in Western culture, as a traditionally nomadic tribe – one of the last on earth – there was an importance in having many children at an early age. Livestock and number of children are considered signs of wealth in Maasai culture. The Maasai also practice polygamy; men often have multiple wives, thus many children. Many of the struggles the women face stem from the fact that they live on a cusp in time, where their nomadic ways of life have become all but obsolete in a modernizing world.

It is important to note that as all cultures continually evolve, Maasai culture is experiencing a relatively rapid state of change due to their adherence to traditional values for so long. The Maasai have been somewhat resistant to change and continue to lead pastoral and semi-nomadic lives centered around cattle and goat herding. This lifestyle has become more difficult as their land becomes less accessible and is physically decreased by privatization and modernization, combined with the unpredictable effects of climate change. The Maasai struggle to maintain a balance between their conventional ways and the effects of rapid globalization that surround them. To the modern day Maasai, this poses many challenges, which are materialized in their everyday lives.

Arrive’s goal is to empower these women to support their families. Along with this, we hope to help preserve Maasai culture, while also introducing these women to the modern world. We believe both of these aspects are crucial for them to succeed in the face of the inevitable change their generation faces.