Across the world, education is considered a fundamental human right. However, access to education for girls and women can sometimes conflict with cultural norms. Such is the case in many Maasai communities, where girls’ access to education continues to be limited, if available at all. One Youth Exchange and Study (YES) alumna that comes from a Maasai family, Ndeenga Shamata (YES alumna 2009-2010, Tanzania, hosted in Wever, IA by IRIS) noticed the lack of educated women in her community and has spent her time advocating for the right to education for Maasai women and children.
Ndeenga is the only girl of 20 children in her Maasai family. She is also the first from her village to attend a higher education institution. Seeing other women in her community not being allowed the opportunity to go to school is what gave Ndeenga the push to explain to Maasai communities, including her own, the importance of education for women and children.
Ndeenga currently serves as a volunteer with Youth with a Mission, or YWAM, an organization helping to bring change to communities in need. Alongside other YWAM volunteers, Ndeenga organized a project that brought together more than 500 people from the Engikaret Village - Arusha and the surrounding area. The project focused on the importance of education and the rights of Maasai girls and children. Among the crowd were Longido District Education officials, a Longido District Commissioner, more than 150 maasai parents, as well as students and teachers.
“Education is a significant key to our freedom and a door to our success,” Ndeenga said. “It’s importance is why I am fighting to help liberate not just the Maasai girl, but every Maasai child that doesn’t have access to education.”
Maasai culture today remains almost the same as it’s always been, with males dominating the decision making in the community. Girls in Maasai societies face a number of challenges such as early marriage and teen pregnancy. From Ndeenga’s project, she hopes Maasai communities and people notice the importance of education, especially for females, and begin changing the cultural norm to be more inclusive of women.