There are so many words that come to mind when I think of Engaruka. Dusty. Dry. Hot. Windy. Beautiful. Amazing. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. The five days we just spent in Engaruka touched me in a way nothing else has. We spent our first night in Engaruka Chini staying at the house of one of Kellen’s former students. As there is no cell coverage in Engaruka we simply showed up unannounced and found Mama Happy at her shop. There is something beautiful about a place where you can show up unannounced and be greeted with genuine enthusiasm and love. We spent the following day paying visits to people
Daudi and Kellen know, as well as going to Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School to talk with the headmaster about what day would be best to come speak to the girls and decide if an Empowered Girls Club was needed at the school. We then caught the bus up to Engaruka Juu just a short drive away where we were greeted by one of Daudi’s father’s oldest friends. Mzee Ismel Nakooyo and Daudi’s father shared a friendship stronger than any I have ever heard of or known. Their friendship stayed incredibly strong throughout the years and they were closer than most siblings I know. While listening to Daudi translate Mzee Ismel’s words about that friendship I realized just how rare that kind of friend is; how rare that kind of friendship is in our busy Western lives.
The Empowered Girls club meeting at Oldonyo Lengai was the first time I have been present for the initial Empowered Girls meeting and it was a great experience. I really feel that Empowered Girls can do so much in both Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School and in Engaruka Juu Primary School. At Oldonyo Lengai Secondary School 5 girls were forced to drop out because of pregnancy. At Engaruka Juu Primary School, which is the equivalent of 1st grade through 7th grade, there were also 5 girls forced to drop out due to pregnancy. For me, those numbers alone are a sad reminder of why these girls so badly need what
Empowered Girls has to offer. At our meeting with the girls at Oldonyo Lengai we had some time during which they asked me questions, which has proved to be one of my favorite parts of our talks with girls. They asked me how my parents felt about me being so far away for so long, what my parents would say if I brought one of them home with me in November without forewarning and if there are any cultures in America that practice female circumcision, among many other questions.
Saning’o is a 17 year old villager whom I got to know better than most. He finished primary school but as his father married a second wife, the first wife (Saning’o’s mother) and her children were no longer supported and there was no money for him to continue on to secondary school. The desire this boy has for school, despite being told each time Kellen is in Engaruka that she still doesn’t have a sponsor for him, astounded me. He sat outside our house for 3 hours each morning until we were awake and done with breakfast so he could ask if there was any news. As our visit was ending, Kellen and Daudi again told him no, not yet, but that they were still trying. The look on his face was one of unmitigated pain and longing, even tears. This would have been powerful in any setting, but when you consider how rare it is for a Masai man to cry it was heartbreaking.
|Saning'o and family|
On our last day in Engaruka, Daudi and I were invited to Saning’o’s hut to get to know him a little better. It was an experience that made me realize how lucky youth are in countries where education until University level is free. He lives in two small huts with his mother, younger brother and little cousin. They take care of goats during the day, however they are not even their own goats. It is apparent that the family does not have as much food as they need to get by, yet they still gave us tea. That kind of warmth and selfless gratitude, though we had yet to bring them good news, floored me. Despite the apparent hopelessness of ever furthering his education, Saning’o was eager to find out how my Swahili was coming along and reminded me that the best way to learn quickly was to review all the things I had learned the previous day, each day. Seeing someone who wanted so badly to go to school, for whom going to school is the only hope for his whole family, was a painful reminder of how lucky I am. How many days did I not want to go to school, complain about homework and take my free education for granted? How much have I under utilized my ability? Saning’o is just one example of what so many youth in Engaruka and much of Tanzania go through.
|The oldest son of the widow|
The last night in Engaruka we also met a man who was also asking if there were any sponsorships that were available. His daughter had finished Standard 7 (the last year of primary school) the year before but he was unable to pay the school fees for her to begin secondary school. This father made the decision to send his daughter away to live with an Auntie in another town even though she wouldn’t be in school. He knew that if she remained at home and did not continue with her education, he would face immense pressure from his family and friends to marry her off quickly. This is the future of most girls unable to go
to secondary school. This practice is one of the reasons that so many mothers are very young in Engaruka. On the family compound where we stayed, Mzee Ismel offered to let two distant relatives who are widowed build mud, cow dung, and clay huts because they had no where else to go. One of the widows has 3 children, the oldest of whom is almost 6. She is 19. Her children will in all likelihood nto receive any education.
That night in Engaruka, after all the visitors left, Mzee Ismel told me that he had talked with the elders and they had decided upon a Masai name for me. He told me my name is Namunyak and explained that it meant “someone who brings good luck and blessings with them wherever they go”. I have never felt as honored and touched as I did in that moment. Not every visitor who spends time in Engaruka receives a Masai name, but they felt that I deserved one. Once everyone else had gone back inside, I sat outside with tears silently streaming down my face. I met so many people who needed things that I had almost always taken for granted. Yet even though they know that the chances of receiving help are small, all of the individuals I met were unbelievably strong, happy and most of all grateful. They were so appreciative of the goals Empowered Girls wanted to accomplish and of the fact that we were dedicating our time to them. They were grateful that we were just trying to find a way to help them, even though we could offer no promises.
It devastates me how much need there is in this world. How does one choose where and how best to help? What action will have long term benefit to a community, a people? Maybe as I take full advantage of my college education these are questions I can start to answer for myself. For the time being however, I am going to forgo the gift I requested for my 18th birthday. With that money, I can fund at least two years of secondary education for Saning’o. I can’t save the world but I can change the life and future of this one young person and his family.
Check out more pictures at Engaruka!