The airstrip that serves the village of Entasekera in Maasailand sits atop a hill close to the border with Tanzania. Significant crosswinds make landing on the short airstrip a challenge, even more so when it rains. Passengers travelling there are only issued with a one-way ticket because the Cessna 206 cannot take off carrying anything more than the pilot. Only intrepid travellers make it this far because once you arrive you have to find your own way back!
One such traveller Steve Cram, former Commonwealth and Olympic athlete and founder member of charity Comrades of Children Oversees (COCO) flew in recently en route to an important celebration at Maasai Academy, a primary school in Olorte.
A warm reception greeted the visitors. The bright colours of traditional Maasai dress and distinctive jewellery shimmered intensely under the hot sun while Academy students sat proudly and quietly in their uniforms. School staff and children, parents, village elders, church leaders, and the honoured guests have gathered to celebrate the formal opening of new facilities including classrooms, toilets, a kitchen, and a newly levelled sports field.
We mill around, greeting the elders and the community leaders, shaking hands over and over as the soft murmur of the Maasai greeting ‘Supa’ and the response, ‘Eepa’ repeats between us.
The children remain seated as Steve is handed a pair of scissors and led to the new kitchen, classrooms and sports field he is to officially open. Once this is done, an elder is appointed to pronounce a blessing over the new facilities that they may be used to the glory of God and for the good of the school community.
Speeches translated into the Maasai language warmly congratulated everyone on their hard work and commitment. Steve reiterates, ‘I firmly believe that all young people should have access to education no matter what their circumstances or background.’
These buildings are evidence of not only the practical ways the school is developing but also some more subtle changes. Formal education has not always been embraced by the Maasai as it has seemed at odds with traditional culture. The blossoming of 3 children and one teacher at Maasai Academy to the current count of 140 students and 10 staff shows new openness and enthusiasm among parents, a willingness to invest in a different future for their children.
In the past, it may have appeared that being born into a remote and apparently unremarkable place such as Olorte could feel like holding a one-way ticket to a life fraught with struggles and lacking in opportunity. But thanks to the combined efforts of COCO and RedTribe, circumstances are changing and the lives of not only the children but also the extended community are changing, in tangible and sustainable ways.