Christmas comes early for one Maasai girl
By Clarissa Hughes
Natii is twelve years old and lives in a small village near the world famous Maasai Mara, home to the legendary Great Migration.
Her father died several years ago leaving her mother and older brother as her guardians. Unfortunately, both are alcoholics. To fuel their addiction, they sold all of the family’s possessions, including their livestock and land. Her mother is now trying to overcome her addiction, however, it has left the family destitute.
Extra mouths to feed were the last thing they wanted.
One day, last year when she was eleven years old, Natii was sitting at home when she heard a stranger come into the village. From inside the hut she heard her mother and brother talking to the strange man about marriage. To her horror, she realised that her guardians wanted to marry her off to this 55-year old man.
Frightened and appalled, Natii ran away into the night, dodging elephants and other wildlife, to seek help. Ten kilometres from her home she knocked on the Chief’s door, seeking refuge with the most authoritative person she knew.
As luck would have it the Chief has a good relationship with a social development non-governmental organization.
The Maa Trust took Natii in and learned that her mother and brother had refused to send her to school. Natii was determined to go to school when she saw her age-mates starting school, and so she approached and convinced her neighbours to support her with school fees and second hand uniforms to get her through four years of school. But now her guardians wanted to sell her off for the price of her dowry.
When Natii arrived at The Maa Trust she was extremely shy and reserved. On the second day, she explained that one of the reasons for this was that she felt it was very unfair that she was being given the opportunity to go to a good boarding school, and her little brother Luka would never have this opportunity.
Luka (8), has been working as a herd boy since he was five to bring in money for their mother and brother. In one way he was even more unfortunate than Natii, he had not received any education and had no chance of receiving any in his future.
Luka, too, was taken in by The Maa Trust.
The work of The Maa Trust is focused on increasing the benefits that local communities receive from conservancies in the Maasai Mara, with a special focus on women and children. One of the schemes undertaken by the trust is the scholarship programme for extremely needy children such as Natii and Luka. Through this support, such children become wildlife ambassadors and spread news about benefits brought by conservation and wildlife.
Asilia works closely with The Maa Trust and so the story of Natii and Luka was retold around our camp fires.
It wasn’t long before Melanie and Bret Lott, guests at Encounter Mara, heard Natii’s story.
“We were struck by the young age some of the girls were when they married. We wondered about educational opportunities and learned that school is mandatory in Kenya, but not provided by the government. That places a burden on some families who can’t afford the school fees and books and uniforms. My husband is a college professor, and I home-schooled our sons for several years — we very much believe education is the key to a better life. We wanted someone to have that chance who might not have it otherwise,” says Melanie.
But first Melanie decided to do a bit of background checking.
“I started to research the groups that Asilia Africa supported. We were impressed not only with our wonderful stay at Encounter Mara, but with the concept of the conservancy, giving back to the community and providing jobs for locals. I found The Maa Trust through the Asilia web site and saw on The Maa Trust Facebook page the stories of the kids who had been helped and just knew that that was what we wanted to do. I was put in touch with Crystal Courtney, the CEO of The Maa Trust, and others at The Maa Trust and Asilia Africa. I asked questions about how all this worked, who our sponsored child would be, who was involved in the organizations and their financials. I received prompt answers to all my questions with offers that I could call at any time with questions.”
Having done the due diligence the Lotts have agreed to sponsor Natii right through her schooling, both primary and secondary. “Natii is a child in great need; we heard her story and were heartbroken at what almost happened to her. We’re thrilled that we’ve been paired,” explains Melanie.
Responsible tourism is about so much more than sustainability. It’s about ethical living really, which of course isn’t restricted to tourism. What we offer through our support of organizations such as The Maa Trust is the opportunity to change the lives of people who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance.
None of this would be possible without our guests, and of course the attraction that drew them to us in the first place – Africa’s outstanding wild places. For more information on the projects we support please visit: www.Asiliagiving.org or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.