News / USA

    American Organization Empowers African Girls

    American Organization Empowers African Girlsi
    X
    Julie Taboh, Jill Craig
    March 07, 2016 8:23 PM
    As the world gets ready to recognize the achievements of women on International Women’s Day, March 8th, VOA’s Julie Taboh in Washington and reporter Jill Craig in Kenya shine a spotlight on a U.S.-based organization that is helping empower young Maasai girls and women in Kenya through education…one life at a time.
    Watch the video report

    Sometimes it takes a village. But sometimes it takes the concerted dedication of concerned people thousands of miles away to help empower women. 

    That's how Gloria Kotente Mumeita, a medical student from Kenya, was able to come to the U.S. this past fall for eight weeks of hands-on medical experience at Suburban Hospital and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

    As part of her training at Suburban, Mumeita learned how to care for trauma patients under the guiding hands of Dr. Dany Westerband, medical director of trauma services at the hospital, which is one of just nine trauma centers in the state of Maryland that is specifically designed and equipped to handle medical emergencies.

    Westerband is one of several physicians who sponsored and mentored Mumeita.

    The Kenyan medical student says she has learned a great deal during her time in the U.S. and hopes to share that new-found knowledge with her peers back home.

    “My experience here has been great, the doctors are great, I’ve gotten to do a lot of things which I wouldn’t have done in my country,” she said. “I’ve learned how to use an ultrasound to scan patients during an emergency and that is a program we don't have in my school and that's a program I’d love to start in the future.” 

    An unusual journey

    Seeing a young woman receive medical training is not an unusual sight in a large hospital like Suburban, but it is, in this case. Mumeita is a Maasai…an ethnic patriarchal tribe in Kenya and Northern Tanzania, in which less than half of all girls attend primary school, and only one percent go to college.

    Gloria Kotente Mumeita, a Maasai medical student at the University Of Nairobi School Of Medicine in Kenya conducts a mentoring workshop for Maasai students in the Kajiado district of Kenya, thanks to the Maasai Girls Education Fund.
    Gloria Kotente Mumeita, a Maasai medical student at the University Of Nairobi School Of Medicine in Kenya conducts a mentoring workshop for Maasai students in the Kajiado district of Kenya, thanks to the Maasai Girls Education Fund.

    “A Maasai girl doing medicine in my country is a big deal," she said tearfully. "Most of the time I get that question, ‘you are Maasai, and you’re in med school, how did you get here?’ Even in Kenya. It’s been a great journey for me.”

    Mumeita's journey began when she learned about the Maasai Girls Education Fund – a U.S-based organization with offices in Kenya's Kajiado County. It provides young Maasai women and girls with scholarships – based on need -- for free education at boarding schools in the country.

    Photographer Barbara Shaw founded the Maasai Girls Education Fund to help Maasai women and girls become empowered through education.
    Photographer Barbara Shaw founded the Maasai Girls Education Fund to help Maasai women and girls become empowered through education.

    It was founded in 1999 by Barbara Shaw, an American who believed that educating girls will empower them, their families and their communities, and lift them out of poverty. “If you educate a woman, it's proven over and over again, you have higher literacy, better health, better nutrition, greater economic stability and the entire community is better,” Shaw often said.

    Dr. Westerband knew the American visionary well.

    “Of all the programs that I’ve been exposed to and heard about, this initiative led by the Maasai Girls Education Fund is just mind-boggling in terms of value and what they can actually do for a community like Gloria’s community back in Kenya,” he said.

    Shaw died in 2013, but her daughter, Tracey Pyles, is continuing her mother’s work. She recalled, “It started with two little girls that she first met while on a photography project in Kajiado district of Kenya and staying among the Maasai in their village." The number of girls helped by the organization has now grown to more than 150.

    Mumeita is the first to go to medical school, and train at Suburban hospital, where Pyles works as an emergency physician. 

    Sempeyo Sarinke (l) and Ntanin Tarayia (r) inspired Photographer Barbara Shaw to create the Maasai Girls Education Fund which provides free scholarships to young Maasai women and girls.
    Sempeyo Sarinke (l) and Ntanin Tarayia (r) inspired Photographer Barbara Shaw to create the Maasai Girls Education Fund which provides free scholarships to young Maasai women and girls.

    “Someone like this, who has the heart that Gloria has, and the desire to go back to her home and make a difference, needs in my opinion, to be invested in, supported, given every opportunity to make the most," said Pyles, "because what she has the chance to do when she goes home…is incredible.”

    The organization has proven that girls who go to school are less likely to be forced into early marriage and other cultural practices. “We have rescued girls as young as nine who were already married," said Pyles, "and also from FGM; female genital mutilation, which is still something that is practiced among the Maasai.” In fact, 90 percent of Maasai girls are circumcised by the age of 12.

    The new Maasai warrior

    But that is all changing, thanks to the organization's guiding philosophy to help girls in every way they can.

    There are many instances, captured on videotape, of young Maasai women singing and dancing with joy because of their rescue through education from early marriage and FGM.

    And thanks to the organization’s community programs, attitudes toward them are also changing - especially their fathers' views, says Pyles. “It's only as these girls come back, educated, teachers, doctors, lawyers... that's when they're coming to see the value of educating their daughters.”

    A good example is Lucy Ntayia, a graduate of the program who is now its Kajiado office director.

    Maasai girls attend school in the Kajiado district of Kenya, thanks to the Maasai Girls Education Fund which provides free scholarships to young Maasai women and girls.
    Maasai girls attend school in the Kajiado district of Kenya, thanks to the Maasai Girls Education Fund which provides free scholarships to young Maasai women and girls.

    “This new generation of Maasai girls who are now getting an education; they are now showing their community that they are bringing a lot of empowerment and they are showing their community that it is not just about a onetime dowry but they can do a lot for themselves and for their families and for their country,” she said.

    Pyles noted, "It's hard to overcome strong cultural beliefs and ingrained practices, you're never going to do it by telling people that they’re wrong or bad, but by demonstrating and showing people how their own lives can be better, that's the way to effect change.”

    Gloria Kotente Mumeita is back in Kenya now, spending time with her family and friends, and completing her fifth and final year of medical school at the University of Nairobi School of Medicine.

    “For me, being a doctor would just have remained a dream," she said. "But now it’s a reality.”

    March 8th is International Women’s Day.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora