Girls in pastoralist communities encouraged to pursue STEM subjects

By Ruth Kihio, Paschal Iganana and Njeri Kaguta

Maasai women singing sensitization songs during the Emanyatta Secondary School Harambee

A lot of girls in rural indigenous communities, like the semi-nomadic pastoralist Maasai of Tanzania, still find it hard to access quality education. Recent efforts in the education sector have seen a rise in advocacy campaigns to urge girls in these communities to pursue Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM).

The leadership of Emanyatta Secondary School, a mixed community school, has been at the forefront of advocating for pastoralist girls to pursue STEM as this will help in the development of their community. The Maasai still largely encourage harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early and forced marriage and gender-based violence.

Children from the poorest households are up to four times more likely to be out of school and research from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that in developing countries, one in four girls is not in school.

The Pastoral Women Council (PWC), a non-governmental organisation working in Northern Tanzania to promote the sustainable development of Maasai communities has for many years advocated for women’s education. They believe an educated woman is more likely to make informed choices that will protect her children and invest in the education of her daughters.

With the help of PWC, Emanyatta has guaranteed girls an equal opportunity to thrive alongside boys. The school recently embarked on a development project that aims to construct a science laboratory so students can do their practicals in STEM subjects comfortably.

Emanyatta held a Harambee in June to raise funds for the completion of its science laboratory. “Harambee” is a Swahili word meaning to pull together. This is an East African tradition of communities coming together to contribute towards development projects that uplift the community. The event was attended by over 500 members of the pastoralist community. Women sang beautiful Maasai tunes and through poetry, girls talked about the hardships they face in pursuit of a good education.

The school’s leadership is enthusiastic that the lab will attract girls to pursue careers in sciences. According to Mr. Yannik Ndoinyo, a board member at Emanyatta, “Constructing the laboratory is an important step in ensuring learners gain practical skills in STEM subjects. It will create opportunities for pastoralist girls as well as boys to pursue careers in the sciences and play a meaningful role in the development of this community. Once completed, the lab will become a symbol of solidarity, equity, and community commitment to education as thousands of students will get to experience science hands-on for the first time. We expect these students to go on to do great things in their community.”

The fundraiser also demonstrated to students that they are valued by their parents and community, that they deserve quality education and should pursue STEM with no hesitation.

“Despite recent financial constrains caused by covid-19, the call to come together was received well by members of our community. Women stood out with their generous contributions of time and resources that included livestock to make the event a success. Prior to the event, women members of PWC groups dedicated their time to organize the Harambee. They raised awareness on the importance of access to quality education. It showed that women’s leadership can bring about positive cultural norms-change for the benefit of the entire community,” Says Maanda Ngoitiko, Executive Director of PWC.

Families are encouraged to value their daughter’s education as the long-term ripple effects are tremendous for the community. The school teaches students to value their culture and preserve the pastoralists good traditions while building students’ knowledge and confidence about their environment, society, resources, and opportunities in line with traditional values of shared resources and responsibility.

“PWC not only aims at improving the lives of women and girls but those of the community. We believe that when girls are educated, they are better able to participate in leadership roles, and seek to retain and promote the positive aspects of their culture,” says Noorkishili Naing’esa from Olololosokwan Village.

This year, PWC awarded ten community volunteers for their outstanding work in advocating for women’s rights, land rights, economic empowerment, leadership, and education.

“Our women’s contributions also emphasized that women are becoming more proactive in participating in the development agenda of the pastoralist community,” added Maanda Ngoitiko.

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