Jambo (Hello!) from Africa. I’m Emilie from Alaska and I have been living among the Maasai tribe of Tanzania for the last four years. I want to invite you all to explore a world beyond your borders and introduce you to a community that has now become my family- the Maasai.
Read our entire story and project details here
I have no doubt that being born in Alaska had everything to do with me living in Tanzania . Growing up in Alaska garnered a deep respect for the wild and indigenous cultures, and groomed me for adventure; and my adventures started early. I first began exploring the world when I moved to Thailand for volunteer work, and then stayed abroad for undergraduate and graduate studies in International Relations. While the academic environment was challenging and worthwhile, I continued to have a deep longing to be closer to communities and the land. I spent time in the Philippines studying permaculture principles on a remote farm and worked on the frontlines of the refugee crisis in Europe. On safari in Kenya and Tanzania in 2016, my heart was lost to Africa.
I moved to the bush in Zanzibar to begin working on a large-scale permaculture project, which also included building homes out of recycled materials. The work was grueling- long hours in the hot African sun digging through solid coral rock to make the land farmable. But everyday I would pass women who were enduring labor loads far greater than mine, and seemingly doing so with grace and ease. I learned a new language (Kiswahili) and my relationships with them evolved- as did my understanding of the village’s financial and cultural dynamics. The women- having no way to earn money and being relegated to the manual work that is needed for the village’s survival- were completely dependent on men for their needs. I initiated a conversation with the chief of the village, asking and persuading him to allow me to purchase land and start a women’s organic farming cooperative. We planted native vegetables and the women set up work schedules to tend to their growing resources. This effort taught the women farming principles, good nutrition and financial responsibility as they sold their vegetables in the main town and to other villages. Today, the cooperative is still functioning well and more women have joined the cooperative over time.
While engaged in this effort, a young Maasai boy came into my care. The concept that “It Takes A Village” became profoundly true. The young Maasai boy continued to stay with me while my relationship with his tribe blossomed. When we travelled to the mainland to visit his home for the first time, it reminded me of Alaska. The wild, the traditions, the sense of togetherness and community- I knew it was somewhere special. Now years later, I spend several months out of the year in our Maasai village and only return to Zanzibar to work on various development projects.
As the Maasai have accepted me into their tribe, my relationships have deepened, especially with the women. I feel emboldened to spend my time permanently here in the bush where my heart really is. Once again, I’ve been drawn to the realities of the women in this village who, as tradition dictates, are responsible for all of the manual work like cooking and transporting water, firewood and the care of children and animals. They are also are not able to be educated as often as men as a result of lack of money and traditional values that place little emphasis on educating women.
This project is a result of developing rich relationships with the women in the village, participating in their life and assisting them with their work. It has been my privilege in these times of sharing to hear their concerns, hopes and wishes. This project is born from their dreams.
Our goals include creating income-generating activities for Maasai women that will allow them to better address their own financial, emotional and social needs. Our cooperative initially aims to purchase the two necessary diesel-powered machines needed for maize milling, effectively creating a Maasai, female-run business which services the daily dietary needs of the community. A second group of women will be trained in business practice and will open a small shop to sell other provisions such as sugar and soap. Lastly, another group of women will be trained in permaculture and develop a small organic garden which harvests will be sold or used to supplement their diet in the dry seasons void of wild greens.
For each empowerment activity, every woman will secure her own salary. Additionally, every month, 15 percent of the total generated revenue will be placed in the women’s cooperative community fund. The women will have complete control over how this fund is distributed at any point in time. By doing so:
-Women are able to control their economic status by improving their livelihoods to meet their practical and strategic needs
-There is solidarity amongst women and collectively they are able to raise their voices to successfully advocate on issues of concern
-Financial freedom enables women to send their young girls to school; educated girls can create a society where women are more independent, have greater opportunities in the future
-Women will own property; financial revenues will also give Maasai women the ability to increase property ownership by purchasing goats, sheep and cows which is a notable financial investment in the Maasai economic system and culture
Read our entire story and project details here
We look forward to everyone’s involvement in this project and we will keep you updated along the way!
With love from Africa
- Katy Bishoff
- CHRIS ROOPE
- Ian Garcia
- Brian Saylor
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