Kenya’s once nomadic Maasai are struggling to maintain their traditional culture in a fast-changing Africa where education and business are more important than ever for their children. Most boys around age 14 still undergo a coming-of-age ceremony and other practices to prepare them to become warriors and guard their families’ livestock against lions and other predators. But many young men are moving to the cities where they use their skills to take jobs as security guards instead. Odupoi Pose, a 13-year-old in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program, is the first of 18 children in his family who has been able to go to school. Soon he will have to grapple with how to incorporate his traditional life into a more modern future.
In Najile, a Maasai community of about 7,500 people in the Rift Valley northwest of Nairobi, Odupoi’s mother, Esther, starts a fire in their mud hut to make tea for breakfast. After the deaths of Esther's husband and his other two wives, Esther was left to raise 18 children — 11 of her own and seven from the other wives.
Odupoi herds the family’s cows to a watering trough. For the Maasai, cattle are among their most important possessions, and villagers previously followed rain to find food and water for their herds. But as cities encroach on Maasai land, making their plots smaller and forcing them to be less nomadic, it is becoming harder for the Maasai to care for large numbers of livestock.
Odupoi changes into his school uniform and starts his 30-minute walk to school. Kenyan schools operate in morning and afternoon shifts. Diesel fuel pumps dot the landscape to serve motorcycles that Maasai have begun to purchase.
Odupoi’s school, built in the 1970s, was initially not well received by the community because members wanted their children to learn the tribe’s traditions instead of going to school. Today, about 90 percent of children in Najile go to school, and six years ago, through a grant from Compassion, a secondary school for girls was built so they could continue their education beyond elementary school. Before, only boys could go to secondary school.
Odupoi is able to attend school only with Compassion’s help. Esther makes a small amount of money selling sugar, onions, potatoes and salt, but not enough to afford the 36,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $417) per year for school fees and other expenses related to his schooling.
Esther feels that school is preparing Odupoi to be a leader and is happy he is going to school, since none of his 17 siblings were able to go. “It is so important to me,” she says. “I believe that Odupoi will be an important person in this community.” Odupoi spends three hours attending classes, then heads home around 4:45 p.m.
After school, Odupoi has about an hour of daylight left to take care of the family’s animals.
At 6:40, about an hour before he goes to bed, Odupoi visits in front of his house with two warriors from his village. They are choosing to follow their tribe’s traditional practices. Soon Odupoi will have to choose a path, too. But for now, he enjoys watching the sun start to set.