Lying in their beds late at night, the women and girls of Kenya’s Masai Mara can hear the lions roaring. But they are not afraid. Since time immemorial, the Masai have lived with the lions and shared the same resources. The women and girls know that the lion’s thunderous roar, heard as far away as eight kilometres, is the lion saying to everyone, “This is my land. This is my land.” For them, the lion symbolizes courage — ‘lion courage,’ a symbol instilled at birth in the consciousness of every Masai child.
Located in southern Kenya, the Masai Mara is home to the Masai Mara National Reserve, a popular destination for tourists who want to see the “Big Five,” lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffalo. Despite this world-class tourist attraction, the Masai Mara is extremely poor, with the Masai being among East Africa’s most impoverished tribes.
At the invitation of the Fundy Peace Foundation, in 2014, retired Fredericton schoolteacher Dawn DeCourcey travelled to the Oloolaimutia School located on the eastern end of Masai Mara National Reserve. She quickly learned that with so much poverty, a girl’s education is not a priority for many families. She also learned that many Masai women and girls are denied the opportunity to make their own life choices and are often married off at 12 or 13, and that less than half of Masai girls enroll in school. Of those, fewer than 10 per cent go on to high school.
With the support of several others who travelled to Kenya with her on subsequent trips, DeCourcey started the Masai Mara Project, known now as the Friends of Kilayo, which in September 2022, became a registered Canadian charity. Here’s an explanation of how the charity got its name from www.friendsofkilayo.com
“In 2014, Friends of Kilayo co-founder, Dawn DeCourcey, visited the Oloolaimutia School in the Masai Mara. There she met Kilayo, an energetic 13-year-old who was a leader among her peers. A middle child in a large family, Kilayo lived in a manyatta (mud hut village) with her own siblings and the children of her father’s other wives. Kilayo was fortunate. Not all of her siblings have had the privilege of attending school.
“Kilayo dreamed of becoming a teacher but needed support to stay in school. With the support of Dawn and her friends, Kilayo was sponsored through grades seven and eight, and then on to high school. Despite setbacks in her personal life, Kilayo never lost her drive to become a teacher. Thanks to the many “friends of Kilayo” from far away Canada, she is currently finishing her diploma in Early Childhood Education.
“When Dawn visited the Oloolaimutia School in 2014, she made a promise to enlist support for Kilayo to continue her education and realize her dream of becoming a teacher. Just one girl…how hard could that be!? When Dawn shared Kilayo’s story, she gained interest from friends. And then from friends of friends. The increase in support provided an opportunity to help keep more girls in school.”
Over the years, the commitment to these women has grown. Thanks to Masai Mara Project donations, over a dozen young Masai women have been able to stay in school and can plan for a better future.
DeCourcey believes that girls who become educated have opportunities to see strong women in leadership positions and learn about women in other cultures and that combining the benefits of education with the lion courage Masai women are born with is bound to have a positive influence on the Masai culture. “We believe we are building better lives, one girl at a time,” she says.
Lying in their beds late at night, the women and girls of Kenya’s Masai Mara can hear the lions roaring. Since time immemorial, the Masai have lived with the lions, and the women and girls know that the lion’s roar is the lion saying to everyone, “This is my land. This is my land.”But they are not afraid.
As they close their eyes to continue their sleep, they know the lions also speak for them.