"What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. It is people, it is people, it is people." - Maori proverb.
One of my favourite things about working for African Impact Moshi is the sense of belonging to the local community. I believe that this enables us to get the best possible results from our projects and creates a fantastic environment for learning and introducing new ideas. Our place in the community was particularly evident when we were recently invited to the dumelarika, or retirement ceremony, of one of our original Maasai Literacy Programme students Peter Mollel. A dumelarika marks the transition of a Maasai warrior to an elder and is a very important moment in a man’s life. In the days following the ceremony I took some time to reflect on what it meant to me.
The dumelarika took place at Kitenden Village in West Kilimanjaro, where most of our Maasai Literacy Programme students and graduates call home. Kitenden is near the Kenyan border which is a few hours’ drive from Moshi, so we set off bright and early on a Saturday morning. Upon arrival we were greeted with the first of many cups of sweet chai and welcomed into people’s homes. Our unsuccessful attempts to put on our own traditional shuka at home were quickly remedied by the women of Kitenden. For me this was the first of many surreal moments during the weekend; standing in my underwear in the house of a woman I had just met, I felt that however big the differences between people are, be it the language we speak, the way we look or the way we live, it is always possible to come together and share our cultures.
As the day continued we watched and took part in the various activities that happen during a dumelarika: eating nyama (meat), a ceremonial fight between men and women, jumping, more jumping and of course meeting the man of the moment himself, Peter. I felt so honoured to be present for what was evidently a huge milestone in Peter’s life. Peter has been a mainstay of the African Impact Moshi project for some time now and to see how respected he is at home was humbling. What also struck me was the warmth with which we were welcomed to the village. Faces lit up when we told people we were those teachers from town who were teaching the Maasai to read and write. I have always respected the dedication of our literacy programme students to getting an education despite their age, and at Kitenden I realised that they are also setting an example for their families. To know that our good reputation is so far reaching is really the highest praise we could hope for.
The experience that we had at Kitenden was one that no amount of tourist dollars could have bought. Instead of being an outsider looking in, I felt a sense of belonging and community although I was so far from my own home. It is also heartening to see the value that is placed on traditional Maasai culture in the face of increasingly rapid globalisation. As the dust settled and the cows were brought home for the evening, we ended our day camped on a hilltop overlooking the Rift Valley, reflecting on the incredible experience we had shared.
Back on project in Moshi, we have recently launched a new Girl Impact project. Part of this has seen our Maasai Literacy Class partake in discussion sessions about some very contentious and significant gender issues facing Tanzania. These have included marriage (including child marriage and polygamy), family planning and HIV. For me it is a true testament to African Impact’s respected place in the community that these warriors, these men who we have seen in positions of power in their home village, are willing to break the silence on gender and inequality. In the same way that they have shared their culture with us, we hope to share ideas and give our utmost to create change in our community.
So what is the most important thing in the world? For me, it is people, it is people, it is people. The potential for positive growth when we come together with open minds and open hearts is unmatchable and I feel so grateful to be part of the African Impact community at such an exciting time.