How one Kenyan man transformed a village, paved way for girls
By Lilian Kaivilu
James Kamete, sits thoughtfully under a tree in a busy homestead in Esiteti village in Loitoktok district, Kajiado County.
On one hand he holds the Maasai mace, a symbol of power in the culture while on the other hand he scrolls through his mobile phone. Numerous phone calls keep coming through his handset. The 46-year-old father of 18 is busy preparing for the graduation of more than 20 girls who are to undergo an alternative rite of passage. The girls have escaped female genital mutilation, a common practice in the community. These are the fruits of the work that Kamete started in 1999.
With the help of a Terri Gabrielsen, a tourist who met Kamete while on a tour of the Amboseli National Park, Kamete set up Esiteti Primary school, the only primary school in the area to date.
As the then only person who had gone to school in his village, Kamete was determined to bring a change to his community through education. “I was educated by well-wishers who took me to school in Nairobi,” remembers the now pastoral farmer and founder of Esiteti Primary School.
To him, school was not the best option but the 46-year-old father of 18 remembers how education opened his mind. “Although I studied up to Form One, education exposed me to the fact that the world was larger than I saw it back in the village. From school, I believed that I had the power to empower my fellow village mates,” says Kamete.
After the death of his education sponsor while in Form One at High Ridge Secondary school in Nairobi, Kamete came back to the village and started to explore ways to actualise his dreams of empowering his village through education. He started as a tour guide for tourists who visited the Amboseli National Park. “In 1999, I met a tourist with whom I shared my dream to start a school,” he says.
Gabrielsen, the founder of Africa Schools of Kenya wondered how Kemete would start a school without any facility. But a determined Kamete was quick to point out that he only needed a piece of chalk, one teacher and a book. “I told her that once if s able to pay a teacher, I was ready to begin.” At the time, Kamete had a class of only six boys who met under a tree and had no books.
Inspired by Kamete’s passion for education, Gabrielsen raised funds to help construct the school. And from only six boys under a tree, Esiteti Primary school today has 430 pupils. According to Kemete, some of the pupils who graduate from the various secondary schools come back to the area as mentors and peer educators.
Elizabeth Nairesei Katambwe is one of the beneficiaries and pioneer pupils at Esiteti Primary School. Nairesei is now a student at Kenya Institute of Social Work and Community Development. . She is currently teaching the young teenage girls about the dangers of FGM. “We have realised the harm that female circumcision puts Maasai girls through,” says the 20-year-old. The last born in a family of eight escaped FGM, thanks to the advocacy work by Kamete.
So far, Gabrielsen has also started an alternative rite of passage for the girls in Esiteti area. “We realised that girls were getting married after undergoing female circumcision. I am glad to see girls who have escaped female genital mutilation and have become role models to their younger sisters,” says Gabrielsen.
She explains that ASK has a scholarship programme where well-wishers commit some money for the education of the girls. “But there is a commitment on the student’s part. They have to write a letter to their sponsors,” explains Gebrielsen. This way, the pupils are more committed to their studies.