The Maasai make up 1½% of the population of Kenya.
Traditionally they are a nomadic pastoralist tribe with cattle being their main source of income. However, changes in land ownership and fragmentation of ranches are causing the Maasai to diverse into other forms of farming and industry. As a result the Maasai are struggling to catch up, and community elders recognise the issues and problems in becoming a part of modern Kenya.
There is a will change within the community and the Maasai are trying to educate their children, learn new professions and encourage modern practices such as family planning.
The role of girls and women is fundamental to this accepted need to change. Maasai girls suffer from low self-confidence, limited life aspirations and the women that they will become are key to effective, sustainable change.
The Position of Girls and Women
Girls are considered ‘freely available’ on reaching puberty and on having their first menstruation. This encourages a feeling of low self-esteem and vulnerability amongst women. Any man after his circumcision ceremony and ‘moran’ (warrior) training has a free right to any girl in the community and girls are not empowered to say no.
Early marriage is widespread and girls are unable to have a choice and nearly always then drop out of school. Girls who do not go to go to school have less chance of a career or life outside of marriage and farming, and a child born to an illiterate mother is 50% more likely to die before their 5th birthday than one born to a literate mother.
Pregnancy before marriage is considered a disgrace in the community and the girl will be shunned from the community, despite the fact she in unlikely to have consented in the first place, or have access to contraception.
Female sexual health is not taught in schools, and girls are often too embarrassed to ask questions on their periods or bodies. Girls often miss school every month due to embarrassment and lack of access to sanitary products or will be made to leave their education due to early marriages and young pregnancies. Girls are also subjected to female genital mutilation or female circumcision, which is still practised in many of the communities surrounding the schools targeted by the Team Talk project.
Team Talk’s objectives are to encourage empowerment amongst girls within Maasai communities and significantly improve health and sexual education by using sport as a vehicle.
Team Talk also:
- Gets boys involved. Tag Rugby is taught to both girls and boys and they play together and against each other! Boys learn to respect girls and understand the importance of girls’ self-confidence, they too hear and assimilate the health and sexual education messages.
- Builds girls self-confidence, helping them take ownership of their bodies and their sexual health.
- Girls learn to be an integral part of the team, to trust each other and gain confidence when they ‘beat the boys’.
- Introduces for all sport into communities where it is generally absent.
- Teaches and encourage sexual health in the community, using sport to break down social barriers.
- Teaches and trains coaches in both Tag Rugby and health and sexual education giving truly sustainable community projects.
- Gives parents and community elders the opportunity to see their girls winning games and medals, achieving goals they have not before and becoming more confident in themselves.
Team Talk has the support of the community elders, teachers and pupil and the Tag Rugby Coaches and Health Education Support Workers will come from within the community. The community are also concerned that many girls do not return to school after the long Christmas holiday because of marriage or pregnancy and see Team Talk as an important way of improving the situation.
There is the will to change and the confidence building and health education messages are conveyed in a sensitive manner with the support and acceptance of the community elders.
Tag Rugby (currently from the Tag Rugby Trust) is taught in the morning for a two-hour period, followed by a break and a 90 minute education session. After lunch, education sessions and small group work continue before a sports session to end the day.
The final day involves a quiz and small group performances followed by a Tag Rugby tournament in the afternoon.
In the initial pilot four volunteers from the UK and two members of the Tag Rugby Trust (three male, three female) taught sport. Two coaches were responsible for training the teachers.
The future education sessions will be primarily led by a trained Maasai Kenyan with support from the UK team. Education sessions will take place in separate gender groups and will be aimed at imparting knowledge but also initiating behavioural change within the community. The education sessions will be based around the WHO IEC (World Health Organisation Information Education and Communication) guidelines in order to achieve effective transfer of knowledge and skills.
One male and one female coach will be directly responsible for training two selected schoolteachers and two lead pupils on how to teach, coach and referee Tag Rugby. They will be given one to one coaching on the importance of sport in the community in order to encourage the continuation of Tag Rugby throughout the year. One teacher or community member will be supported to take the role as Community Health Lead and will be given specific training to enable health education to remain on-going in the community between the yearly projects.
Most of the children taking part are under 16 and Team Talk takes its responsibilities most seriously. Enhanced CRB checks are carried out on all UK volunteers in the programme.