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Massai warriors share stories of their quest for education
This is a traditional greeting in the Swahili language, and one which students at the Federal Way Public Academy (FWPA) heard on Oct. 25, as they were treated to a presentation from two Massai warriors from Kenya, Wilson Meikuaya and Jackson Ntirkana. Meikuaya and Ntirkana were at FWPA representing Free the Children, the globe-spanning charity responsible for last year's "We Day" celebration.
Meikuaya and Ntirkana took the time to share their experiences about trying to get an education in Kenya, spanning from needing to convince their parents to let them go to school, to having to complete the Massai warrior training, to tending to cattle during an extended drought.
"I went to my parents and told them there is a thing called school, and that I am ready to go," Meikuaya said. "That day, dad and mom sat me down to tell me that they knew about school. It was a place that the children are taken away from their parents, and it steals culture from the Massai."
"My parents also told us that strangers or the police would come and try and steal us," Ntirkana said. "My mom asked me to do this one thing, if anyone ever came and tried to steal you from us, (that I should) run."
Ntirkana said that day arrived eventually, and he fled as his mother told him to.
"I run and run and run until I could run no more. (I was) followed quickly by…four other children from my home," he said. "The policeman looked right at me and pointed at me. I yelled at my brother and sisters to run. The policeman caught up with and took me back to my home."
Ntirkana said the policeman gave him a piece of candy and that it was "the sweetest (thing), sweeter even than the sugar we put in our tea." The policeman told Ntirkana that something like that would be there for him at school.
"I asked him to leave some with mom and dad, so they knew school would be good," Ntirkana said. "I left for school the next day."
Meikuaya said his experience with school was life-altering.
"Our children are children. But they have a new name in school, that they are called students," he said. "We had students from all over the country from different tribes and different clans of the Massai. So we could share and learn so much from one another…School gave me courage to set a goal for my future. It encouraged me, how to make official, for my life, what I was going to do."
Ntirkana said that education in Kenya can have many disruptions, especially from home. He shared a story about how a drought struck Kenya when he was between sixth and seventh grades, and that he had to stay home a whole school year to take care of his family's cattle with his father.
Meikuaya had to undergo the traditional Massai warrior training in order to continue his education, he said.
"I finished grade eight and I told my parents, 'I'm finished with my school.' I took my grade eight exams and I was waiting for my results. In the meantime, I had to go to a new school called high school. And my parents told me, 'No.' In Massai culture, when the parents say 'no', we never disobey our parents. So I was disappointed when my parents told me this was the end of my education."
Meikuaya said his parents told him he had to undergo the traditional training for Massai warriors, a training that can take years. The culmination of that training is a hunt for a lion. Luckily for Meikuaya, his father relented, saying that if he became a warrior and came home with a lion's mane, he could continue his schooling.
"I was more determined than I have ever been," he said.
Meikuaya got his chance he said, and described the hunt for the lion to his rapt audience.
"Together with other warriors, we tracked a male lion into the forest. And by the time we came face to face with the lion, he was very aggressive. He tried to hide himself. We each threw a spear and struck the lion. It happened that my spear was the first to strike him down and kill him. I killed the lion," he remembered. "I wasn't even excited that I killed the lion. I was more excited that it meant I could go to high school."
There was one last obstacle to overcome, Meikuaya said, and that was finding money to go to high school. His father, he said, gave up his prize steer in order to get the money to send him to school.
"He told me that this school is good, and you're going to finish. I had never cried in front of my father before. Massai warriors just don't do that. But I couldn't contain my emotions, tears slid down my cheeks," he remembered.
As already mentioned, Meikuaya and Ntirkana visited FWPA as part of Free the Children, a global non-profit started in 1995 by Craig Kielburger. Kielburger was inspired by the life and death of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy named Iqbal Masih. Masih had essentially been a child slave for the majority of his life until he was freed at age 10. Masih then began speaking about child slavery/labor, gaining an international audience. Many believe that Masih was murdered in 1995 because of his outspoken stance about the issue.
Kielburger was inspired by Masih's story and began Free the Children. The organization is now active in eight countries across the world, and is also responsible for putting on We Day. We Day has been a popular event in Canada for years, and had it's first inaugural event in the United States last year at KeyArena in Seattle. The announcement for We Day's inaugural event in the U.S. was made at Federal Way High School.