Proud to be Maasai

Passionate about Human Rights

Longido District in northern Tanzania is predominately inhabited by the Maasai, a group with deep cultural traditions that include the practice of female genital mutilation.  TEMBO (Tanzania) works tirelessly to eradicate this harmful practice in Longido District through education:

  • Teaching primary school students as part of the Sara and Juma Club
  • Providing information to girls attending TEMBO’s academic support programs
  • Speaking with women in remote villages as part of the outreach programs
  • Engaging in community forums to speak out against female genital mutilation
  • Making presentations at schools, churches, NGO forums and meetings with government officials.

As Director of TEMBO, Paulina understands that women and men of all ages must receive education about female genital mutilation. “Change is a process and it takes time to change deep, cultural traditions.” But Paulina has a long-term strategy.

Leading the team at TEMBO, Paulina has been instrumental in securing funding to coordinate seminars in remote villages in Longido District. Since 2014, TEMBO has been hosting multiple, day-long seminars with men and women, village leaders, church leaders, elders and government officials. They invite medical practitioners and community development officers to attend and speak about the effects of female genital mutilation.

As well, Paulina and her team have created a ‘Teach-the-Trainers’ (TOTs) program that helps TEMBO spread the message in remote villages. The participants attend small group training sessions over a two-year period to gain in-depth knowledge about the practice and the effects. They also learn how to approach community members and dispel myths about female genital mutilation in a respectful manner. Eight women have graduated from the program and 22 men and women are now enrolled in the second cohort.

Today, Paulina and Mary are beginning to see the impact of their work. Maasai warriors are no longer silent in seminars and are standing up to say, “I must marry a woman who has not been circumcised,” and alternative rites ceremonies are gradually becoming accepted as legitimate rather than being dismissed as fallacy.

TEMBO’s Community Facilitator, Mary Laiser, is a statuesque Maasai woman who speaks Maa, Swahili and English.

Mary is proud to be Maasai. She is proud of the generosity of her people; proud of the respect that is shown towards the older generation; proud of the large group “under the acacia tree” style of decision making; proud of her traditional dress and jewelery.

But Mary feels that stopping female genital mutilation is a change that must happen in the Maasai culture. With her conviction and passion for women’s and children’s rights, she works tirelessly at the grassroots level to end this harmful practice

When asked if female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in Tanzania, she replies, “Yes, FGM has been illegal since 1998, but it’s almost impossible to enforce.  The idea of FGM is sold to a Maasai girl early. She is raised to look forward to her special time when she will be spoiled with clothing, jewelry and even goats. She will make her family proud when she is initiated into womanhood and therefore properly prepared for marriage. She can join her mother, grandmothers and aunts in suffering the ritual that is sometimes called a women’s secret.”

Offering an Alternative

A safe approach to womanhood.

Mary realized that education was the only option if people would be willingly to give up the practice. She decided to be the first Maasai woman in her community to hold an ‘alternative’ coming-of-age celebration for her daughter, Happiness.  Mary went door-to-door inviting friends and neighbours and promised a big gathering with music and a feast. She also invited all the local officials. On the big day, she cooked meat and ugali, bought cases of Fanta and borrowed one hundred plastic chairs.

The party was in full swing when Mary announced that Happiness had not undergone circumcision and never would.

Mary set a courageous example that day, and ever since she has worked tirelessly to persuade friends and neighbours to do the same. She formed a committee called Women for Education, with the aim of encouraging mothers to save money for girls’ education instead of for circumcision ceremonies. Furthermore, she continues to personally organize alternative coming of age ceremonies for other Maasai girls.