Eight-year-old Maria was born the village of Engaresero, Ngorongoro, Arusha, Tanzania. Although Nasikoi is her Maasai name, she was later baptized and named Maria by missionaries.In her short life, she has experienced many challenges because of poverty and lack of education.
Initially, Maria obtained a scholarship to enroll in a private primary boarding school in Loliondo through the efforts of Sister Angelica of Germany. After she started school, she was withdrawn by her father who objected to her education and wanted her at home to work with her mother. Among many tasks assigned to Maria, she began selling the handicrafts her mother produced for tourists. Since selling handicrafts was the family’s main source of income, Maria worked very hard day and night. She would walk from one campsite to another, visit the waterfalls, Lake Natron, and other tourist sites to meet visitors and sell handicrafts. She gained an excellent reputation as one of the best sellers of handicrafts in the area by the age of eight.
Even as a young girl, Maria faced the significant risks of early childhood marriage and female genital mutilation. In fact, she had allegedly already been sold for marriage to an older man by her father for three cows and was to be married in three years.
During the summer of 2016, Maria met Daphne, a 7-year-old from the US, who was traveling with a group of tourists (see photo). Maria and Daphne spent the next 24 hours together and quickly became friends despite the lack of a common language. The rest of the tourist group was also quite taken by Maria.
The small girl had left such an impression on the group that upon their return to the US, they looked into the possibility of supporting Maria’s education. At first, they were met with an emphatic “no” from organizations and individuals in Tanzania.The group was then approached by Martha Olemisiko, who said she would try, and the rest is history.
Martha, with the assistance of her father-in-law (a local Maasai leader) and Luka Lekidi (a college student MEF also supports), tracked Maria down through a photo provided by the group and convinced her family and village to allow her to be educated. When they agreed, Maria moved to Arusha and is now living (essentially as a new daughter) with Martha and her family. The group was so impressed with Martha and her vision for helping other Maasai youth like Maria that they decided to form the Maasai Education Foundation to support Maasai education.
Through Martha’s efforts, Maria enrolled in the Arusha Meru International School in Arusha in preschool (kindergarten) in September 2016. Because Arusha Meru school is an English language-based school and because Maria did not speak English, she attended school in the mornings and was tutored in English for three hours in the afternoon. Maria did well during her first-semester excelling in math and is quickly learning Swahili and English. Updates on Maria’s progress will be shared at the end of each semester.