Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

My Walk with the Maasai

“In the Book of Life, the answers aren’t in the back.” – Charles M. Schultz

Setting off on foot through the heart and soul of Maasai culture has always been a dream of mine. I had first heard of the Maasai people when I was volunteering for a week in Morocco. I was speaking with a fellow volunteer – a young American woman- who confessed her favorite travel stories in her life occurred when she visited the Maasai. Her embellished images of warrior men in black and women dressed in brightly colored clothing while drinking cow’s blood under the moonlight sky in the bush were what first intrigued me. Was it true that a people like this still lived on earth and still practiced their long-held traditions and cultures?

Years later, when I began my work as a social good blogger, I began to learn more about the Maasai people and the threat against their way of life. Some of the things I had believed to be true long ago were more or less myths yet other traditions both good and bad continued until this day. It wasn’t until I set out on foot with my english-speaking Maasai guide, Jacobo, in the Mkuru Training Camp near Arusha, Tanzania that I would discover for myself what the Maasai people were truly like and what challenges remained.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo leads the way and I follow along for the next four hours on foot, touring a small part of the Maasai community.

“Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t”. -Pete Seeger

I was thankful that I had Jacobo, the Camp Manager, who was born and raised in the community, to lead the way. He was exactly as I envisioned a Maasai warrior to be: Tall, elegantly thin, muscular and generously kind. He has faced some criticism from the community by integrating too much with Western culture yet overall his work and passion for his tribe outshines a few negative viewpoints. Although he is also the camp driver, speaks English, and is the face of the camp with all foreigners, he has retained his culture even down to what he eats.

We set off shortly after lunch in windy, dry weather. I had hoped the weather would be better but at least it wasn’t raining or boiling hot. I followed behind Jacobo, pen and paper in hand and asked him as many questions as I could about his way of life.

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

Welcome to the bush

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

The Maasai are among the best known ethnic groups in Africa due to their distinctive customs and dress. As nomadic pastoralists, they traditionally herded their cattle on seasonal rotations across the open savanna of Kenya and Tanzania yet new laws instituted by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments ended their traditions and forced many into camps where they have suffered poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and economic opportunities to survive. It is an all too common story with native cultures across the world and today many governments and NGOs are doing their best to preserve and protect these tribes from disappearing off the face of the earth.

Mkuru Training Camp Maasai Tanzania

The grounds of the Mkuru Training Camp Maasai in Tanzania

As we walked, Jacobo pointed out the dried up river beds and the sparse vegetation. Most of the crops (maize and potatoes are the of the primary crops grown in the area) had already been harvested and the long barren months of the dry season had begun. One of the main problems for the Maasai community is malnutrition especially in children. The diet is basically meat, goat’s milk and grains with little or no fruit or vegetables. Although the camp has tried to alleviate malnutrition by providing meals at school, many Maasai hesitate to send their children because they are needed to herd the livestock (boys began herding as young as five years old), tend the house, fetch water and cook (the main responsibility of the girls). Despite the building of new schools in the community, attendance is very low and frequently dropping especially for girls.

The Maasai have a very unique social structure that is central to their culture. The head of society is the warrior class made up of boys and men, and status relates to age. A young boy starts out as a herder at the age of five and once he reaches puberty, he is set aside with the boys who will be soon circumcised and become junior warriors called “morani”. The morani range from 13-18 years of age and after circumcision remain in isolation and are dressed in black until they are healed. Once they reach maturity and have sufficient strength they become a full fledge warrior, dress in colorful clothing, and are in charge of protecting the community. They no longer kill a lion with a spear since that tradition has become illegal (by the government) but they are trained to fight.

Mkuru Training Camp Arusha Tanzania

Jacobo on left with his four brothers who have just been circumcised and wear black until they are ready to become moranis.

Maasai women and girls are traditionally in charge of the home and all work associated with family life such as fetching water, cooking and cleaning, making clothing and watching the very young children. Maasai women are known for their amazing beadwork and brilliant clothing. (I had written a great post about Maasai beading here)

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo’s mother

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Maasai beadwork has been integrated into the Mkuru community to empower women and give them economic opportunities to sell their work.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

A gorgeous Maasai beaded ankle bracelet.

Jacobo gave me a tour of his family boma, traditional mud huts made out of mud, dried cow dung and branches. Since the Maasai can have more than one wife, the entire family of husband, wives and children typically live together in a compound of 3-5 bomas depending on wealth. Each compound is surrounded by an open circle and fence made of thorny branches, where the livestock sleep safely at night, away from predators. The bomas are extremely basic with no electricity, no running water and oftentimes unsafe charcoal cookstoves are used inside the hut. The smoke from cooking turns the ceiling black with soot and you can imagine how bad it is for the family to inhale the fumes.

Entering the Jacobo’s family home (the fence for livestock is on the left hand side of the photo).

Jacobo’s extended family.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

One of the bomas.

 Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

A child peeks out and smiles. His face is covered in ash from the cookstove.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Since there is no electricity inside, the bomas are very dark. I tried my best to capture what they are like inside. You can see the cookstove on the far back righthand side of the photo.

Non-profit organizations such as Solar Sister (who I climbed Kilimanjaro with) are working hard to provide clean, safe cookstoves throughout the world. The benefits are immense and life-saving but sadly they have not reached the millions of people like in this community who need them. Not only are clean cookstoves healthier and safer, they also save ridiculous amounts of money which can be used on other essential things like education, farming, and crops.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

The ceiling of the boma is black from the charcoal cookstove inside.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

An up close look at the thorny fence and corral for the livestock.

To my relief, I was well received by my Maasai friends who gladly gave me a tour of their bomas for a very small fee. I also purchased some beautiful handmade jewelry from Jacobo’s mother, a couple of bracelets and a necklace that I love to this day.

As we headed out to see more of the vast area, we ran into Jacobo’s dad, a retired warrior. I found that many of the men have a pretty luxurious life compared to the women. No longer truly in need of a warrior class to protect them against invaders, the men usually have plenty of leisure time to sit around and talk while the women did all the work.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Jacobo’s dad

Jacobo brought me to a special place that once a year the morani and warriors go for a few months to eat meat. Tradition holds that morani and warriors must remain strong and be the best fed of all. Therefore, every year they head up to the forest where they eat goat meat for two-three months. The women stay at home.

As we neared the camp, I could see women walking their donkeys with yellow plastic jugs. I asked Jacobo where they were going and he told me about the well. A few years ago,the camp dug a well which is open from 5-7 pm every day. Before the well, women and girls would spend hours each day fetching water so the new well has made a significant impact on their lives.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

The women at the well

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

I thought about how such simple things as water are so easily taken for granted in the developed world. All I have to do is turn on the facet and out it comes, in plentiful supply. Seeing the well in person was a reminder how millions and millions of people around the world live. With little or no access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair”. – Kahlil Gibran

Once we returned to camp, I was exhausted. It was quite an eye-opening day. I had a quiet dinner with Camila and the other European camp volunteer and they told me some of the more difficult stories about the camp. That female genital mutilation (FGM) is rampant in Tanzania despite it being banned and illegal by the government. That the process is horrifying and the young girl is cut with unsanitary knives and left to lay and bleed alone for months inside the boma. That Jacobo lost his first wife in childbirth because she was unable to deliver her baby safely after her the trauma caused by FGM. And the list goes on.

It was hard for me to reconcile my beliefs on how as a world we should intervene. Despite the belief that we should respect certain cultures and traditions that have been held since the beginning of mankind, it does not make them right or justifiable. Sadly change is difficult but not impossible.

Mkuru Maasai Training Camp

View outside my tent that night

Want to learn more? Here are some excellent articles:

“In Tanzania, Maasai women who reject FGM are refused as Brides” via Reuters

“Maasai in Tanzania: World Fame but Empty Stomachs” via the Guardian

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

WaterAid – Tanzania (Fact: 14 million people in Tanzania have no choice but to drink dirty water from unsafe sources).


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The Power of Five: How Amway is Beating Malnutrition around the world

Did you know that the first five years in a child’s life are critical for reaching important physical and mental milestones – and every year, more than 3 million children die from malnutrition? It is a tragedy that is entirely preventable and can be stopped. 

This past September at the Social Good Summit in New York City, I had the opportunity to meet with Jeff Terry, head of Amway’s Global Corporate Social Responsibility, to learn about the work he’s leading to address childhood malnutrition around the world. Founded in 1959 in Ada, Michigan, Amway has grown to become a global leader in health, nutrition, home and beauty products sold through Independent Distributors.

Seeing a growing need to combat malnutrition, Amway harnessed their expertise on nutritional supplements to launch the Nutrilite Power of 5 program.  The program delivers Nutrilite™ Little Bits™– a plant-based nutritional product specially designed for under-nourished children from six months to five years old the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop healthier brains and bodies. Amway works with key NGO partners in the field to provide education for families and children as well as monthly health assessments to check on progress. To date, Amway and their partners have performed up to 47,000 health assessments to ensure progress over the long-term, and have provided over 6,500 with the nutrition they need to survive and thrive.

An Amway team visits families in Zambia. Photo credit: Amway

An Amway team visits families in Zambia. Photo credit: Amway

Jeff came to Amway over four years ago and has been working closely with their team on the development and launch of the Power of Five campaign ever since. Seeing a growing crisis in malnutrition and a strong urge to help save lives, Amway used their strong knowledge and expertise in the nutritional supplement industry to launch the Power of Five program which was named to represent the importance of the first five years of life in a child’s development.

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#Nourishthefuture: Plumpy’Nut Nutritional Paste is Saving Lives

“Recognizing and addressing the world’s malnutrition problem as one of the major underlying impediments to eradicating global poverty and economic growth will not only save lives, it is critical to the success of the U.S. government’s ability to advance our global development objectives.” – Edesia


A dear friend of mine and fellow social good blogger, Elizabeth Atalay ( is a mother of four, living in Rhode Island and is following her passion to help mothers and children around the world through advocacy and using her voice as a blogger. Elizabeth recently began working with local Rhode Island non-profit Edesia who produces a nutritional paste called Plumpy’Nut that is used globally by the World Food Programme, USAID and UNICEF to treat severe malnutrition.

Severe malnutrition impacts millions of children around the world and is highly preventable.

  • According to UNICEF, there are at least 51 million children in our world under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition, a condition directly responsible for at least 1 million young child deaths each year.
  • Stunting occurs in children who have access to food but for whom nutrition and hygiene are inadequate; 165 million children are stunted and will experience lifelong cognitive and physical deficits that cannot be overcome. The irreversible stunting that occurs in children as a result of prolonged under nutrition, causes children to underperform in school and have lifelong health problems, furthering perpetuating economic loss and the cycle of poverty for families, communities, and countries.
  • Malnutrition contributes to an estimated 45% of all child deaths as it makes a child more susceptible to other life threatening diseases and illnesses. Malnourished children are 9 times more likely to die from diarrhea and 6 times more likely to die from pneumonia.
  • Malnutrition is called the silent killer because often it goes unnoticed until it is too late.
  • The economic toll of malnutrition costs countries millions of dollars each year.
  • Proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to two years of age – is critical to a child’s healthy development and future productivity in society.

Navyn Salem began her journey in helping malnourished children in 2007 as a stay-at-home mom of four young girls. Horrified by the growing numbers of malnourished kids around the world Navyn decided to do something about it. She began with operations in her father’s homeland, Tanzania, and worked with the government and the French company Nutriset to produce Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods known as RUTFs. A factory was built in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital and today they provide RUTFs to nine neighboring African countries.

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The Children of Syria: Hunger in a War Zone

“The world has stood and watched as the children of Syria have been shot, shelled and traumatized by the horror of war. The conflict has already left thousands of children dead, and is now threatening their means of staying alive.

We understand there is a political debate over what to do next in Syria, but we believe everyone can agree on the critical need for safe humanitarian access across the entire country. There is no room for delay or argument: Syria’s children must not be allowed to go hungry.”

-Roger Hearn, Save the Children’s regional director for the Middle East.

Save the Children distributes bread to residents of Za'atari refugee camp

Save the Children distributes bread to residents of Za’atari refugee camp. Photo credit: Nicole Itano/Save the Children

Last week at the Social Good Summit in New York City, I attended a small panel discussion hosted by Save the Children, ONE and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  It was a rare opportunity to hear some of the top social advocates and leaders speak about some of the pressing developments in social good involving eliminating extreme poverty, using technology for activism, and the current crisis in Syria.

One of the most touching conversations at the roundtable that day was listening to the President and CEO of Save the Children Carolyn Miles discuss the growing crisis in Syria and its tragic impact on its children. A week after returning from New York, I am still reflecting hard on these children and wondering how on earth I can help spread the word and raise awareness of their plight.

The war in Syria is one of the largest humanitarian crisis of our time and sadly Syria’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, are paying the price.

On September 23rd, coinciding with the gathering of global leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York for UN Week, Save the Children released a startling report titled “Hunger in a War Zone: The Growing Crisis Behind the Syria Conflict“. I read the report and could not put it down. The images of Syria’s children still haunt me and I had to do something to spread the word about what is going on and how we can help.

Here is a summary of the key findings of the report. All information below as well as images being used with permission from Save the Children. To read the report in full, click here.


Zeina *, two, at her home in a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. Zeina and her family are living in a small tent on the Syrian border. The father, Ahmad, has been part of Save the Children as Cash for Work programme, and used the money on food and water for the whole family. Thousands of children and their families continue to stream into neighbouring countries. Most of those who have escaped are living in makeshift shelters, unsuitable buildings or in overcrowded camps, amid growing shortages of food, medicine and water. * Names have been changed to protect identities. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Pictures tell a story. They show the world the people who are really suffering in Syria. Its most innocent and vulnerable: Their children.

This is the photo that struck a chord in my heart. She could be my own daughter. Same age. Same love for stuffed animals. But no smile to greet the day.

RS60518_Children with toys (2)-scr

Refugee child in Iraq. Most of the refugees did not manage to bring any belongings with them when they fled Syria. Some children managed to save their favourite teddy bear or doll. Others have received new toys after moving to the camp. Photo Credit: Rob Holden/Save the Children

It is hard to look at these photographs and not feel some inherent urge to jump on a plane and save them. As a mother of two children, ages 6 and 8, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for these parents and their children.

In mid-September, it was estimated that there are over 4 million displaced families living inside of Syria’s borders in temporary housing with little access to food to feed their children and barely a drip of water. Another two million have fled the country pouring into neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt at a rate of nearly 6,000 day*.

Some families are living in abandoned industrial buildings while others in makeshift refuge camps. The World Health Organization has deemed the crisis in Syria “to be one of the worst ongoing humanitarian crisis on earth”. As the sun begins to turn cold and food becomes more and more scarce, what will these families feed their growing, hungry children?


Zeina *, two, at her home in a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. *Names have been changed to protect identities. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Per Save the Children, “More than four million Syrians — more than two million of them children — are unable to produce or buy enough food, with many thousands living under fire and with no access to all but the bare minimum foodstuffs needed to survive. Save the Children is already seeing reports that one in 20 children in rural Damascus is severely malnourished”.**

One of the biggest issues right now is the fact that most of Syria’s families are trapped in dangerous locations where they have little or no access to food. They are faced with making the unimaginable decision. To stay inside their homes and starve or to face bullets and death by leaving the safety of their homes to get food for their family. It is a choice no parent should have to make.

“A message to the World” 

“This is a message from the Syrian people to world leaders. I am 13 years old and I am Syrian. I am Ali. I want to talk about the tragedy that we have in Syria. In Syria, we have no good food and not enough water. We only have lentils. So we ate lentils every day. We would see wounded people and dead bodies every day in the street, and many children who did not have homes. They are living in schools. But now they don’t even have a school to live in. I am asking the leaders of the world to provide us safe shelter, food, water, medicine – this is all we ask. Please, please, please – help us”. 

-Ali, 13 years old***

Maya * 11 months, at her home in a disused industrial building in Lebanon near the Syrian border *All names have been changed to protect identities. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Maya * 11 months, at her home in a disused industrial building in Lebanon near the Syrian border *All names have been changed to protect identities. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Another issue is that the war has destroyed Syria’s economy pulling a once relatively prosperous country into shambles. The United Nations “now estimates close to seven million inhabitants have been plunged into poverty since fighting began. In addition, Syria’s agriculture and infrastructure are collapsing, with grain production falling to less than half of what was typical before the war”**. Furthermore, “after two and a half years of war, the conflict has set Syria back 35 years and imposted an economic cost of more than $84 billion, equivalent to over 140 % of Syria’s pre-war GDP”. *** Once the war ends, rebuilding is going to be a long and painful journey.


A child plays in the dirt at a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

What Save the Children is asking world leaders is to secure humanitarian access to the people per Save the Children’s Carolyn Miles. There are 7 million people in need of assistance and 5 million people stuck inside the country. Save the Children strongly believes that regardless of the political situation in Syria, we must do something about this enormous humanitarian crisis. We must act and we must act now. Time is running out for the millions of children and families who are suffering and facing extreme hunger and malnutrition. The world must listen and help.

Here is a link to what needs to be done. (See page 19)

Here is the latest response by global leaders: Press Release 10/02/13 Save the Children “UN Aid Access Agreement Could Save Thousands of Lives in Syria”.

The fight to save Syria’s children is far from over. We need to act now and spread the word. We need to voice our concern.

This is what is at stake: Children. 


Suhad * six, lies on the floor of her home in a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. *Names have been changed to protect children’s identities. Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children


Nadia *, one and a half, is carried by her mother Roula * outside their home in a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. *Names have been changed to protect identities. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children


Rami*, two, at her home in a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. *Names have been changed to protect identity. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Related Posts and References:

*“Six Million Displaced by War in Syria” via the Atlantic

**Food Shortages Put Syria’s Children at Risk of Malnutrition

***Hunger in a War Zone: The Growing Crisis Behind the Syria Conflict

Highlights from the 2013 Social Good Summit

To keep in touch with the latest updates on Save the Children’s work in Syria and how you can help, click here.

About Save the Children

Save the Children is the leading independent organization for children in need, with programs in 120 countries, including the United States. We aim to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children, and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives by improving their health, education and economic opportunities. In times of acute crisis, we mobilize rapid assistance to help children recover from the effects of war, conflict and natural disasters. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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