By Jackie Adams (Chairwoman of Tareto Maa USA)
Last night I cried myself to sleep. I was crying not only because I realized in such a such a short period of time I would be leaving the Tareto Maa Center, but it was also tears of relief. One thing that I haven’t told you is that I came to Tareto Maa not only because I wanted to visit Kenya and see what was happening at the Tareto Maa Center, but I wanted to see the truth behind it.
You see, during my Peace Corps stint in Tanzania I came into contact with a lot of NGOs. Some of these organizations came over with ideas that sounded great to a Western mind, but had no way of working in an Eastern African culture. I saw so many people thinking they could throw money at a problem to fix it and not stick around long enough to see all the other problems their ‘solution’ had created. I heard so many stories from Tanzanians about empty buildings sitting, bare and forlorn, that were once an NGO’s headquarters. I promised myself that once I had joined the working world and could financially support a nonprofit I would make sure it was a viable one.
This wasn’t the only concern that plagued me. I was also worried about the treatment of the girls here. In Tanzania, I once mentioned to a fellow teacher that a student had strolled into class twenty minutes late. Later that day, I watched in mute horror when the teacher brought in the truant, told him to grasp the edge of the table, and brutally beat his knuckles with a long wooden stick. I waited until he dismissed the student and then quickly walked to my house and locked myself in for the rest of the day – knowing that if I had interrupted the punishment the student would probably have received a more severe beating when the white girl wasn’t around. I almost broke down crying when the net day the student, all by himself, approached me before class and apologized for being late.
Considering these are just a couple of my experiences, perhaps you will understand why I’ve wanted to be involved with Tareto Maa, but have been reticent to fully commit. For the past several months I have been firing questions at the leaders of Tareto Maa trying to understand exactly how it functions, whether it is really integrated with the local community, and how it treats the girls that reside here. Armin, my German counterpart, will be able to explain (probably a bit more enthusiastically than I’d like) what a pain in the @ss I’ve been making countless inquiries until finally his answer was just wait till you see it and decide for yourself.
I can feel my throat tighten with emotion as I tell you I feel honored to be a part of Tareto Maa. I had no idea that the Kenyan board members of Tareto Maa were all volunteers (heck, in Peace Corps we always had to pay people a stipend just to attend an educational meeting because that was expected according to the Eastern African culture). I had no idea how many donations from the community Tareto Maa had received in the form of food, clothing, timber, iron sheets for the roof, and sponsorships for the girls. I’ve never seen Eastern Africans look after other peoples’ children the way Moma Rona and the other leaders watch over these girls – playing with them, rebuking them when necessary, but most of all treating them like one of their own.
I was shocked when I facilitated a conversation with next years’ high school graduates and explained that Tareto Maa was just a small organization and we wouldn’t have enough money to send them all to college (as they had informed me that they wanted to become doctors and lawyers). They accepted this news with calm nods. I explained our idea of creating a Tareto Maa Training Center where the girl could learn trades such as hairdressing, tailoring, farming and computer skills and they all broke into smiles and agreed warmly that “This is good”. I had been so scared that we had created a mini-society depending on the Europeans and Americans for money and thinking that there was an endless supply. But their reaction when they heard that their dreams may not be attainable but that there was a reasonable and good Option B made me want to start laughing with joy and relief.
I don’t have much and I am only one person, but through God’s grace I will do what I can. I have been dragging my feet on the 25 page document that still needs final revisions before submitting it to the IRS so that the US chapter of Tareto Maa can receive tax abatement, but I will finish it and send it in within a month. I will continue reaching out to family, friends, coworkers and both the community I grew up in and the community I now live in for support. The mission of Tareto Maa is one I can stand behind because even my jaded eyes have seen that it is good. This trip has been a success in ways I didn’t dare even hope for when embarking. And as I look upon the Maasai bracelets on my wrists that the girls made themselves– the ones that I told the girls I would not remove until I had returned to Tareto Maa next year – I know I cannot forget this.
The following are a few of the projects and activities which the girls participated in during their school break:
Handing out donated teddy bears
Learning how to ride a bicycle
Meeting with government and nonprofit leaders
Official opening of the library
First taste of Pop Rocks
Girl empowerment through the Maasai Bracelet and Change Purse projects