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Sep 05

My first visit to Tareto Maa

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:

 

Celebrations

 

Tareto Maa_Aug 2013_01_Celebrations

The girls love singing and dancing and greet the arrival of guests with a ceremonial Maasai performance.

 

Handing out donated teddy bears

 

A girl carrying a teddy bear the same way a Kenyan mother carries her baby.

A girl carrying a teddy bear the same way a Kenyan mother carries her baby.

 

Learning how to ride a bicycle

 

After receiving 6 new bikes and a trailer from German donors, these tough girls spent many days learning how to ride bicycles. Though only one girl could ride in the beginning, many girls were experts by the time we left. Here Lydia is giving Armin a lift.

After receiving 6 new bikes and a trailer from German donors, these tough girls spent many days learning how to ride bicycles. Though only one girl could ride in the beginning, many girls were experts by the time we left. Here Lydia is giving Armin a lift.

 

Computer lessons

 

Despite their limited access to technology, the girls were very enthusiastic to learn about the Internet and even requested additional 'homework' questions so they could gain experience on how to more efficiently do research online to find answers.

Despite their limited access to technology, the girls were very enthusiastic to learn about the Internet and even requested additional ‘homework’ questions so they could gain experience on how to more efficiently do research online to find answers.

 

Meeting with government and nonprofit leaders

 

Hopefully the first of many cups of tea shared as common goals are discussed.

Hopefully the first of many cups of tea shared as common goals are discussed.

 

Movie Nights

 

Tareto Maa_Aug 2013_06_Movie Nights

The girls would gather around eagerly anticipating the start of the movie. Their favorite? Pippi Longstocking – the story of an empowered and independent girl!

 

Official opening of the library

 

The library has set up official office hours now that it has received 50 pounds worth of children's books including Dr. Seus and the Bernstein Bears. The girls love spending the afternoon gathering in groups to read aloud together.

The library has set up official office hours now that it has received 50 pounds worth of children’s books including Dr. Seus and the Bernstein Bears. The girls love spending the afternoon gathering in groups to read aloud together.

 

First taste of Pop Rocks

 

Tareto Maa_Aug 2013_08_Pop Rocks

Everyone got a kick out of their first taste of Pop Rocks – an American candy that pops and jumps inside your mouth when you taste it.

 

Girl empowerment through the Maasai Bracelet and Change Purse projects

 

The girls crocheted recycled plastic bags into change purses and made traditional Maasai bracelets (using the colors of the Tareto Maa logo). These items will be sold in the US with half of the proceeds going to support the efforts of Tareto Maa and the other half benefiting a project of the girls' choice. They have decided to use the money from the items they made during this school break to purchase running shoes.

The girls crocheted recycled plastic bags into change purses and made traditional Maasai bracelets (using the colors of the Tareto Maa logo). These items will be sold in the US with half of the proceeds going to support the efforts of Tareto Maa and the other half benefiting a project of the girls’ choice. They have decided to use the money from the items they made during this school break to purchase running shoes.

 

The Macarena

 

The girls announced that they wanted to do the Macarena and somehow convinced Jackie to join in. Upon hearing about this incidence, Jackie's coworkers insisted on seeing video footage. Jackie and the dancing divas acquiesced to their conditions - but only after money for a fruit basket was raised to treat the performers as they returned back to school. Overall, both sides were very pleased with the results of this challenge.

The girls announced that they wanted to do the Macarena and somehow convinced Jackie to join in. Upon hearing about this incidence, Jackie’s coworkers insisted on seeing video footage. Jackie and the dancing divas acquiesced to their conditions – but only after money for a fruit basket was raised to treat the performers as they returned back to school. Overall, both sides were very pleased with the results of this challenge.

 

A girl with bike and teddy bear

A girl with bike and teddy bear

 

6 comments

  1. Jan Bacon

    Thanks Jackie. Glad you had such a wonderful visit there. So much distrust of charitable groups in my heart these days. It’s nice to see that my hopes for Tareto Maa are not misplaced. And so great you are working in the US on this (I’m in Canada :)
    (hugs) jan

  2. Michelle LePage

    Hi, Jackie,

    Thanks for the sharing your experience with us and thanks for your efforts to achieve non-profit status in the US. Can you give us some more information about the fund-raising effort with the bracelets? It might be an additional way I can support the organization.

    Michelle

  3. Nancy Kraft

    Dear Jackie,
    SO grateful for all that you’ve written and shared with us here. Thank you!
    Nancy

  4. Carien

    Thanks Jackie what a story if we all give what we can we can make the world a better place

  5. Ramona

    Thank you for the wonderful blog post, Jackie!

  6. julie berry

    wonderful and inspiring account. thank you, Jackie.

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