Maanda Ngoitiko reflects on her childhood, PWC and education in Tanzania

I recently spoke with Maanda Ngoitiko, founder of Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), African Initiatives’ longest-standing partner.

Maanda reflected on the challenges of her childhood, particularly her education and steadfast refusal of a marriage proposition. I was also fascinated to learn more about the early days of PWC and to hear Maanda’s thoughts on our Equal Rights to Quality Education project, which is the focus of our upcoming Big Give Christmas Appeal (27th November – 4th December).

Maanda’s Childhood

Maanda is a Maasai woman who is from the Ngorongoro region of northern Tanzania; her family are traditional pastoralists and she grew up moving around with the cattle. To start with, I was intrigued to hear about what life was like growing up in a Maasai community in Tanzania.

“Life was not easy as a child. In my family, just my older sister and I managed to go to primary school. My sister did not complete her primary education; she was arranged to be married, and accepted. After she dropped out, my father agreed I should go to school.”

Out of twenty-eight children in her village who went to school, just two were girls.

“I went to a day school which was an 8km walk from my home. I would wake up at 4am to milk the cows and clean the house, there was no water at home so I would frequently go to school without washing.”

“Those first few months were really challenging. Lessons were taught in Swahili but I spoke Maasai, and as the teachers were not Maasai, they couldn’t properly communicate with me. In school – before and after class – children did chores for the teachers: we collected water, milk and firewood. If you refused, you were beaten. I felt extremely isolated, even more so when my friend was married off in Standard V and dropped out of education.”

It was at this point that Maanda developed her interest in becoming a teacher and she began to grow close to a retired teacher in her village. “I wanted a generation of Maasai women who were free to talk and make their own decisions.” And when the time came for Maanda to be married, she stood her ground and refused.

“My father did not believe I meant it! I didn’t want to leave my community, and when my husband-to-be went to sell a cow, I complained and was beaten by 4 teachers. My mother stood by me; for this show of solidarity she went without food as my brothers and uncles blamed her for my decision. It was a very difficult time for us both.”

Maanda developed a reputation in her village as the ‘bad girl’ – the girl who refused to marry. With the help of the newly formed pastoralist NGO Kipoc, at 15 years-of-age she ran away to Dar es Salaam to escape forced marriage.

The Birth of Pastoral Women’s Council

After completing a diploma in Development Studies in Ireland, Maanda returned to her home community to set up PWC. She faced much opposition: the village leader refused to help if she remained unmarried and many women in her community were opposed to the idea. Irrespective of this, nothing was going to stand in her way and she achieved her vision of an organisation which, through its focus on girls’ education, frees Maasai girls’ lives and minds.

“10 women sat under a tree founded PWC. We all believed in the importance of solidarity, education and economic empowerment. We were a dedicated and courageous workforce of women who went from one village to the next, without food or transport, spending a week discussing education, land rights and women’s position in our society. I wanted to encourage women that a freer life was possible, and it started with educating girls.”

African Initiatives’ founder Mike Samson liked the idea of working with Maasai women to bring about change. Maanda told me how she liked that African Initiatives, like PWC, was a small organisation with an ambitious vision. “He travelled to Loliondo with us, a small group of women who could make an impact.”

For Maanda, Naishorwa Masago is a memorable pastoralist child who has had her life changed by PWC. Read her story here.

“An education allows girls to make their own decisions about their future and to participate in the community with dignity and respect.”

The Education Context in Tanzania

Our Big Give Christmas Challenge Appeal 2018 is dedicated to improving access to education, quality of teaching, transition to secondary education and, security and governance of schools in northern Tanzania.

Our project focus is Equal Rights to Quality Education which is implemented in partnership with PWC, Community Aid and Small Enterprises Consultancy (CASEC) and Community Research and Development Services (CORDS). Specifically, PWC works in 19 schools located in Monduli and Ngoronogoro districts. Read more about our project here.

With this in mind, I wanted to get Maanda’s thoughts on her country’s current educational landscape.

“Educational policies in Tanzania are complicated; there is a disparity between theory and practice in the schools themselves. We need to consider how to provide children with a comprehensive learning process rather than primarily the tools needed to pass exams, which in the long-term, will help produce graduates.”

“School health clubs are strong platforms for girls to meet and discuss important issues such as sexual reproductive health. I have found that bullying has decreased now that students are talking about it, I believe it is really important for the educational environment to be open and non-judgemental.”

Overall, however, the resources available in Tanzania’s schools are still minimal, and so there is much more that can be done to improve children’s educational experience. For instance, limited access to sanitary products is an ongoing problem as it leads to discomfort and distraction, with many girls missing school during the days of their period, in turn, affecting their academic performance.

“Beatings are something that I want to be eliminated; boys and girls should view education as an enjoyment not a punishment or isolating experience.”

In terms of the lessons learnt so far, Maanda feels that future education projects should focus on fewer schools in great depth, for more impact. It is also important to plan for the future with this project to monitor its longer-term impact on the lives of the boys and girls it has reached in addition to the 4,300 primary and secondary school teachers who have benefited from teacher training.

Our Christmas Appeal 2018

Our Big Give campaign will launch at midday on Tuesday 27th November (Giving Tuesday) and it will be live until midday on Tuesday 4th December. In this time, your generosity will be doubled when you donate online! Keep an eye out for updates on our social media platforms and website or sign up to our e-newsletter.