“I like being Maasai but girls do not have any rights”

My name is Lenoy Massago. I am 17 and a student at Emanyata Secondary, a school in Ngorongoro District of Tanzania that’s supported by African Initiatives.
When I was 12 years my father wanted me to get married to an old man – a stranger. My father wanted to get the bride price and become rich from me.
Forced marriage is a bad thing but it happens a lot in Tanzania, especially in Maasai communities. I have lots of teenage friends in very bad situation. Some have husbands who are 60 and 70 years and they have many children and they are only 17 years like me. They work very hard collecting firewood, fetching water, milking the cattle, making food and looking after the children, but they cannot afford the basic needs of their family.
Often their husbands beat them. The husbands are also unfaithful which spreads HIV. My friends who are married are not happy.
When I told my father I did not want to get married and have children so young but wanted to get an education because education can help me to have a good life in the future, he felt very bad. Maasai culture is extremely male-dominated – women and girls do not have any rights or choices in life.
My father did not understand why I wanted to go to school. Maasai do not see the value of education for girls because girls will be married off in exchange for cattle and become the responsibility of the husband’s family. But I was lucky because my father said, “OK daughter.” Finally he did not force me to get marriage as the fathers of my friends.
I knew about an organisation called the Pastoral Women’s Council [the PWC is one of African Initiatives’ partners] because they go around the villages in Ngorongoro District talking to communities about the benefits of education. The people listen to them because they are from Maasai and other pastoralist tribes. The PWC are the managers of Emanyata Secondary School and they encouraged me to take the entrance exam and brought me to this school.
I have been at Emanyata for four years. It is a very good school. We are taught academic subjects and indigenous knowledge – for example how to make better use of the land. Here our environment is good as we have water to drink and solar power. We are eating well and also we are sleeping well.
I am lucky that I have a hostel place at the school. My family live in a remote village in Soit Sambu ward. If I had to walk to school, men could rape me and dangerous animals in the forest could attack me – there are lions here.
Because I sleep at school I can do homework instead of washing the dishes and collecting firewood – work I would have to do at home.
I have five brothers and one sister. My parents are feeling good because they now have information that education is good. They now understand that I will have a better future.
I like being Maasai. There are some bad cultural practices liked forced marriage and female genital mutilation, but there is a good sense of community. And Ngorongoro is a very beautiful place. I love to see the cattle graze.
But I want to determine my future. I want to be a doctor because even now in our country people are dying because there is no one who can help. There is no hospital where I live. If I was a doctor in a hospital I could stop people dying. I would like to stay here in Ngorongoro District to help my own people.
And I want to choose my husband… definitely. I want an educated husband like me so he can help me to solve various problems.
I hope you can help support girls like me at Emanyata. It is the only community school in the district and provides a good education for Maasai girls. Emanyata will enable girls to help themselves and their communities in the future.