I met Simantoi K in 2000, just as she was supposed to start her final year of secondary school. She was being barred, however, from returning due to a debt of nearly $1000 in back school fees she could not pay. Her determination then was no less than it had ever been, and her story is an impressive one. It is the story of a courageous girl who, despite incredible odds, would succeed in getting the education she wanted more than anything.
Simantoi is a Maasai from remote southern Kenya, the 8th child of her father’s first wife, and the only daughter to stand against her family and culture to get an education. Simantoi was raised among traditional Maasai, spending her early years herding goats and helping her mother. Her father refused to pay for school, as a girl’s education was considered a waste. Her value was in her future dowry. But Simantoi was determined to go to school. Only her mother supported her, and sold milk and charcoal and begged for contributions from friends to raise money. Barefoot but in uniform, Simantoi went. Still, there was only enough money for her to attend about one-third of each term, and she was regularly sent home due to unpaid fees. But she always returned, with whatever money her mother could raise.
When she graduated from primary school at age 12, her marriage had been arranged. She refused. Her father would not speak to her or acknowledge her as his daughter. Her peers scorned her for disobeying and spurning Maasai tradition. But her mother remained steadfast. With her ongoing support, Simantoi went to secondary school, a pariah in her community. Again, though among the best students in her class, she was sent home repeatedly because fees could not be met. When she reached her final year, the school prohibited her return until past debts were paid, an impossible obstacle.
That was when I met Simantoi. I had just founded The Maasai Girls Education Fund, which gave Simantoi a scholarship that included payment of all school debts. Simantoi returned to school, graduated in good standing, and went on to become a registered nurse and certified midwife. Today she lives in Nairobi and works full time at the Fatima Health Clinic while pursuing a degree in Psychology at the University of Nairobi.
Simantoi is educated and economically independent, but she has not forgotten home. She contributes more to her family every year than her dowry would have brought. She pays their medical bills, buys shoes and school uniforms for her nieces and nephews. She also purchases food for her parents, and more. Her family is healthier and economically stronger, and they are now revered in the community for having an educated, successful daughter, whom her father readily brags about. Simantoi and her mother have changed the way her father and their entire community view girls’ education. Now everyone wants an educated daughter, “like Simantoi.” Incredibly, every girl in her family is now in school.