Masai on a mission for schools
Growing up in the Masai region of Kenya, Ledama OleKina had everything he desired except the chance to obtain a good education. So he temporarily moved to the United States to attend college.
After studying journalism and political science at Fort Lewis College in Colorado and the University of Massachusetts in Boston, the 27-year-old graduate is now working to ensure that every Masai child can receive a good education.
“I will dedicate every moment of my life. I’ll walk around the world to create awareness,” OleKina pledged Saturday from Boston, the day before flying to Northern California to promote his cause here.
For two years, OleKina has conducted presentations and completed 500- and 2,000-mile walks in the United States to raise awareness of Kenyan issues. OleKina estimates that his Boston-to-San Francisco trek next year will take him about 2 1/2 months to cover approximately 2,400 miles.
These intense walks are not a burden to OleKina; it’s something he has to do for his people.
“Very few of us are educated. Unless I bring education back to my people, we will lose our culture,” he said. “The reason I’m coming is to educate your people about my people and to raise awareness of my people and the need to get a good education.”
OleKina pointed out that a year in lower Kenyan grades costs about $300 and a year in high school costs about $500.
OleKina said that less than 1,000 residents in the Masai region (population 300,000) have a college education. That’s wrong to OleKina, and is one of the driving forces behind his work in the United States.
“Most Masai don’t go to college; they go home and take care of their cows. But the issue is things have changed dramatically – effects of globalization have made it impossible for us to exist without interference from Western ideas. The problem with all these Western ideas coming is they tell us whatever we’re doing is not right. Now with all these different ideas, there’s definitely a need for education.”
Besides promoting an awareness for his homeland here in the states, OleKina will open a new community college in Narok, Kenya, in January. The college will include instruction by Masai elders and American college professors. As the cattle-herding culture of the Masai is threatened by loss of lands, drought and economic forces, OleKina wants his neighbors to keep up with today’s world.
“We dress traditionally, we keep to ourselves. Now the only way we can survive is the Masais need to come up with the best of two worlds,” OleKina said. “It’s my duty to educate my people and at the same time educate Westerners.”
As a high school student, OleKina didn’t plan to go to college.
“I had a better life taking care of my cows and our culture with its beautiful ceremonies. It was a struggle going to school,” he said.
Then OleKina met a Peace Corps volunteer in the Masai region.
“He would bring in good business ideas, always respecting our culture. He did a lot of community development. He made me see that if I left my country and went to America, I could learn,” OleKina said.
Coming to the United States was an eye opener.
“My people don’t have resources Americans have,” OleKina explained. “I was shocked at everything. The elementary schools here had more books than our own university.”
OleKina hopes his work through his nonprofit organization, Maasai Education Discovery, will correct that situation.
OleKina will public presentations tonight at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center and Friday at North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center. He is also visiting Calaveras County schools and Grizzly Hill School on San Juan Ridge.
“These presentations are a way to break our cultural barriers, to share our differences,” OleKina said. “That’s the only way to understand one another and to discuss economic issues. We need to adapt to these Western ideas.”
WHAT: Ledama OleKina in Masai culture presentations
WHEN: 7 p.m. tonight at St. Joseph1s Cultural Center and 7:30 p.m. Friday at North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center
WHERE: St. Joseph1s Cultural Center is at 410 S. Church St., Grass Valley. North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center is at 17894 Tyler Foote Crossing Road on the San Juan Ridge
ADMISSION: Donation $8 to $10 adults, $5 students.
INFO: 292-0203 or
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