WATER MEANS EDUCATION: the story of ERUSIAI
The Erusiai Primary School was founded by Meitamei Olol Dapash and three other Maasai people in 1990. At that time, the community had no school at all for its 160 children. The closest primary school was 10 miles away, and charged prohibitive fees. No funding was available from the Kenyan government for the construction of the school, so a group of men and women raised the equivalent of 50 cents from each family to buy nails and tin roofing. Using wood from their forest, they built a one-room schoolhouse with a dirt floor.
Over the next 15 years, the community continued to raise money to hire additional teachers and supplies and to build more classrooms. But their best efforts were not producing quality education—teachers appointed by the government were unenthusiastic about their assignments and hard to motivate, children developed asthma from the dusty floors, and no lunch program could be organized because the school had no water. Daily attendance averaged 45% of children enrolled. Year after year the school failed to produce even one student who could pass the Kenyan Primary Certificate (KPC) of Education exam that allows students to enroll in a secondary school.
The Erusiai community was well aware of the broader range of issues that prevented the school from thriving. The community identified needs for: 1) clean water, 2) cement floors in classrooms, 3) teachers who believed that Maasai students could be educated, and 4) a school lunch program. To support this vision, MERC introduced the community to Prescott, Arizona area Rotary clubs. Led by the dedication especially of the Sunup Club in Prescott, and the support of the whole district, within a year Rotary had raised $74,000 borehole, generator, pump and distribution system, bringing clean water to the school for the first time. That well was completed in late Fall 2007. The floors were cemented. New teachers’ houses were built with sanitation facilities and vegetable gardens, in efforts to recruit better teachers, and a Maasai women, Miss Kanana, accepted the position of head teacher.
The school, under Miss Kanana, maintains high standards for both the students and the teachers. In 2008 Erusiai Primary was designated the Most Improved Primary School in Narok District, out of roughly 500 schools. Daily attendance is over 95% and enrollment is today at over 600 children. This high enrollment includes large numbers of children enrolled from other communities, who walk many kilometers each day to reach the school, and equal numbers who have moved in with Erusiai relatives to attend the school.
More than half of the children being educated at Erusiai are girls and within just one year of access to clean water, the school produced for the first time not just one candidate for the 2008 KCP exam, which enables entry into secondary school, but 30; 25 of those admitted passed the exam, 10 of whom were girls.
Maasai families have difficult choices regarding whether to educate their daughters and sons, as education can mean either increased or diminished opportunity. There are few jobs for Maasai high school graduates in Maasailand, despite the presence of a lucrative tourism industry, as Maasai people face employment discrimination. When children attend school they miss the education they would receive at home; boys do not learn to herd, and miss warrior training, and girls do not marry in their teens and undergo training in women’s culture. Many times, educated Maasai youth must leave the community to find work in towns, and they lose not just their place in the economy but also the cultural life of the community.
So education is a risk. But, as a community’s economy improves through access to clean water, as cattle are healthier, men enabled to stay closer to home to care for them, and people are healthier and better able to work, and daughters can be freed from carrying water and other necessities, the future looks less desperate, and parents are more willing to take this risk.
In 2010, the Erusiai water project was expanded as World Vision, an international organization that supports water projects in Maasailand, added miles of pipes and 15 new kiosks to and troughs to the existing system, and that has brought water to four more schools.