Global Partners, June 2024

Written by Marian Starkey | Published: June 10, 2024

Maasai Harmonial Development and Sustainability

Karen Gaia Pitts founded Maasai Harmonial Development and Sustainability in 2016 after her partner, Ben Parks, visited a Maasai student whose college tuition he had sponsored. The student, Isaack, lived in Nainokanoka Village in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania.
When Ben visited, the entire village came out for a celebration to welcome him, and the village elders presented him with a list of challenges the community faced: poverty, drought, restrictions on cultivating subsistence crops in Ngorongoro, cattle disease (cattle is currency and the primary source of sustenance in Maasai culture), and inadequate schools and health care facilities. After the elders’ presentation, a woman stood and asked Ben to help the community acquire family planning services as well. Maasai Harmonial was born from this request.
Dr. Grace Lemomo, the health educator for Maasai Harmonial, teaches a class in Nainokanoka about HIV prevention and treatment. The organization sponsored Dr. Grace’s medical studies and sends her to seminars about topics related to women’s health, education, and well-being. (Photo courtesy of Maasai Harmonial Development and Sustainability)

Maasai culture is patriarchal and sometimes polygamous, and female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage used to be nearly universal. Most Maasai families are poor and face difficulty supporting their daughters after puberty, which has traditionally led parents to marry them off. These longstanding norms and customs are disrupted, however, when girls receive an education. Going to school empowers them to avoid FGM and to choose their own husbands when they finish school.

[Early marriages] are not happening in our community now because we are sending girls to school. After their education, they will choose their own husband. The only way to stop early marriage is by sending our girls to school.

– Noondomon, Maasai women’s representative

Because of the importance of girls’ education, Maasai Harmonial provides education and lunch to preschool children; uniforms to primary school girls and mattresses for their dormitory beds; and uniforms, mattresses, school supplies, and other necessities to secondary school girls who stay in a dormitory in a government school. Maasai Harmonial currently has 72 girls in secondary school, and next year there will be even more. In 2023 alone, they enrolled 47 additional girls!

Drought, loss of access to watering holes, and the threat of eviction from Ngorongoro by the authorities has resulted in many of the men leaving the area and getting jobs as night watchmen in faraway places. This leaves their wives and children impoverished, so Maasai Harmonial buys these women sheep and goats, which provide nourishment to their families.

Another service Maasai Harmonial provides is peer-to-peer learning for adults, with instructors who live in the village and receive a small salary to teach about topics ranging from family planning, HIV/AIDS, FGM, hygiene, and puberty to Swahili and numeracy.

After Maasai Harmonial bought family planning equipment and supplies for the nearest health center, and the doctor received family planning training, women’s use of family planning doubled from 24% to 52% between 2016 and 2017. There was a setback when that doctor retired and the replacement didn’t speak Maa, the local language. Contraceptive prevalence dropped to 13% in 2020 — lower than it had been before the spike in use. Maasai Harmonial then hired two women to accompany patients when they went to the doctor to interpret between Maa and Swahili. As a result, family planning use increased again (to 63% in 2023), and the medical interpreters became knowledgeable about good health practices and were able to advise women when at home in the village.

Learn more about Maasai Harmonial Development and Sustainability in a slideshow by Karen, here.

Thank you to all of our generous donors who make our Global Partners program possible! Without you, we wouldn’t be able to support the incredible work of the 20 small but impactful organizations currently benefiting from your contributions.