Education and Empowerment: How One School in Kenya Is Helping Maasai Girls Find Their Voice

Founded in 2013, the Nasaruni Academy provides life-changing educational opportunities for disadvantaged Maasai girls in rural Kenya. At Nasaruni, girls experience the life-changing impact of education. They can dream about—and actively seek—their own futures of new opportunities. They delay early marriage and are able to look forward to independent, fulfilling lives. With the support of our donors, we’ve been able to serve as a partner to the Nasaruni Academy, helping provide scholarship opportunities for students to attend the school.

We invite you to join us for a talk with Michelle Cude, Executive Director and Chair of the U.S.-based Nasaruni Education Foundation. During her presentation, Michelle will take a deeper dive into Nasaruni’s programs, highlights from their latest graduating class, and an overview of their new high school building!

Learn more about our partnership with Nasaruni here!

Date: December 9th, 2022


michelle cude headshot

Michelle D. Cude
Executive Director, Chair of USA Board

Originally from California, Michelle Cude graduated from UC Berkeley with a history degree and came east to work in the museums field before her teaching career. She worked as a character interpreter and program designer for 4 years at Colonial Williamsburg. Returning to her first love of teaching, she relocated to teach middle school US history in Fairfax County for nine years. Turning to teacher education to have a greater impact, Michelle earned her Ph.D. in social studies education at University of Virginia. Her dissertation was on civic education in St. Petersburg, Russia, written while living there—with her adopted daughters—for 9 months (yes, through the winter!).

As a Fulbright Scholar in Kenya for 2017-2018, she enjoyed researching and teaching at Maasai Mara University while living and working at the Nasaruni Academy. Currently, she enjoys teaching future social studies teachers at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, especially in cultural competencies and global education. She emphasizes the power of an individual’s actions to change the world.

  • How many students does the academy currently accommodate? 
    • Nasaruni Academy (primary school) has 96 currently. The Nasaruni High School has 103 girls. January is the beginning of the new school year, so we are anticipating even more joining us.
  • How often do the girls who board at the school see their families?
    • That’s a good question which I know I wondered about initially myself. They do sometimes get lonely and miss their family, just like kids here at a boarding school. Love of family—universal experience.  They do have a mid-term break of usually four or so days which they go home for. Parents also come to see them sometimes. A term is about 2 ½ months long. Then they get to go home for a month. By the middle or end of that they are very eager to come back, girls told me. 😊  School is a very uplifting and positive place for them, and they are grateful for the chance to focus on their studies and not be distracted by chores and tending livestock and other work which they usually do when they go home.
  • Is English one of the classes taught at Nasaruni?
    • Yes. As is KiSwahili. And the other courses, except for KiSwahili, are all taught in English after about grade 4. Before that it is a combination of KiSwahili and English and sometimes KiMaa (Maasai language).
  • Do families pay tuition or pay for uniforms?
    • What is the cost of a year of educating a girl? Yes, parents are supposed to pay both the uniform and the school fees (same as in other schools, even government schools). However, they are rarely all paid in full. We ask sponsors to pay $365 for a primary student, and $500 for a high school student per year. This covers the fees plus a uniform.
  • What is the dropout rate? 
    • I would estimate it to be 0 – 4% varying greatly based upon the economic conditions at the time. I do know that we have some students whose parents decide they cannot pay, so they don’t send their daughter back to school, though we would likely work with them to allow her to stay if at all possible. They might try a different school or just keep them home for a term or two. Often,  those girls do come back to Nasaruni. I’ve heard they sometimes beg their fathers to let them come back. I’ve also heard Moses talk about parents who find that the public school with its very large class size of 60- 70 means the students seem to struggle to get the help and attention they need. Those who come to us from public schools are generally several grade levels behind in reading, for example, we are finding.
  • What are the 9 values of Nasaruni’s work?
    • These are very special because they were very literally chosen by the parents. We even worked with them closely to make sure the translation was accurate. Respect, honesty, love, hard work, faith, peace, patience, self-reliance, cleanliness.
  • How do you plan to mitigate fluoride in the water?
    • I’ve run into a similar issue at another school in the area.  That’s a complicated issue, we’ve found. Though a school here in the states was able to build a system which used bone char and might be replicated there in Kenya, the monitoring and maintenance of the system became problematic. We have since seen a aerator which lets the water flow over some open cauldrons. This would be our next option. However, we are currently using water catchment water to drink and the borehole water for other uses such as showers and flushing.
  • How does PopConn support Nasaruni? 
    • We are the very grateful recipients of a grant. 😊 The grant money is used directly to pay the teachers and staff at the school and for other projects such as a field trip and Girls’ Empowerment camps during the school holiday.
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The whole primary school at Nasaruni Academy.

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