MAASAI FEAR – #underthemask

Today we are returning to Africa for our latest #blogpost from the #coronavirus story. We have many connections, in many countries, but as some of you may know we have been heavily invested in the #Maassai over the last 12 months. A letter we received this week triggered us to return to the poster-tribe of #Kenya, to gauge the fear  that is spreading faster through Africa than the virus itself.

In January 2019 we travelled to Narok county, the gateway to the Maasai Mara.

We were there to explore, with a collection of primary-school children, experiences growing up, with the threat of genital cutting and the early marriage.

We returned six weeks later, to deliver the finished film.

The consequence has been that we have remained invested in Maasai culture and in the lives of the girls in particular. We are currently supporting four, who left their families. They chose to isolate themselves from their nearest and dearest and chose education rather than a life as a child bride.

Ironic that they have now been forced out of their schools, as they have closed as a response to the threat of Covid-19.

Then we received an urgent cry for help, forwarded from a friend on social media. It didn’t relate directly to our programme of work. But it shone a bright light on the concerns of the community.

An award-winning game-reserve, Maasai-led, is facing ruin. Tourism has stopped and the economic constrictions in the country are creating fears that game animals will be seen as meat, rather than a sustainable resource and source of tourist revenue.

We spoke to William Tiampeti, who runs our Maasai partner NGO in Narok.

He says part of the problem lies in the response of the tribal elders:

“There is rampant ignorance across the Maasai community with regard to Covid-19,” he says. “The community needs enhanced public health education in the local dialect especially through radio so as to reach as many people as possible.

“The Maasai elders have understood the virus to be a curse against those who have oppressed others in society.

“They believe the virus has come to stop the politicians from travelling overseas for treatment so that they can commit resources to improve local health infrastructure for the benefit of all.”

So far (at time of writing) just over 4,000 Kenyans have been tested for the virus.  There are 160 cases and six deaths. This is tiny compared to what we’ve seen in America, Spain, Italy and China. But imagine the rampancy if it does take hold. The healthcare infrastructure is fragile and its all paid at point of delivery. The population is scared.  In an economy where basic needs of food and shelter remain a significant priority, thousand will die.

The Maasai population is turning to traditional medicine to keep itself safe. “They are taking ‘Seketek’ as a remedy for Covid-19,” says William. “It is made from the seketek tree that’s believed to cure a myriad of illnesses. It’s widely used now as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

“Most homesteads and shops in Narok town have taken and installed hand-washing containers at the door.”

Meanwhile the girls that we are supporting are out of school and are staying with William and his family.

“They are not allowed to go to town,” he said. “They stay indoors to study and avoid possible transmission of the virus, in case it reaches Narok.”

So far there are no cases in Narok and we hope that all will remain safe and well. Parts of the country are closed down to restrict and prohibit movement.  Supplies vehicles are moving about as normal, though with restricted staff. It seems the Kenya government is doing in its power to keep the country safe.

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