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A Maasai Graduation

Charlotte follows Azei down the road to Lolgorien to attend a very important ceremony at the Maasai Education Centre
Above: A young woman celebrates with the proud women of her family

My first trip to Angama was just one month after I was hired and to say it was overwhelming is an understatement. I tried to spend time in every department, which meant spending late nights protecting guests with the askaris and early mornings pulling from the oven the biggest baking trays you’ve ever seen.

When not weeding in the Shamba or folding sheets in the laundry, I spent as much time with Azei as possible. I made it my mission to be his shadow for as long as I could keep up with him (which, admittedly, wasn’t very long). His job would take him to all three points of the Mara Triangle and back again in a day, and there I was enjoying the ride and the warm welcome he received everywhere he went.

Azei speaks words of encouragement and great wisdom to the new graduates

On one of these occasions, I was completely ignorant of where we were headed — armed with just a camera and a notebook — but if Azei was going, that was good enough for me. As he swerved through the cattle, dogs and potholes, Azei told me about the Maasai Education Centre (MEC) / The Style Hotel School. Founded by The Style Foundation, a Dutch organisation created in hope of creating a sustainable economy in Maasailand, Angama has provided several internships to MEC students with a number of graduates gaining employment at the lodge, while the Foundation has helped build facilities and donated beds.

Chairwoman Mariska Appelman and her husband with former MEC student Jackson, now a chef at Angama Mara

The MEC opened in August 2014 and has seen a great number of Maasai enter largely unskilled and unemployed, only to leave with a diploma, work experience and a head filled with attainable dreams. They teach a variety of year-long courses in tourism and business studies, hotel and catering, and human resource management. The teaching style is highly specialised to each student's talents and passions, as well as to the Maasai people, with elders even coming to teach traditions and culture, “because it’s important to know your roots”, as The Style Foundation Chairwoman, Mariska Appelman, says.

In contrast to the black robes, beads of all colours, patterns and styles signified this was a Maasai ceremony

We arrived at the MEC and Azei strode forth into the clamour of proud parents, grandparents and great grandparents, with me in tow. Every colour under the sun made an appearance in the dresses and suits of the crowd. The typical black graduation robes seen the world-over, were unrecognisable as the graduates walked to their seats, bejewelled with beautiful beaded necklaces, bracelets, and headdresses, all handmade with love by family members.

The Maasai elder who blessed the students on their new journey into the working world
This child was also enthralled with her stunning beadwork

The ceremony was unlike any I had previously seen, with a Maasai elder blessing the students with cow’s milk and with songs sung by all in attendance. It was a very happy day and one of high emotion. I was in tears for a fair bit of it of course, but the flood gates opened when the valedictorian gave the final speech. In congratulating his classmates he said, “Dreams don’t become reality through magic, but by hard work. We have done the hard work, now it is time to realise our dreams”.

I like to image the current cullinary students cooking Angama recipes in the kitchen we helped build

Speaking to the graduates after the ceremony, I came to understand that for many of them, their dream is being able to make their way in the working world, help support their parents and families, and contribute positively to their communities. This is exactly the vision laid out by the MEC. One of my proudest moments as part of the Angama family, that day gave me a new appreciation for the value of tradition and what it means in a modern and ever-changing world.

Filed under: Giving Back

Tagged with:

Angama Foundation , Maasai Beadwork , Maasai Culture

About: Charlotte Ross Stewart

Charlotte may be the youngest member of the team, but she is a storyteller wise beyond her years. Tasked with sharing the stories that flow out of Angama on social media, blogs and beyond, her love of people, literature and nature make this the perfect role for her.

Browse all articles by Charlotte Ross Stewart Meet the angama team

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