Project TEMBO

Working with the Maasai

Proud to be Maasai; Passionate about Human Rights 

Mary Laiser, Community Facilitator, TEMBO Trust

Mary Laiser, Community Facilitator, TEMBO Trust

TEMBO’s Community Facilitator, Mary Laiser, is a statuesque Maasai woman who speaks Maa, Swahili and English.

Mary is proud to be Maasai. She is proud of the generosity of her people; proud of the respect that is shown towards the older generation; proud of the large group “under the acacia tree” style of decision making; proud of her traditional dress and jewellery.

But Mary feels that stopping FGM is a change that must happen in the Maasai culture. With her conviction and passion for women’s and children’s rights, she works tirelessly at the grassroots level to end FGM.

When asked if FGM (female genital mutilation) is illegal in Tanzania, she replies, “Yes, FGM has been illegal since 1998, but it’s almost impossible to enforce.  The idea of FGM is sold to a Maasai girl early. She is raised to look forward to her special time when she will be spoiled with clothing, jewelry and even goats. She will make her family proud when she is initiated into womanhood and therefore properly prepared for marriage. She can join her mother, grandmothers and aunts in suffering the ritual that is sometimes called a women’s secret.”

Mary realized the need for education so that people would willingly give up the practice.

She decided to be the first Maasai woman in her community to hold an ‘alternative’ coming-of-age celebration for her daughter, Happiness.  Mary went door-to-door inviting friends and neighbours and promised a big gathering with music and a feast. She also invited all the local officials. On the big day, she cooked meat and ugali, bought cases of Fanta and borrowed one hundred plastic chairs.

The party was in full swing when Mary announced that Happiness had not undergone circumcision and never would.

Mary set a courageous example that day, and ever since she has worked tirelessly to persuade friends and neighbours to do the same. She formed a committee called Women for Education, with the aim of encouraging mothers to save money for girls’ education instead of for circumcision ceremonies. Furthermore, she continues to personally organize alternative coming of age ceremonies for other Maasai girls.