Something About My Sister

“There’s something I need to share with you about my younger sister.”

When you get this text from a friend, you’re curious. When your friend lives a very different life from you on the other side of the world, you worry.

William (Maasai Prince) and I first connected over social media. We met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in May 2018 and became friends. He’s an incredible musician, and I immediately connected with his passion for education, work ethic, and sense of humor. I introduced him to my Venture Travel participants; we described him as a Modern Warrior.

After returning home, William and I collaborated on several projects, communicating mostly via WhatsApp.

William (Maasai Prince) in Dar es Salaam (Instagram)

But this text justified a phone call.

William assured me that his youngest sibling was fine. At 14 years old, she had just finished primary school. Instead of advancing to secondary school, his father wanted her to get married. 

It’s all too common. According to Girls Not Brides, over 650 million women across the world already suffer the consequences of child marriage. Tanzania has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with almost two out of five girls married before their 18th birthday. In rural areas, girls may be married as early as 11 years old. It’s so important that Tanzanian child marriage was a focus in the awarding of the 2018 UN Human Rights Prize.

Knowing the long-term cost of child marriage on population growth, health, and economic growth, 193 governments recently committed to ending child marriage by 2030. This is great news, as child marriage directly hinders the achievement of at least six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When girls have the skills and opportunities to secure a job, they can support themselves and their families and break the cycle of poverty.

But then there’s day-to-day reality.

The key drivers of child marriage vary. But the biggest factor? It’s economic. Most families struggle to provide food and clothing, let alone school fees for their children. Marrying off daughters is often seen as a means of “protecting” them economically and socially. But mostly it’s one less mouth to feed, and the “bride price” in cattle or cash that supplements the family’s income.

Through several non-profits, I’ve become versed in these realities. I’ve also seen some inspiring, creative solutions.

But it’s different when it’s personal. 

I listened as William told me about his sister—she’s smart, wants to remain in school, and has dreams of becoming a pilot. His two other sisters were forced to marry much older men–one as old as 70—as young teenagers. His mother wants a different outcome for this youngest daughter.

My heart sank. Even more disheartening than the story was what I knew about the storyteller.

William (Maasai Prince) with his mother and siblings (Instagram)

William is the only of his family’s seven siblings to finish secondary school. When his father demanded he drop out of school at age 14 to herd cattle, he ran away from home. He lived with his uncle, completed secondary school, and spent a year working at a Zanzibar resort. He practiced his English and music and soaked in Western culture. Today, he lives in Dar es Salaam working as a voice artist, model, and translator. His life mission is to be a globally-known musical artist that advocates for education in the Maasai community.

If child marriage still wins over secondary education in William’s family, is there hope?

I ended our call feeling helpless. I’m no expert in education, Tanzania, or Maasai culture. And William wasn’t asking for my help. But I felt the need to do something.

I wrote a list of about 20 people connected to education in East Africa who might have some ideas about Tanzanian schools or education organizations. In an email titled “Need Your Help,” I shared William’s story.

I think every person responded.

Some voiced shared concern. Some referred me to potential resources. One offered a specific, generous offering. “Have you heard of SEGA Girls’ School? I just reached out to one of their board members.”

I found myself copied on a brand new email chain. I learned SEGA’s focus was smart, motivated girls who found themselves in this exact situation. And I learned my timing was uncanny. If William’s sister could travel to SEGA immediately and scored favorably on entrance exams, she might secure a place in the incoming class.

So now it was back to William.

And though he was in Dar es Salaam and his sister lived miles away in his family village several hours away from SEGA, William mapped out a plan–involving motorbikes, minibusses, and his mom.

And in just over a week after the email chain started, William’s sister arrived at SEGA.

She wore the clothes on her back and the sandals on her feet. The matron of the school helped her with basics—a shirt, skirt, sweater, towel, toothpaste, soap, and medical insurance card. Having grown up attending primary school in her Maasai village, she did not know English. She immediately began taking English fluency classes, in preparation for her English-based coursework that would begin in January. “You will be amazed how her English progresses in just a few months,” a SEGA board member told me.

Weeks later, William was invited to join his sister at the school’s biggest event of the year—SEGA graduation. There were speeches, songs, skits, and school tours. Graduates received awards for their achievements in sports, drama, leadership, and academics.

SEGA Graduation 2018 (Nurturing Minds)

I couldn’t wait to hear from William about the experience. “How is your sister doing?” I asked.

“She’s well. She’s very quiet,” he said. “But it’s really funny to hear her speak English!”

William and I spoke about how scary, unsettling and exciting this must be for his sister. It’s no wonder she’s quiet—imagine all she’s taking in during such a short period of time.

It led us to talk more about William’s experience learning English, and the scary, unsettling and exciting risks he took over 12 years ago to pursue his education. Ever since, he’s straddled two worlds—traditional Maasai culture and that of the “new Maasai.” 

He explained that his father is the only one in his family who cannot read or write. Even his mother learned, through years of reading the Bible. “I think my father is a little jealous of her.”

I hesitantly asked William about his relationship with his father. “He is very upset with me. He says I should not make these decisions for his family—I can make these decision for my own children.” And then I heard him smile a bit through the phone. “But sometimes,” he said, “I hear that he brags about me.”

Fortunately, William confided in me when he felt stuck. I made a specific request for help from others. My contacts, in turn, reached out to others for ideas. And now a deserving young woman is learning English and wearing a school uniform.

William’s sharing made a difference. My email made a difference.

The experience reminded me about the power of community. Of simply and directly saying “I need your help.” Of never underestimating my superpower as a “connector.”

This story starts with William’s sister. But it became something about us.

The power of our voices. And the power of our community.

To learn more about child marriage and its impact on girls in Tanzania and across the world, I recommend Girls Not Brides and reading about the 2018 UN Human Rights Prize.

Interested in joining a curious-minded community (including William (Maasai Prince) in Tanzania in October 2019? Join me in Venture Travel.

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Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!