Moses Ole Kinayia, Seattle, Washington

Moses Kinayia, Director of ELAND

Now 35, Moses Ole Kinayia says it took him seven years longer than usual to get his master’s degree. He said those years were spent herding cattle in southern Kenya, where he grew up.

“My father did not want me to go to school,” said Kinayia, a member of the Masai tribal community. “Every year my father pulled me out of school during the dry spell just to follow animals.”The fourth of 36 children, Kinayia was the first in his family to attend elementary school. Sunday, Kinayia received a master’s degree in public administration from Seattle University in a ceremony at Qwest Field.

His father was in the hospital and unable to make the commencement but his mother, cousin and neighbor flew in.

“Though he continued to insist I should leave school, he continues to be my best friend,” Kinayia said of his father. The patriarch has since permitted several younger brothers and sisters to go to school.

That’s why Kinayia started a Seattle-based nonprofit organization called ELAND when he moved to Seattle in 2005 to start graduate school. Short for Education for Leadership and Network Development, the nonprofit funds scholarships for other Masai students. An eland is an African antelope with spiral, twisted horns.

“When you are educating one child, you are not just educating one person, you are educating a whole family and you empower a whole community,” he said.

Melissa Denmark, who lived with Kinayia’s family when she studied abroad in college, said if you could only see where he came from, you would understand why his graduation is such a worthy achievement.

Like most Masai people, Kinayia’s parents are nomadic cattle herders, moving from place to place in search of water and grass. His father had five wives. Kinayia grew up in a hut made of cow dung. English is his third language.

“Education isn’t looked upon as a priority” in Masai culture, said Denmark, who now serves on ELAND’s board. “A few people go through, but it’s not the traditional path.”

Denmark was so impressed by Kinayia in college that she and her husband ended up helping him pay college tuition in Nairobi, and then at Seattle University.

While earning his degree, Kinayia worked part time at the school’s reprographics department and started building ELAND. So far, the organization has raised $30,000, which funds tuition for five college students in Kenya, several of them girls. He also built a community-resource center to house a library and museum.

Kinayia hopes to help the Masai community diversify its economy beyond herding with knowledge and practical job skills.

“They have very little land for grass,” Kinayia said. “Now they are much more vulnerable to drought, famine, unpredictable weather conditions because of global warming.”

The Masai ceded most of their land to the British in a 1904 treaty. In recent years, herdsmen have protested for the Kenyan government to return the land.

Kinayia also wants to start a child-rescue program to prevent female genital mutilation and child marriages.

“I want to bridge the gap between here and there,” he said. “We no longer live in a world where a community can live in isolation. The global village affects everyone.”

With his degree focusing on nonprofit management, Kinayia says he understands how to work with donors in the U.S. and how to tailor programs that will make a difference in the Masai community.

He plans to stay in the U.S. for the immediate future. Right now he’s looking for a job with a nonprofit or trying to get ELAND fully funded.

“Eventually I will need to go back and walk among my people.”

Source: Seattle Times

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