A funny thing about being a writer is that some assignments become part of your life. Seven years ago, I wrote about a community-based micro-enterprise program called BEADS (Beads for Education, Advancement, Development and Success) that was helping Maasai mothers in Kenya sell hand-beaded dog collars in the United States as a way to pay for their daughters’ tuition. (“Good Deeds with Beads,” Bark, Winter 2004).
Without education, many Maasai girls end up in arranged marriages as the second or third wife of an older man, expected to have many children—neither able to provide education for their own daughters nor improve the family’s standard of living. Even a high school education can break this cycle.
The beautiful patterned collars are what first captured my interest (I still love the one I bought—they make great gifts), but after talking with BEADS cofounder Debby Rooney, I became interested in doing more to support the program’s education goals through direct sponsorship.
My husband and I began paying school fees for a third grader named Lynn. At the time, BEADS sponsors were covering tuition for 127 students, most of whom were the first girls in their family to attend school. Today, more than 320 are sponsored, and Lynn will enter ninth grade in January.
On Friday, I am leaving for a trip to Africa, which will include nearly two weeks in Isinya, Kenya, where Lynn lives and attends school with many other BEADS-sponsored girls. It is also where BEADS is in the process of building its own high school (more on that, when I return).
My sister Whitney will be joining me and, along with Debby Rooney and Rukia Kadidi, who was the first BEADS college graduate and now manages the program, we will celebrate the eighth grade graduation, lead journaling, writing and reading classes for 40 girls, help build a traditional Maasai hut on the grounds of the future school and much more. I will also have my first chance to meet Lynn and her family, and offer in person my congratulations for her accomplishments so far.
I’m happy to have been given an opportunity to support the work of BEADS—first with a collar, then a sponsorship and, now, in person. I look forward to sharing a few stories when I return.