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  • Writer's picturePaula Hammack

Cows for College - The Beginning

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

What started out as a question about how a Maasai warrior and safari guide tried to pay for his wife's nursing college with a cow turned into my inspiration to start the Sterling Africa Foundation.

Maasai Cows

One day in 2011, I met a young Maasai man and persuaded him to talk to me about his life at home. He told me that his wife was just starting nursing school many hours drive away in Nairobi, Kenya, and that she would be there for a total of 4 years. Knowing the financial plight of rural Kenyans, I asked how he would pay for her school.  He said he had sold a cow, but that would only pay for one term.

Older maasai men had ears elongated as in Tirian father
Older maasai men had ears elongated as in Tirian father

"How are you going to pay for the other 3.5 years of nursing school without more cows?" I asked. His answer was “I guess I will have to make a plan." But in reality, that was impossible since his father would not allow any more cows to be sold, nor could the young man make enough money in a year to pay for even one more term at the nursing school.

There was no  plan and his father would not allow the sale of any more cows to raise the rest of the money. I was so heartbroken that this young man could not pay for his wife's education, particularly when their community needed a nurse so badly. It bothered me so much that I surprised him when we got back to camp and discreetly handed him money, to compensate for the  sale of the cow. That encounter inspired me to found the Sterling Africa Foundation and begin supporting the Maasai communities I visited.  As for the young man's wife, the Sterling Africa Foundation paid for all four years of nursing school and she – Naimutie – graduated with distinction and honors – even while having a baby during college time (more on Naimutie in a future blog). 

Naimutie At Nursing School
Naimutie At Nursing School

As for Naimutie's husband, the young man who started me on this philanthropic journey that led to founding the Foundation, when he was first introduced to me, had told me his name was "Daniel." 

He told me his name was 'Daniel.' I said "that’s not a Maasai name, what is your real name?”  All his teachers had required the students to take on an "English" name and abandon their Maasai given names...

I said "that’s not a maasai name, what is your real name?”  He told me that his name is Tirian but teachers at his schools insisted on giving English names to all the students – which I consider to be very arrogant – and they were forced to use the English name as their legal name, so it is now on all documents and passports etc.   This struck me as a terrible assault on his culture and one that I refused to accommodate. I started calling him by his real name, Tirian.

Next, Tirian took me to his village where very few white people have ever visited, and that started a whole new  stage of my life which I will discuss in the next blog.


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