An important aspect of the Basecamp concept is to empower and provide opportunities for Maasai women. Basecamp believes that by supporting women one subsequently supports the entire Maasai community, since women tend to spend the majority of their income on their children’s health and education.
Most Maasai women remain uneducated and illiterate. They have few alternatives besides spending their life at home, taking care of the children and the livestock – completely dependent on their husband and his income. Equality among men and women remains a distant dream in the Maasai community. In a strict patriarchal environment, young Maasai girls are in desperate need of role models who can show them that anything is possible – regardless of their sex.
A true inspiration for Maasai girls – as well as women everywhere – is Agnes, a female guide employed at Basecamp Masai Mara. Agnes is only 23 years old but has accomplished remarkable things despite her young age. A persistent student, Agnes worked her way through the primary and secondary level, before being accepted as a student at the Koiyaki Guiding School. After graduating from KGS in 2010 she was employed by Basecamp, where she has worked as a guide ever since.
The addition of Agnes into the team of BCMM guides was a welcome one, both on a professional and personal level. She is a positive and warm person who takes special care to ensure that each and every guest feels at home when they visit Basecamp. Perhaps her dedication is a result of the fact that she has come a long way from home herself, both physically and figuratively. I can hardly imagine how difficult, and perhaps even lonely, it must be to be a woman in such a male-dominated profession.
However, when I speak to Agnes there is nothing suggesting that she feels out of her depth or misplaced in any way. As we sit together around the fireplace at BCMM I am impressed by her confidence. She smiles constantly while she answers my questions with remarkable openness. Agnes explains how she always knew that she wanted to be a guide. “From a very young age, I was interested in wildlife and nature. I wasn’t like the other girls. I had more in common with the boys since I was interested in driving and guiding.”
Agnes has worked very hard to get where she is today. She is one of few female guides in Kenya constantly fighting against the ignorant prejudice that women are unsuitable for such a physical profession. Basecamp wants to eliminate such prejudices, and together with KGS they focus on enrolling more women. Agnes sees no reason why she should be restricted by her sex.
“I can do anything a man can do. I can drive. I can guide guests. I can speak in front of large crowds. I know how to handle dangerous situations out in the wild. There is no reason why I should not be able to hold the same position as a man. My success is proof of this.”
Agnes is an ambitious young woman and she plans to make the most of the opportunities she is given. “I am very busy in my job, but still I use every chance I get to study for the Silver Guide Certificate Exam. I hope to take the exam in 1.5 years.” Presently there are no women in Kenya who hold a Silver Guide Certificate. If she is successful Agnes might be the first. Still, she emphasizes that ‘being the first’ is not her motivation. She studies because she wants to develop herself and improve her knowledge. “I am not studying for the Silver Certificate because no other woman has it. I do it because I think I can pass it.”
“I want to be the best person I can be – regardless if I am a woman or not “
Agnes’ first priority is becoming a driver guide. “I feel ready and I am very excited about getting my permission to operate as a driver guide. That would make me much freer to give guests a once-in-lifetime safari experience.” In all probability, Agnes will be promoted to a driver guide in the next couple of months. She tells me how her confidence grows each day. “I learn from every experience. Things that used to scare me, like speaking in front of crowds or meeting new people, I now do every day. I am very grateful to Basecamp for the opportunity they give me to develop both as a guide and as a person. Basecamp has truly empowered me as a woman, by offering me the same opportunities as everyone else.”
For Agnes, education meant independence from her family and released her from her father’s control. “When I graduated from KGS my father phoned me and said that now he would no longer make decisions for me. I was my own person, and I was free to decide for myself. My father accepted that he could no longer force me to marry a man of his choice. ”
Education liberates Maasai women and gives us a chance to decide our own future.
Even though Agnes has matured into an independent and strong woman, her Maasai heritage remains a big part of her identity. She proudly displays characteristic burn marks on her cheeks – traditionally used by her tribe to signal where their children belong in case they get lost. Similarly, Agnes does not condemn her parents’ decision to subject her to female genital cutting, she rather treasures it as the moment when she became a woman. “But it hurt like fire”, she reveals, smilingly.
Agnes is a classic example of the way young Maasais are caught between tradition and modernity. Agnes’ culture is a source of strength rather than a reason for confusion. She is determined to decide her own path and to explore whatever roads she desires, regardless of what women are accustomed to in her community.
I wish to show women that they can do anything. They can be strong and they can be independent from men.
“Maybe in some years I will go back to school and study wildlife management. Or I will continue as a guide. Nobody knows what the future holds, but anything is possible.” Agnes beams at me: “And that is beyond exciting!’ One thing is for sure: this amazing woman can do whatever she sets her mind to.”