Kilimanjaro Region: the Maasai and Chagga Tribes

There are two major tribes in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania: the Maasai and the Chagga. Although, the tribes were all united in the mid 1960s when Tanzania became one country, the history and tradition of these two once at war tribes are still discussed today.

The Maasai reside in the lower lands of the Kilimanjaro region and produce livestock: cows, goats, etc. The Chagga people reside in the highlands of the mountain and produce agricultural goods due to the constant moist climate. In the early 1800s the Kilimanjaro region underwent an intense drought, causing the Maasai to move into the highland region and try to overtake the resource rich lands of the Chagga, which due to the mountain climate was not impacted by the drought. The Maasai went into households of the Chagga, disfiguring the Chagga men by breaking their bones and castrating them, and leaving them in the homes to physiologically damage the families. Additionally, the Chagga women were brought to the lower lands and raped by very large men, ensuring a strong, large children (genetic engineering) which would be used as a slaves to work the Maasai lands. After being raped for 4 years and producing 3-4 children, the Chagga women would be murdered, ensuring that the young children did not have a mother to teach them about the Chagga people. By not being educated by a mother, the children, who were used as slaves, wouldn’t question the Maasai’s authority because they didn’t know better.
To stay safe from the Maasai, the Chagga people went underground. The Chagga people built entire homes underground and navigated them through tunnel systems, even the livestock were underground. Whenever the Maasai would enter the highlands, the Chunga people would sound horns and everyone would move underground. The livestock were fed volcanic ash which would make the livestock very thirsty; after filling up on water the livestock would fall asleep, ensuring that their sounds would not alert the Maasai of the Chagga’s whereabouts. During the approximate 200 year period in which the Chagga people lived underground due to threats from the Maasai, the 300 Chaggas who lived underground were able to kill about 3,000- 5,000 Maasai who tried to penetrate their underground home system.
How did they do this when they were clearly outnumbered?
The Chagga people had warriors/ guards to keep them safe from the Maasai, and for every Maasai that entered the caves, not one resurfaced. In order to be a tunnel guard for the Chagga, the guard has to be fluent in the Maasai language. When a group of Maasai warriors would travel down the tunnel with a lit torch (which gave them away because the Chagga did not use torches in the tunnels) three Chagga guards would be hiding in a corner (pictured) and knock the torch carrier on the head with a big stick, often killing him. The two other guards would then jump down from the ledge and tell the other Maasai (in their language) that they have to be careful and that the tunnels go very low; if they aren’t careful they will end up like the torch carrier and knock themselves out. The others would duck low, allowing the ‘basher’ to hit them all on the head with a club when passing by. Every time one was hit, there would be one loud cry, in which the Chagga guards who spoke the Maasai language, would confuse the Maasai and say that they must duck lower or they will end up the same as the guy that just hit his head on the top of the tunnel. After killing the Maasai warriors, the Chaggas would dispose of the Maasai warriors by cutting them up in little pieces and disposing of them in the river, always making it seem like the Maasai just vanished when entering the Chagga caves.
During one large attack the Maasai tried to use chemical warfare to kill the Chagga people in the cave. Using a combination of toxic chili and tobacco the Maasai lit the lethal combination at the entrance of the tunnels and smoked the caves out for a week. The Chagga people moved quickly, using cow hide to block the tunnel entrances and limiting the chemicals from entering the homes; the Chagga also had ventilation holes which removed any smoke that got through. Once the Maasai thought the Chagga people had died, the Maasai entered the tunnels, only to killed by the Chagga guards/warriors.
Nowadays the two tribes live in peace with one another; largely due to the unification of Tanzania in the 1960s. However, even with reunification, the caves (that still exist today) are a long standing reminder of the tribal background of history of Tanzania.
Pictured below is where the Chagga guards use to hide, waiting for the Maasai warriors.
Entering the tunnels.
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Female Genital Mutilation An Ongoing Problem

Tanzania is made up of around 120 tribes, several of which still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). Where I am located, in the Kilimanjaro region, 16 tribes practice level 1 and 2 of FGM, which include cutting parts (level 1) or the whole (level 2) clitoris of a woman. May people ask why? It primarily comes down to culture and tradition, and a lack of proper education on the topic. Although, things are starting to change in Tanzania, there is still an emphasis of being a virgin when married, and parents go to great extents to ensure their daughters are virgins when married; this includes limiting or stopping the female sex drive or having sex for pleasure, which is why the clitoris is cut or removed. The older folk tails stem from more elaborate stories, for example that female clitoris is incredibly powerful and can kill a man during sex.

Currently the FGM rate in the Kilimanjaro region is 21.5 percent, only have decreased 14.5 percent over the past 22 years. With UNICEF making a huge push to end FGM, more non-profits are working to educate young girls on what FGM is. Currently, FGM is illegal in Tanzania and someone who cuts a young woman can face up to 10 years in prison. However, very few young girls are willing to step forward and say they have been mutilated since it could result in their parents going to jail. So one turns to educating young women or the ‘next generation’ on what FGM is.

When asked, several young girls under the age of 12 note that FGM is a great honor; it’s when a girl becomes a woman. When a girl is mutilated in a tribe, it is a day of great celebration and several young girls will note that when their time comes several cows and goats will be killed in their honor and the girls will be able to not work as hard since they will be a woman. Additionally, several tribes like the Maasai will have young girls change the color of their tribal clothes, adding a blue stripe to the traditional red clothing, to note they have gone through this honorary event.

Several non-profits have been working in the region to educate women on this old tradition and to inform them of the risks of being mutilated. However, a non-profit aide worker noted that several girls who have been mutilated will be angry when they show up at the schools to educate, because they are turning something they viewed to be positive into something negative. It is also something that is rarely spoken about, so the older girls who have been mutilated are angry that the younger girls are being taught about what FGM is because the mutilated girls are embarrassed that they were mutilated. After educating the young girls, and showing them an incredibly graphic video of a FGM procedure, non-profits offer the girls a safe haven if they are facing mutilation. Currently the safe haven in the Kilimanjaro region houses 30 girls who are at risk of being mutilated at home. When a girl goes to the safe haven, the non-profits goal is the work with the parents to educate them of the risks of FGM. Additionally, the non-profits work with local law enforcement explaining the procedure is illegal. After family counseling, most girls are safely returned to their homes.

So what are the risks of FGM? There are immediate risks during the procedure, like a 9 month year old girl who bled to death when being mutilated at home with a razor by her 16 year old mother, and there are long term risks. The long term risks include improper scaring which can cause a women to lose bladder control or bleed out while giving birth. Additionally, sex becomes very painful and is only done to reproduce, causing women to be depressed and fearful when their husbands want sex. Lastly, many women will be put on special diets during pregnancy to produce a very small baby, limiting the risks of tearing the scare tissue from FGM and bleeding to death while giving birth. Many pregnant mothers are assigned an older woman to monitor and limit her food intake, to ensure a small baby. This leads to premature and at high risk births, which adds to the continued high rate of infant mortality within Tanzania.

How can you help? Several non-profits view education to be the key to stopping this incredibly dangerous tradition. Non-profits also empower women by teaching them job skill sets and giving them jobs (ex. soap making); limiting a women’s need to rely on her husband. The goods that are produced by these women can be bought online or people can donate directly to non-profits who are working to eliminate FGM. Additionally, USAID plays a huge role in helping women who have been mutilated, paying (transport, accommodations, and the surgery) for women to undergo reconstructive surgery; allowing women to regain bladder control and limiting the risks of pregnancy and births.

Pictured is a traditional mutilation kit. With this practice now being illegal in Tanzania, people now use razor blades to mutilate young girls. With this ‘tradition’ also come the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS.

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Community Improvement Project

Like may of my projects that I am passionate about, this project falls into the same category: jump into the deep end and see if I can swim.

Having spent a week at my placement at Best Hope Preparatory Center in Moshi, Tanzania, I wanted to help beyond just educating the children; therefore, I offered to put in cement floors for my classroom. I know you might be wondering at this point if I’ve ever put in cement floors. The answer is no. However, if there’s a will, there’s always a way.

Having spent a day researching cement floors, I made a shopping list: rocks (to level the ground), sand, and cement. Seemed simple.

The materials were placed outside the school, about 150 yards from where they needed to be, however with only a small entrance gate into the school, it was as close as the dump trucks could get. Thus, it required us to carry the materials into the school one bucket at a time.

Day 1: Level the room with rocks. This took about 4 hours with four people (all women!). Several people walked by and looked at what we were doing, the elder women cheered us on, and the men smiled while walking past. With still a heavy gender divide in Tanzania, it was a very rare site to see women putting in a cement floor. One man even commented “this is what equality looks like” – it put a large smile on my face.

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Day 2: Lay the cement. There were several obstacles with this since there are no cement mixers, however I learned the Tanzanian method! Mix all the materials on the ground and carry the cement mixture bucket by bucket to the room. This method worked very well.

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There are three different cement mixtures that get placed into the room (Tanzanian method).

1. Cement, sand, gravel, and water (same in U.S.- thanks wiki how article)

2. Cement, sand, and water

3. Cement and water

The first layer of cement took 3 hours to place with four people working on it.

Then came the other two layers.

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The final product!




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Although there is a lot of physical soreness which I am currently experiencing, it was so wonderful working on this project. I have spoken to several locals and some have noted that they don’t like when volunteers come to their community because we come in, tell them how to do things, and leave. Before starting this project, I spoke to the Director of the school and asked what he needed most (plaster on the walls? floors?), he said floors. By working with the community and partnering with them to help, volunteers not only leave a lasting positive impression, but we also leave something worthwhile for the community.

After my first day working on the site, I ran to the local shop on the corner to grab a coca-cola, and as I was waiting in line, a woman came up and said “You put in the floors. Thank you.” (news travels fast in small villages) It was a wonderful exchange. Moreover, we had several young girls in the community watch us work (aged between 6-12 years old). It’s important that we don’t just pitch male/female equality, but that we show young women that women can do anything. By physically showing gender equality, it will empower women more than just telling them they are equal. Who knows, maybe those girls will be building their own homes in 15 years time?


Challenges with Language

It was a great honor meeting one of Tanzanian’s politicians, Basil Lema, who is currently running for Parliament via the opposition party. Having served as Chairman for the United Nations on behalf of Tanzania, and bringing attention to the importance of climate change, Basil was the perfect person to break down the history of the Tanzanian education system. Basil is a natural politician, charming and charismatic, with the ability to captivate you and teach lessons through storytelling, my conversation with him was both entertaining and informative.

Basil took the time to explain that Tanzania is a country of tribes, each tribe having its own language. When the Kilimanjaro region was colonized in the late 1800s through the 1960s, it was the first time the Tanzanian people were pulled together, making a language barrier inevitable. During colonization, the colonizes won over the people of Kilimanjaro through introducing religion, many people were pulled to the  Presbyterian and Catholic religions because of the principals of equality and forgiveness.  Prior to colonization, the people of Kilimanjaro followed their own Gods, those of the Earth. However, only men were able to worship the Earth Gods, and it wasn’t until the Presbyterian and Catholic religions came in that both men and women could sit together and worship equally. After religion, the colonizers brought in hospitals, providing successful treatments through western medicines. Lastly, came education. The colonizers wanted to train and educate the people of the Kilimanjaro region to be laborers in order to pull out the resources and natural minerals which makes Tanzania a very rich land. Thus, came forth an education system which taught Swahili to primary levels students and English to secondary students; making each student learn three language: the native tribal tongue, Swahili, and English.

Basil explained the education system much like two pyramids; one for government education and one for private education.  The concentration of attendees being the pre-primary and primary levels of education, and the second tier being secondary education, with university education at the top. Each next level from primary to secondary to university requires entrance exams. I asked Basil if the lack of students going into the next tier was due to the increase of fees for education at each level, or the lack of quality education that allows for students to do well on their exams. He said it was both. Although the fees are deterring, the largest program is the lack of a syllabus at the lower education levels and the lack of English being taught at a primary level. The students switch from all Swahili at the primary level to all English at the Secondary level, without education in between.

It will be interesting to see what Basil will bring to Parliament in August. He factually states that the opposition group will win this Fall, and I am excited to see him improve the current education system!

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In 2002 the Tanzanian government declared free education for all children, however to this day education isn’t free. All students are required to make a contribution to pay for food, books, desks, supplies, etc. If you are unable to pay, the school harasses the family until the parents stop sending the kids to school. The annual ‘contribution’ for pre primary (3-7 years old) and primary education (7-14 years old) at government schools is 200,000 a year (about $100USD). Secondary education is about $400,000 shilling a year (about $200 USD). Outside of government schools, one finds private schools, which includes both what we think of as private schools, more expensive than public school, but it also includes schools for students that can’t afford public schools.

The school that I work at in Tanzania is called Best Hope, and although a private school, the school educates students for free, or if they can afford it, asks for an annual 120,000 shilling (about $60USD) contribution. This school provides education for orphaned children who are living with grandparents or aunts, and children from severely low income families. Several of the students don’t have shoes and only have one set of clothes.

In several cases, orphaned children who are in the orphanage system are better off due to the overwhelming contributions from international non -profits. The orphanage in Moshi is fully funded by a British non-profit organization. Where the gaps happen are with the children who by definition are orphaned but are living with extended family members. Several of these fill- in parents like grandparents, are unable to afford the costs of basic education for these children.

Best Hope is the only school in the area that provides education for free. That being said, the facility is minimal. Consisting of four classrooms, where 3-4 different education levels are placed in one class; the school hopes to expand and have one classroom per education level. Moreover, there is only one teacher at the school, turning to international volunteers to fill the gap. This works only if there are volunteers. My classroom contains students from the ages of 8-14 years old. I have turned to daily mathematics testing to distinguish the education level and to work on rebuilding their basic math foundation.

The issue I ran across is that teachers teach the material but don’t actually take the time to make sure the students understand it. Currently my younger ones are adding fractions, however they don’t know how to multiple, making adding fractions impossible. It wasn’t until I tested the students and showed the teacher that they had failed their multiplication exams that she was willing to go back and work on the basic foundation stuff and stop pushing adding fractions. The largest issue I have witnessed with the education system is a lack of a syllabus.

All primary school students are placed at levels based on age P1 through P6, however there are no exams for the students to take to ensure they understand the information at their level before going onto the next level. As long as the information has been taught, the student moves on. This results in several students failing the examination (usually their first exam) to get into Secondary school, ending their education at the age of 14.

I am currently working with the school’s Director to establish a syllabus and testing system; however, resources are also a limiting factor for the school. After three days at the school, I said enough was enough and offered to put in floors for my classroom (my weekend project), something that is greatly needed. I move between teaching math and English and cleaning up infected cuts on the kid’s feet because they don’t have shoes and the rocks on the floors often cut their feet. One cut was so bad that I had to drain the puss before cleaning and dressing the wound. This all being said, there is a way to help the school directly by donating the most basic supplies to the school.

Supplies needed:

Basic school supplies (pens and paper)

Books (primary level math, English, and science)

Toys for the kids to play with (I bought a soccer ball this week- one of two toys at the school now)

Clothes and shoes

First aid kits

All donations can be sent directly to the school:

The Best Hope Preparatory Center

C/O Emmanuel Aikael Mkya

P.O. Box 3060

Moshi, Tanzania

Thank you!!

All things have to be hand written, including examinations. My classroom at Best Hope (second picture).


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Culture and Health Care

The culture is Tanzania has developed greatly over the last 5 years. Although men still dominate the culture, there has been a significant decline in arranged marriages, mainly amoung educated women. That being said, marriages under 18 still exist, however few of those marriages are forced. It has also been noted to me that women should not wear pants or cross their legs when sitting since it challenges a man’s authority. I asked how women partake is sports then and it was noted women wear leggings under their dresses and skirts. This being said, I have seen a handful, but only a handful of women in pants, again, it is more commonly found amoung women in higher education like universities. So although Tanzania has come a long way with women equality, it still has a long way to go.

After meeting with a medical doctor from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Moshi, Tanzania, one of the largest health concerns is depression among women. Divorce does not exist in the Tanzanian culture, so many women sit in silence after being beaten or cheated on. And since the culture doesn’t acknowledge mental health problems, several of these women attempt suicide, keeping Tanzania’s suicide rate high, and making it one the largest health problems the country faces. If a person is treated at a hospital for depression, medication is not given, and the person is advised to come back monthly for ‘talk’ sessions with a doctor. Thus, in low income communities where people cannot afford monthly doctors visits, depression is usually left untreated.

In regards to other medical issues, malaria and HIV/AIDs are both less than 10%, and continuing to decline over the past 5 years. This has been as a result of government campaigns where children under the age of 5 years old are all given free mosquito nets to sleep under, and the government does regular chemical spraying in areas that contain still water, since still water has heavy mosquito populations. Also, death rates related to malaria are becoming less common due to education; if you have flu like symptoms it’s probably malaria and you can go to a local clinic for testing and treatment. Clinics are found easily since there is about one clinic for every 20-30 households; however, there is only one hospital per province and those hospitals serve around 300,000-700,000 people.

HIV/AIDs has been heavily reduced due to the acceptance of birth control. Additionally, all people getting married are mandated by law to get a HIV/AIDs test, which is shared with the partner.

Other interesting facts:

-Healthcare is free for all pregnant women, resulting in a decrease of at birth deaths. However, infant death rates are still high (this is a concern). I asked how women can deliver at hospitals when some live 3 hours away; they may not make it in time before delivery. The doctor said that women are asked to come to the hospital a few weeks before their delivery date; the entire multi- week hospital stay is free.

-Medical care for children under the age of 5 is free, and all children have to be vaccinated to go to school. However, there’s an issue of clinics signing off on the mandated vaccine forms for schools, without the children actually having the vaccines.

-If a person is employed, they have insurance (both private and public sector jobs). The insured person is allowed to add five family members to their insurance plan. I asked what if someone has 7 children (not uncommon); the answer, only five people can be put on the insurance, so they must pick 5 of the 7 children to insure.

– Hospital visits (not clinic visits) cost around 50,000 shillings or $25 USD, which results in people only going to the doctor’s in emergency case situations, which usually results in a more expensive visit. This problem is not uncommon in the United States either.

– Clinics provide basic healthcare: malaria testing, basic prescriptions for antibiotics or over the counter pain medicine, blood testing, immunizations.

Although soccer is considered a ‘man’s sport,’ women are starting to play. After three days of playing soccer with my kids, two girls joined us! And they are really good!! They play with a lot of passion, much like I did when I was young. Growing up in Germany in the early 1990s, I was never allowed to play soccer with the boys. Once I came to the U.S. and was allowed to play soccer, I played with all my heart, much like these two girls. It’s always the small things one takes for granted.



Kuwakaribisha (welcome!)

I arrived safe and sound in Tanzania on Saturday, June 13th after a very long 30 hour journey routing through D.C. and Ethiopia.

The airport in Kilimanjaro is one that can only put a smile on your face as you realize it’s just a small runway and one small building. I was seated next to a witty San Franciscan who was embarking on a Mt. Kilimo climb and quickly took the opportunity to joke that the shed out in the field was Customs. I smiled; clearly there wasn’t going to be a security screening and my shoes would remain happily on my feet.

The hour long car ride to Karanga Village, located right outside Moshi, was very pleasant. The land was filled with lush greenery as we stopped frequently for crossing goats, cows, and donkeys.  The only of alarm me was when we were stopped by the police for what I learned to be a ‘safety vehicle’ check for older cars and trucks. The conversation seemed tense until the police officer realized I was in the back of the car. Although a little nervous, I tried to smile my way through the situation (a great tool when faced with a language barrier). After answering a few questions about my personal life, the officer high- fived me and we were back on our way. A question that gets asked very frequently is “are you married?” It isn’t very common for women my age to be unmarried without children, however as more women look to education, the average age of marriage is going up.

I was the first to arrive at the volunteer house and took sometime to familiarize myself with the gated compound.

During orientation the next day we went over several rules and expectations. Both the rules and expectation seemed a little common sense like (i.e. don’t be drunk). I asked our house director why we have those rules. He noted some volunteers spend a lot of time partying . This was extremely disheartening to hear. Although, I enjoy pairing volunteerism with travel, volunteering always comes first. Many people forget that when they do this work and go into these rural villages, they may be the only American the local people will meet in their entire life. Therefore, volunteers become the forefront when it comes to representing their countries. Thankfully, I am beyond blessed and have been placed with an incoming group of incredibly driven, good- hearted, and determined to make a difference volunteers. Our group consists of a monther/daughter team from New York, a teacher, an accountant for PWC, a recently graduated college student from New York, and a pre-med student from Washington State.

Pictures of Karanga Village:

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Sleeping facility (mosquito nets are a must!):


My awesome volunteer group, including Mama Thea who is the country director for the volunteer organization. This is the traditional dress for women. Each ‘changa’ has a message written at the bottom of it. These messages are sometimes used between women to note if they aren’t happy with one another. One example Mana Thea have was that Muslim women who may be one of four wives will have messages noting “I’m the prettiest wife.” You have to be very careful in picking your message when buying your changa.


Meals (the food is delicious and one always finds fresh fruit and veggies). Breakfast (below) always includes porridge.