A Real Chance in Life
A rural girl charts her own course and proves why education matters.
For most girls in the Maasai culture, education is a privilege only few can attain. In Oletepesi, a Tanzanian community where chocolate-colored mud houses contrast the colorful clothing of men, women, and children, seventeen-year-old Onike is proving why education matters.
After losing her father as a child, Onike grew up in poverty and saw few options for her future. Luckily, her mother, Penina, believes in the power of education. She encouraged Onike to pursue a competitive scholarship from African People & Wildlife so she could afford to continue her studies beyond primary school. Onike applied for—and won—a coveted full-ride scholarship to secondary school, where she achieves high marks.
Onike washes the family cooking pots while on a break from school. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Erika Piñeros)
In Maasai culture, most domestic chores fall to women and girls. While this responsibility now falls on Penina, the education of her children takes priority.
“I don’t miss Onike when she’s at boarding school,” says Penina, not fully believing her own words. “I mean, I don’t miss her because I want her to do what she’s supposed to do: study! With education, Onike can achieve whatever she wants. She will be in a better place to make her own decisions. I didn’t have that choice.”
Onike still helps her mother during breaks from boarding school, where she spends most of her time.
“I miss seeing my family,” says Onike, “but I really like being at school. I have a lot of friends, and we do everything together!”
"I want to be able to provide for myself and my (future) children, so I am studying hard to attend university and get a good job.”
Onike dresses in her school uniform and walks with her best friend to attend classes. (Photos: African People & Wildlife/Erika Piñeros)
In addition to maintaining academic success, Onike has proven herself a leader both in the classroom and in her local wildlife club.
“What I like the most about the wildlife club is that we learn how to share our environment and protect our lions and hyenas!” she says.
Onike leads an activity during a Saturday wildlife club session. (Photo: African People & Wildlife/Erika Piñeros)
Onike visits her mother and young niece after spending months away at boarding school. (Photos: African People & Wildlife/Erika Piñeros)
For Onike, education means a chance to achieve financial independence. After seeing many women in her community depend entirely on a man, she plans to enjoy a different kind of life. "I want to be able to provide for myself and my (future) children, so I am studying hard to attend university and get a good job," she says.
In the coming years, African People & Wildlife will empower more girls like Onike through the African Women in Conservation Initiative.