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From Mud Hut to Maasai Role Model

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Gloria Kotente Mumeita and Tracey Pyles Gloria Kotente Mumeita and Tracey Pyles

Sitting in the physician lounge at Suburban Hospital, Gloria Kotente Mumeita blinks back tears as she thinks about her life. The 23-year-old, who grew up in a hut made of dirt and sticks in the Kajiado District of Kenya, is now in her fifth and final year of medical school at the University of Nairobi. She’s on her way to becoming the third Maasai woman doctor ever. “When I look back I can’t believe I got to medical school,” she says.

In October, Mumeita boarded an airplane for the first time to come to America for eight weeks of shadowing doctors at Suburban Hospital and the National Institutes of Health. The trip was organized and financed by Tracey Pyles, an emergency physician at Suburban, and president of the Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF). The nonprofit, started by Pyles’ late mother, Barbara Lee Shaw, in 1999, currently pays education costs for 106 Maasai girls, including Mumeita.

According to MGEF, just 48 percent of Maasai girls complete primary school and fewer than 10 percent go on to high school. Most Maasai girls are forced to marry before age 15, often to men who are much older and have many wives. As married women with little education and fewer rights, they live in poverty, walking miles to gather and carry the water and firewood they use to cook and clean.

Mumeita is fortunate. Her family wants a better future for her and MGEF is paying her tuition. But her path to medical school still wasn’t easy. In her class of 320, she is one of three Maasai, and the only Maasai woman. To win the spot, she competed against students with far more sophisticated educations.

In Maryland, Mumeita is staying with a series of Suburban doctors who volunteered to host her. After growing up without running water, she is astonished by the luxury of dishwashers and laundry machines.  And after the chaotic traffic of Nairobi, she finds Maryland streets calm, clean and orderly.

Mumeita is a role model for other Maasai girls and their families, says Pyles. As more Maasai girls become educated, their fathers are learning that daughters with jobs provide more financial support to their families than a one-time marriage dowry of five cows. “She’s a local hero,” says Pyles.

Learn more about the Maasai Girls Education Fund at http://www.maasaigirlseducation.org.

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