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Sir Harry Kroto - Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry and Old Boy

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Maasai in the Classroom

Tuesday, 02 March 2010

When it came to fulfilling the Geography learning objective of studying the effects of tourism on the Maasai tribe, Year 9 girls at Bolton School cut to the chase and asked them direct.  Through a Skype link-up using a Vodafone USB dongle and the Tanzanian mobile phone network, 50 girls were given the chance to talk directly to Maasai tribespeople, who were sitting under a tree on the plains of Tanzania.

The two settings could not have been more contrasted.  Settled under a tree to avoid the midday sun and outside a boma, a traditional Maasai home made of muddung and sticks, Babu, Nai, Zac, Aisha, Alex,  Aneth and Nambeya, viewed the girls on a laptop resting on a bucket of water, whilst the excited Year 9 pupils watched the East Africans on a large screen in a classroom at Bolton School.

The Maasai group represented a variety of occupations, from a traditional jewellery-maker to a tour guide to teachers and students.  The forty minutes questions and answers session worked well as the two groups learnt more about each others culture.  The Maasai did not feel that tourism was detrimental to their lives.  They were very accepting of tourism and felt the world was now "a little village"; they were happy to have their photographs taken - as long as they were asked first.  In fact, the problem for this tribe from rural Meserani in Northern Tanzania was that not enough tourists were visiting their village.  The girls also asked questions about what they ate and what they wore.  In return the Maasai wanted to know what food the girls liked, why European tourists tend to always visit Africa through organised tour companies and don't go direct to the villages and how they got money to travel to Africa?

Maddie Bewlay, aged 13, summed up the thoughts of the class when she said: "it was wonderful to talk directly with the Maasai and they were really friendly.  Seeing their village and the surroundings meant so much more than reading about it in a book or looking at photos.  They had good English skills and it was a very interesting discussion - it was a unique experience and  I felt very lucky to be talking to them."

The link-up came about through the School's connection with LivLife, a charity which has been set up by two old boys of the school, Max Griffiths and Sam Yates.    Their concept is one of providing free education centres in villages in Tanzania which give both adults and children the skills needed to live their lives free from poverty and by their own culture. The idea stemmed from a research project that they undertook whilst at university into the effect of tourism on the Maasai.  The Maasai were becoming marginalised by the tourist industry as, although it took much of their land, they didn't have the skills to find work in tourism. They asked Sam and Max for help and the first LivLife Centre at Meserani was built in 2005. They are now looking to build others having had similar requests from other villages.  This expansion is achievable thanks to a grant from the Vodafone's World of Difference programme which covers the salary and expenses of Max, currently the sole employee of LivLife.

Speaking from Africa, Max Griffiths said: "The guys at this end really enjoyed the experience, and were very interested to learn about life at Bolton School. I think it must be a World first to have a live video link-up with such a traditional Maasai tribe.  Whilst we were talking to a class of Year 9 girls in England, all the village's daily activities were taking place around us - kids fetching water, grazing goats, women getting the firewood and such like. 

The Maasai way of life is changing, especially as the large tracts of land are bought up for tourism and farming.  It means their semi-nomadic lifestyle is being curtailed and they can no longer rely solely on their herds of cattle and goats for their sustenance. Learning new skills such as how to read and write, speak English and use a computer give the Maasai the opportunity to find jobs so they can supplement the food they get from their livestock.  This is where the work of LivLife comes in, offering adults and children the education they need to continue living by the culture that they live, free from poverty. Since we opened we have had over 2,000 members come to the courses.  Seventy six ethnic groups use the Centre, the largest being the Maasai who make up about 40% of our membership.  We look forward to an exciting future where we can build friendships between our village and pupils at Bolton School."

Mr Andrew Green-Howard, Deputy Head of Bolton School's Girls' Division, said: "Bringing the Maasai into the classroom is the start of a long journey.  In collaboration with LivLife, we will be delivering what we have called Project Rafiki, which is a long-term project, designed to enhance their work and ours as we develop our relationship with the village community.  We have already raised funds to provide them with an internet dongle which enables them to provide internet access for their students.  The Year 9 girls will now be offered the chance to communicate further with the tribe through a "Ning" website - which is a bit like Facebook but offers more privacy.  The idea revolves around the students' desire to socialise online. 

The plan is to develop other curriculum links, including the Boys' Division Technology Department investigating environmentally clean power, the Girls' Division Textiles looking at fabrics and clothing and for a number of collaborative music projects.

Over the coming years, pupils will raise funds and we hope to take a class of Year 11 pupils to the village in two years' time.  We also aim to bring some of their teachers over to us to see how we do things here. 

The next step of the project is to raise funds, across the whole School, to help build LivLife's next educational centre.  It may even be called the Bolton School Education Centre.  This would certainly give substance to the vision of Lord Leverhulme who wanted the School to offer an education for all!" 

This in itself is all part of a wider concept which is the Bolton School Global Village.  The School has decided to put under one umbrella, its varied activities with international schools.  The School has strong links with a school in Santiago, Chile - the Headmistress visited recently and girls held a Skype link-up with them as part of their co-curricular and Spanish studies.  It was with great relief that the School learnt that teachers and pupils are safe - an email from a Chilean teacher was read out in assembly - following the recent earthquake.  Similar links have been made with China and the Global Village incorporates the School's World Challenge group and a stage for French, German and Spanish exchange students to interact both before and long after their visits and to swap photographs. 

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The Maasai in Tanzania

The Maasai take time out from a busy market day

Year 9 Girls

Year 9 girls spoke direct with the Maasai tribe

A memorable experience

It was a truly memorable experience for the fifty girls