Local Non-Profit Organization Aims to Improve Literacy for the Maasai Tribe in Tanzania | New
Even for Chris Pope, a man who served in the US Marine Corps, being picked up at the airport in Tanzania made him nervous.
It wasn’t the man who had met Pope there who was the problem. He felt safe with Kishumu Parkep. A smaller man, Parkep was both Pope’s translator and a warrior of the Maasai tribe.
For Pope, an American who grew up in Arkansas and an experienced traveler to Tanzania, the concerning part of the trip was the same as always – the road.
“Oh, that’s scary,” Pope said. “It’s scary. It’s almost like it’s unregulated. There are people walking on both sides of the road, you have people driving back and forth on both sides of the road. and then you are already on the wrong side of the road.
Vehicles sped on the left side of the road, often bypassing pedestrians on foot and motorcycles. Pope, who was part of a religious group that provided medical and surgical aid to people in Tanzania, and Parkep started their time together.
Pope spent three weeks with Parkep and found himself asking a question.
“How can I help?”
In February 2020, Pope answered his question by founding Books Over the World. A non-profit based in Stillwater, BOW provides children’s books to the Maasai people of Tanzania.
The first language of Tanzania is Swahili. The Maasai, a tribe rooted in tradition, are historically pastoralists. Their lifestyle centered on breeding has become the target of criticism. Increasing urbanization in recent years has led the Maasai to have a limited ability to sustain their way of life.
“They raise cattle,” Pope said. “They have been doing this for thousands of years in the Rift Valley region. I think they emigrated from Kenya. But now, with fields and fences and things, they’re kind of black sheep from Tanzania. “
Maasai culture features aspects of Western behavior and tribal tradition. People can wear a button down shirt one day and a tribal costume in the village the next day. The standard Maasai belt has a place for a machete, a Rungu – a club that is a popular favorite – and a cell phone.
Parkep felt his people were lagging behind in learning a tool that would help them flourish as they moved on to the next era – the English language.
“They don’t even speak a language that would give them access to the global economy,” Pope said. “Kishumu expressed this desire for his people to overcome their illiteracy. “
In partnership with his church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Stillwater, Pope created BOW to help Maasai learn English by providing reading resources for teachers and English speakers to master.
BOW volunteers ship boxes from Stillwater to Morogoro, Tanzania, filled with books for children in Kindergarten to Grade 12. BOW aims to ship one per month. Each box contains around 100 pounds and costs around $ 400 to ship.
“I got books from California, Washington,” Pope said. “We have a donor in Hawaii. When people realize what we are trying to do, they are contributing to the expense.
Morogoro is a fairly large town in Tanzania, but it has fewer paved roads than Stillwater. The United States Postal Service is the most efficient way to go. Although each box is limited to 50 pounds, a package reaching its destination quickly is never a guarantee.
“The postal service in Tanzania is not that simple,” said BOW Senior Vice President Cindy Pennie.
Once, a box labeled for Tanzania was mistakenly delivered to Tunisia, a country in the far north of the continent. Picking up packages overseas can be a painful process and Pennie, known as “Mama Africa” for her efforts with BOW and medical visits, has experienced the hours-long ordeal of picking up. a box at the post office.
Either way, the efforts are appreciated. The BOW team hopes to expand its reach, even eyeing the big goal of providing funds for a school building.
Bishop Mameo is one of BOW’s main contacts. Maasai warrior and bishop of the Christian church in Tanzania, Mameo is a useful administrator.
“We hear from Bishop Mameo and the church there that they’re paying attention to what’s going on here and praying for us,” Pennie said. “And we support them. “
Whether they are traveling to Tanzania for a medical visit or working with Pope to provide books for the Maasai tribe, Pope and Pennie have a humble take on their work among their African friends.
“Over the years, I’ve learned a lot,” Pennie said. “We are not the great white missionaries who come to save the poor. We are brothers and sisters working together.
Those interested in supporting Books Over the World can send tax-deductible checks made out to Books Over the World at 2723 South Pioneer Trail. All funds go directly to BOW. More information is available at booksovertheworld.org.