When Lemareka Kibasisi, a Tanzanian Maasai student at Friedensau Adventist University in Germany, walked into Professor László Szabó’s office one morning in 2009, he had an urgent request. “Dr. Szabó, please go back to Tanzania and help my people.”
Szabó, the vice dean of theology at Friedensau and a former missionary to Tanzania, was struck by Kibasisi’s passion to share the gospel message with the Maasai people and to help meet their physical and societal needs.
“So I also determined to do what I could to help,” Szabó says.
The Maasai are traditionally a nomadic and pastoralist, or livestock-raising, people, occupying large territories in Kenya and Tanzania. They tend to have sizeable families with several children.
Parents often marry off their young daughters to elderly men, who pay the father many cows as a dowry. When the older men die, they leave behind young widows with small children, who struggle with poverty.
A lack of adequate medical facilities, rampant infantile infections, and a high infant mortality rate are other difficulties families face.
Political, environmental, and societal challenges have been gradually transforming the lives of the Maasai. The lack of available water for their families and livestock, frequent droughts, and rampant disease are making it difficult to earn a living in agriculture; and their nomadic lifestyle is becoming more sedentary. Other options to earn a sustainable income are few, and education is not readily available.
Kibasisi’s plea to his professor that day in László Szabó’s office led to Friedensau Adventist University organizing evangelistic and development projects in northern Tanzania. The university partners with Restore a Child, an Adventist-run organization that provides protection, nutrition, education, and health care for orphans and underprivileged children. The combined efforts focus on the Maasailand areas of Longido and Karao. They envision and develop programs to address water, education, medical, and spiritual growth needs. The university and Restore a Child both provide funding, personnel, and other resources for the projects.
The collaboration has so far resulted in the establishment of the Adventist Maasai Primary School in Karao and eight nursery schools in Karao and Longido. More than 700 students attend the schools. In 2020 the school ranked in the top 15 percent in national exams of primary schools in Tanzania.
The Maasai program includes providing daily meals for the schoolchildren. In Karao, with support from international partners such as the World Bank, the team built a water pipe to furnish a water source for the community. They also give goats to widows so families will have a supply of milk as well as a way to generate income.
Meeting the people’s physical needs offers opportunities to share the gospel message. Hundreds of Adventists currently worship in 13 Adventist churches in Karao and Longido.
Monika, a student at the Maasai school, had to walk a long distance through the jungle to attend school. She was fearful of the wild animals, so she memorized Bible texts and repeated them on her daily trek. She says they gave her comfort, and she learned from this experience to trust God.
Instead of getting married at an early age, Monika now studies at an Adventist secondary school in Arusha and hopes to train as a medical doctor.
Friedensau Adventist University and Restore a Child continue to plan for the Maasai’s growing needs. The organizations are now raising funds to build a school dormitory in Karao, open a medical clinic, and cultivate structured agribusinesses for the community.