Athens, Ga. – A delegation of 14 Kenyan women visited Athens March 7-18 as part of the Women of the Maasai Empowerment and Networks Project. Coordinated by the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government International Center through a grant from the U.S. State Department, the project exposes the women to a range of civic experiences.
The delegation will remain in Georgia through March 27, also spending time in Savannah, Atlanta, and LaGrange.
The visiting Kenyan women are all Maasai, a seminomadic, herding people who live across parts of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Maasai society is often male-dominated, and the Women of the Maasai Project seeks to empower the visiting Kenyan women through their experiences in America.
“The women participating in the project come from different backgrounds in Kenya-urban and rural areas alike are represented in the delegation, but they all share an involvement in small business development in their country,” said Njeri Marekia-Cleaveland, Vinson Institute project coordinator,. “We hope that this project will enable the women to be more active participants in their civil society.”
While in the U.S., the women have taken part in discussions with American business and government leaders, many of them women. Athens Mayor Heidi Davison offered insights into effective leadership when she addressed the group at Athens-Clarke County City Hall.
The delegation also attended learning sessions about key concepts in leadership, entrepreneurship, and issues facing leaders in local governments and businesses. UGA’s Small Business Development Center briefed the women on the process of starting a small business. Other topics included public speaking, grassroots organization, ethics, conflict resolution, nonprofit management, and grant writing.
Continuing to other parts of the state, the women will enhance their experience with visits to government agencies and community organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Nature Conservancy, and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Cultural experiences also play a significant role in the project. While in Athens, the women stayed in local homes instead of hotels, enabling them to gain a more personal connection with their hosts. Other Georgians opened their homes for dinners and teas honoring the visitors.
After leaving Athens, the Kenyan delegation will visit the Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the CNN Center in Atlanta, a school in LaGrange, and the AIDS quilt and an ecological conservation project in Savannah.
This is the second group of Kenyan women to travel to Georgia as part of the Women of the Maasai Project. The Vinson Institute hosted a delegation of 28 in spring 2008. Following that visit, a group of eight Athens women traveled to Kenya with two Vinson Institute faculty members to meet with Kenyan women working in government and nonprofits.