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Famed rural tribesmen head to East Africa's fast-growing cities to find work.
To maintain community structures and offer protection to Maasai far from home, there are more than a dozen informal welfare societies, created and run by the Maasai themselves. The largest, with about 300 members, is called “Letoto” meaning “to help one another” in the Maa language.
“We assist in many ways,” said Baraka Kaluse, 30, a chairman of “Letoto.” “If a family member has died back home, we make a contribution so someone can go to the funeral. If someone hasn’t found a job, we help them. If someone is sick, we help them.”
The society meets at the beginning of every month and members who forgo the meetings can face strict penalties including fines up to $100, about a month of wages for a Maasai security guard.
The welfare societies also help in the all-too-common occurrence that a member is injured on the job. “It’s very hard because when someone comes to steal, they come prepared, maybe with a gun or a weapon,” said Micheal Philipo, 23. “We only have pangas (machetes), our weapons are inferior. It can endanger us. Many people have gotten hurt.”
Philipo spoke of a guard working at a guesthouse that was robbed in February and died after the thief attacked him with a chisel.
“There are around three cases every month of someone who is killed or injured,” estimated Loseriani Khali, also a chairman of Letoto.
Despite the dangers, the flow of Maasai to urban areas continues to grow and appears to even be spreading as far south as Zambia.
“It helps the community for us to be here, said Paulo Yoganne, 30. “At least if we are in the city we don’t have to sell the cows back home. It’s not that we like this job but the hardness of life makes us do it. It’s dangerous. We want to be back home. But we have to find a way to look for money.”