In a field dominated by men, safari guide Agnes Mako is a pioneer in championing education and careers for Maasai girls in Kenya.
I met 26-year-old Mako while staying at Hemingways Ol Seki Camp in the Naboisho Conservancy in Masai Mara. She is one of only four female guides in the conservancy, and less than 20 women out of over 400 guides in the Mara region. She took us for a bush walk dressed in the traditional red Maasai attire with a bright yellow cape and carrying a spear. Culturally, Maasai women are not supposed to touch spears.
“But, to do my job it is OK,” Mako told us.
Having grown up in the Maasai Mara region, Mako impressed us with her knowledge of the area, such as how the rough leaves of the sandpaper tree are traditionally used to make wooden items smooth.
“In the Maa language it is called ol seki or the peace tree,” she said.
She pointed out animal tracks, showed us how to identify animal droppings by their size and shape, and named different flowers and plants in their Latin and English names. She also told us how her mother supported her desire for education by going against the wishes of the elders and male relatives who wanted Mako to get married at a young age. Due to cultural and gender biases, Maasai men traditionally do not see the benefit of educating their girls.
“Men like my father only think about getting many cows when their daughters get married,” she said.
Having only minimal education and few skills forces many Maasai women to remain economically dependent on their husbands. Women like Mako's mother have been at the forefront of pushing for their daughters’ right to education and fighting against early marriage.
“I have my own money and if I want to do something for myself or help someone, I can do it without asking,” Mako said.
Her father died when she was young and her mother did not have money for secondary school fees. But, she sought the help of her uncle, a head teacher at a local school, and he secured funding from a Norwegian tourist who sponsored Mako' four years' of secondary education. After graduating from high school, Mako wanted to join a university for further studies, but once again fees were a challenge. When an opportunity for a scholarship at the Koiyaki Guiding School in Naboisho Conservancy arose, she enrolled to study safari guiding in 2016.
Her mother was happy, but feared that Mako would not succeed because she had never seen a woman driving a safari vehicle. However, Mako became one of the first female driver-guides from Koiyaki. She joined Hemingways Ol Seki Mara Camp in 2016, first as an intern safari guide before being employed full-time in 2018. It is a job she thoroughly enjoys. Mako handles the safari vehicles with ease and many visitors are happy to have a female guide. But, her fellow Maasai male guides still underestimate her ability.
“They think I might get problems changing a tyre or be afraid of animals. They think they are the only ones who are brave,” said Mako.
She would like to see more Maasai women complete their education and have a career. The young girls she interacts with in the villages envy her professional abilities and independence.
Mako is also a wife and mother. Her husband also works in the tourism sector and supports her career.