Cleveland State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Department of Anthropology will host Alice Lasoi, a Maasai woman from Kenya, who will speak about her culture and in particular the need for girls to be educated, on Sunday, November 9 at 12:30 p.m. and Tuesday, November 18 at 6:00 p.m. at the Trinity Commons Art Gallery. The lectures are free and open to the public.
Lasoi is in Cleveland to share her culture and speak out on the need for girls to stay in school and not be forced into early marriages. She will also speak to classes at Cleveland State, and present lectures at Case Western Reserve University, John Carroll University, and Kent State University/East Liverpool Campus as well as at Trinity Cathedral and Ten Thousand Villages/Sacred Path Bookstore.
Lasoi, 34, will display and sell her beadwork at the events, and all profits will support her efforts to continue her own education and to support other African women in her community and beyond through the non-profit organization she helped establish: the Fund for the Education of Women of Africa (FEWA).
Lasoi’s time at Cleveland State is a valuable way to increase students’ exposure to international cultures, languages and diverse ways of life. She lives in a small Maasai community southwest of Nairobi. Her connection to Cleveland is Cleveland State professor Barbara Hoffman, a cultural and visual anthropologist who met Lasoi while doing research during her Fulbright Scholar year in 1997-98. Part of her project included interviewing Maasai women about their lives and how their culture was changing at the end of the 20th century.
In the course of her interviews, Hoffman became aware that, although extremely bright, Lasoi’s education ended in the 7th grade when her father took her out of school and gave her in marriage to a man who already had two wives. By the time Lasoi met Hoffman, she had three children and lost a fourth due to her abusive husband. Eager to help her escape from this situation, Hoffman employed Lasoi as a member of her research team, and their lives have been intertwined ever since.
In 2003, Hoffman brought Lasoi to Cleveland as part of a cultural exchange program with three other Maasais who discussed their culture, performed its songs and dances, and displayed and sold their traditional beaded jewelry and crafts. While at Cleveland State, Lasoi noted a number of older women who were students, some old enough to be her grandmother. Upon learning that many of them had not completed their college education because of marriage and children, she felt the thrill of recognition. Inspired by them, she determined to return to Kenya and to school — primary school. She would have to complete the 7th and 8th grades as a 30-year-old pupil.
In Kenya, students in public primary schools must wear uniforms. Despite much ridicule and discouragement from members of her community, Lasoi seized her courage, put on a uniform and went back to school. In December 2005, she passed her exams, won her Primary School Diploma, and applied for admission to secondary school at age 32.
Although Lasoi was admitted to a prestigious secondary school in Nairobi and had completed the 9th grade there, her school was closed indefinitely last January as a result of the civil unrest that followed Kenya’s last presidential election. She is in Cleveland for the rest of the semester taking GED preparation classes in addition to lecturing. She is available to speak on her culture and in particular on the need for girls to stay in school and not be forced into early marriages.
For more information about Alice Lasoi lectures, please call 216.687.3549.
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