The gift that Nasaruni brings

In the second blog post about JMU’s involvement with the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls, a professor looks at the impact of an international collaboration. (To read part one, click here.) 

How working with Nasaruni and Moses Sayo has impacted JMU students … and me as a professor

By Dr. Michelle Cude, associate professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education at JMU and executive director of the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls

True education, according to Paulo Freire, teaches us to “deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”* Participating in transforming the world is precisely the call for the social studies education students in my methods classes. Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls gives us the opportunity to make that a reality.

Michelle Cude and students of the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls

Michelle Cude and students of the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls

Future social studies educators need to develop a global mindset which includes more than just a wider view of the world map. It involves active engagement with those who live on the other side of the globe and have far fewer opportunities than we do here in America. I call on my students to embrace the calling of globalizing their profession, and being the change they want to see in the world. . . something we hear a lot about here at JMU, but don’t always know what to do about it.

Specifically, JMU’s Future Social Studies Educators (FSSE), a student organization on campus to which many of these students belong, has adopted Nasaruni Academy as one of its official philanthropies. The officers, especially, work on T-shirt sales and other fundraising events to raise both money for the school and awareness of the need for girls’ education internationally. The latter is particularly near to the heart of some who help sponsor the “Girl Rising” film showings at Grafton-Stovall Theatre. This film, a production of Ten Times Ten and other partners, highlights the stories of girls in several international settings who struggle to gain even a small chance of an education. For JMU students (often a packed theater full), this is a truly eye-opening look outside of the JMU bubble in a dramatic way. Those who attend the film and want to help make education possible in one small Maasai community in Kenya often donate to our cause. These funds have helped to buy windows for the new classroom, as well as new desks.

Michelle Cude with colleagues, including Bishop Moses Sayo (far left) and Alice Sayo (far right)

Michelle Cude with colleagues, including Bishop Moses Sayo (far left) and Alice Sayo (far right)

Students in MSSE 470: Methods of Teaching Social Studies soon find out that this is not the normal class where you sit and take notes on lectures. Instead, I engage my students in active ways both in the local community through Skyline Literacy citizenship training and through the global impact of Nasaruni Academy. Moses Sayo came as a guest speaker to my methods class this past semester. He was able to personally open the students’ eyes to the harsh realities Maasai girls face for their bleak future without education and hope. Students then engaged with me in deep discussion about the ethical side to working for transformation in a culture so far from their own. While this struck many as invasive, Moses himself was able to assure them of the positive impact and benefit for his people. This is truly a Maasai initiative, not our idea to change them, thus giving firmly positive ethical foundations for this work. Such conversations of the role of ethics in education deepen the experience of JMU students pursuing this career.

Hopefully in the not-too-far distant future, I’ll be able to take some students there to experience the deep desire to learn, the intoxicating smiles and joy of the children, and the powerful transformative feeling of being a part of something truly making a global difference. This is the gift that Nasaruni brings to my students and to me, as a professor – the opportunity to live out the calling to Be the Change.

kenya 1 275To learn more about the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls, visit their website:

To learn more about JMU’s College of Education, visit:


*Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, by Paulo Freire

All photos courtesy of Michelle Cude


Sayo’s hope for better lives

While James Madison University is located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a world away from some of the world’s challenges, the impact of JMU is hardly isolated. In our next two blog posts, JMU staff writer Janet Smith (’81) and Associate Professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education Michelle Cude illuminate what happens when the Madison spirit travels to distant lands and how such an intersection of cultures can bring positive change on both sides of the Atlantic…..

A dream, a haven, a reality

By Janet Smith (‘81)

kenya 1 088When Alice Sayo arrived at James Madison University in 2011 as an international exchange fellow, she quickly discovered she was among kindred spirits.

The public high-school principal found JMU’s Be the Change attitude in her College of Education faculty and student colleagues and soon felt comfortable sharing her dream for a new school in her hometown of Narok, Kenya, where the closest public school is about 6 kilometers away.

Only four years later, the Nasaruni Academy for Maasai Girls – Sayo’s hope for better lives – is a growing reality since its establishment in 2012 with 13 students.

Nasaruni, which means “haven” in the Maasai language, is just that for 50 girls enrolled in grades K-3 of the day school. With four teachers plus a volunteer student teacher on staff, the girls are learning English, Swahili, social studies, math, geography and sciences in the standard curriculum required by the Kenyan government.

The academy is their haven from a future without education that usually results in a lifetime of employment as babysitters or domestic workers or arranged marriages at ages 14 or 15, according to Alice Sayo’s husband, Bishop Moses Sayo, who visited JMU in the spring semester. He serves as assistant director of the academy led by his wife.

kenya smcam1 143“All along she had this dream,” Moses Sayo recalled. He related that his wife’s life did not follow the usual Maasai path after the death of her father. Her mother and an older brother wanted more for Alice, the 11th of 12 children, and made sure she graduated from high school in Kenya and went on to higher education.

During her International Leaders in Education fellowship at JMU, she was “inspired that anything is possible,” Moses said. And Alice had more than a dream in her quiver of resources. She had support, including monetary support, from her JMU friends. Members of the social studies methods class she was enrolled in at JMU raised money to help purchase 5 acres of land for the academy.

Alice’s dream spurred the members of Future Social Studies Educators at JMU to dream big and join her in making a real difference. FSSE exists so future social studies teachers can network with each other and the outside education community to better prepare for teaching.

The organization, with Dr. Michelle Cude, associate professor of middle, secondary and mathematics education, as faculty advisor, views Nasaruni Academy as its main charity.

Alice and Moses Sayo

Alice Sayo and Bishop Moses Sayo

Brandi St John, FSSE’s vice president of administration and service, said the organization’s sustained commitment to the school has led to the purchase of desks for the classroom and collection of toothbrushes and other personal supplies the girls may need. “Over the past year, we have exclusively been focusing on raising money for a dormitory so that the school can have more girls attend. We have also been in contact with H2O for Life and are working to have our school on their list of sites that people can fund to help build the girls a well for fresh water.”

Michele Cude and Alice Sayo

Michele Cude and Alice Sayo

St John, a history major who will complete her master of arts in teaching degree in 2016, sees supporting the Nasaruni Academy as important in her future role as a social studies teacher. “I chose to teach social studies because I want to help students see the global impact that each of us can make on any given day.”

Her involvement with FSSE and the academy has given St John a clearer, more specific illustration of the educational plight of girls internationally. “We all know that in other parts of the world women do not get a chance to be educated, but until you know of a particular group and spend time learning and helping those girls, you don’t think much of it and after a while they become an afterthought. The Nasaruni Academy has truly show me what it is like to fight for an education and how hard it is to gain that education.”

kenya smcam1 064

“I hope to bring everything that I have learned and the experiences I have gained from my work with the Nasaruni Academy, Dr. Cude and Bishop Sayo into my classroom and hopefully show my students what education and cultural values are like in other parts of the world and how they can each make an impact in other parts of the world from their desks in the United States.”

Moses Sayo, who is now back in Kenya, said while visiting JMU, “I am thrilled to realize we have like-minded people here at JMU. We are making connections to make things happen. I find great inspiration in that.”

kenya 1 238To learn more visit these websites:

Photographs courtesy of Michelle Cude

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