Anna trained to be a nurse. One day, a German woman came and wanted to talk to her.
“She knew I was Maasai, and she wanted to find out more about children with disabilities in our villages. I explained that it used to be common for children to be killed or abandoned after being born. People thought the disability was a punishment for something they’d done. But I went on to say that the biggest reason was that the Maasai are herders who walk long distances across the savannah in order to survive, looking for fresh grazing areas for their animals. A child who was unable to move was seen as a major hindrance for the entire group. I explained that these children were still having their rights violated. That they were hidden away, didn’t have access to the treatment they needed and weren’t allowed to go to school or play.”
The German woman asked Anna if she would be interested in helping start up a project for children with disabilities out in the Maasai villages, which would be called Huduma ya Walemavu (Care for the Disabled).
“I immediately said yes. This was what I’d been waiting for! Now I could hopefully do more for children with disabilities than I was able to do for Nauri when I was little.”
Anna began driving round the villages in 1990, talking about the rights of children with disabilities. At the same time, she looked for children who needed help. One of the first children she came across was Paulina, 15, who had lost her parents and was disabled as a result of polio. She had to drag herself across the ground. Anna thought it would be easy to convince the village leaders that Paulina could have a good life if she could only have the right operation. But Anna was wrong.
“They didn’t know that children with disabilities could have operations and get better, and they didn’t believe me. Because they lived a long way from hospitals and they couldn’t read or afford a radio, they had never found these things out. They thought it would be money wasted. These children would still never be able to help with the livestock or go to school.
“But my biggest problem was that I was a woman. In our society, women basically have no voice, so they didn’t take me seriously.”
But Anna refused to give in. Just like as a six-year-old she had challenged Nauri’s mum, she now challenged the village leaders. The journey to the village took four hours, but over two weeks Anna travelled there five times! At every meeting she explained about children’s rights, and that they had managed to arrange a free operation for Paulina. Finally she managed to convince the men.