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Kill a lion, go to college

Professor Tim Keiper's year in Tanzania

When a safari vehicle stopped in the Serengeti Desert, a teen named Wilson of the Maasai tribe was the only person amongst the cattleman who spoke English.

At 15, Wilson was a warrior who had already killed his ceremonial lion and was destined to tend cattle for his tribe. But the young man wanted more. Thanks to the fateful safari vehicle stop, he was able to attend school with gracious funding from a couple on the tour from Alaska.  He ran away and lived at a primary boarding school, with all expenses covered by his generous sponsors.

Wilson was in his first year of college when he met Professor Tim Keiper 15 years later during the 2010-2011 academic school year at the University of Tanzania.

Professor Keiper chose Tanzania for its location, language and the opportunity to research children from adverse backgrounds. He was deeply impressed by the resiliency he saw in his first class of 275 students from tribes across the country.

"The students were so different from one another and had each overcome so much - including the Tanzanian education system - to be successful college students," Professor Keiper says.

Wilson's journey to Keiper's classroom had been anything but easy. He sat amongst school-age children as a Maasai warrior. His brothers kidnapped him and took him back to his village, but he ran away from home a second time and finished school and continued on through secondary school.

When Professor Keiper met him, he was a freshman in college and in his 30s. He notes that it's easy for a tourist on safari to be swept up in the romanticism of the Serengeti. But the reality of life is extremely difficult.

Education can help the hardships many children face, as Wilson astutely explained to Professor Keiper.

"A lot of people go to school because they want a better life," Wilson told the professor. "I did that, but I saw education was really about being creative. I want to learn to be creative and help my village solve problems. If I can help my village, I can help my region. If I can help my region, I can help my country."

Professor Keiper is currently working on a research article based on his findings from his time teaching and traveling in Tanzania titled "Resolving inner cultural conflicts towards education: A grounded theory study of the vulnerable from semi-nomadic pastoralist cultures in rural Tanzania." He is still connected with the Maasai tribe and working to help them establish clean water sources and schools. He hopes to return to the region in East Africa in the next year.

"Wilson is an example of the ripple effect help can have," Professor Keiper says. "I'm learning from Wilson about his village and partnering with him to start a school there. I love being a part of that."


Woodring College of Education
Western Washington University
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