Teacher finds a new purpose in Africa
By BRIAN OLSON
North Kitsap Herald Schools/Sports reporter
May 14, 2010 · 10:21 AM
POULSBO — There’s a link between helping others and personal gratification. Gayl TenEyck, a teacher at North Kitsap High, discovered that connection in Africa.
Next month, three days after school lets out, TenEyck will travel to Kenya, where she will work for more than a year to establish a safe house for girls who are abused or forced into marriage before they are ready.
“It’s probably the most gratifying thing I’ve done in my life, aside from being a mom,” TenEyck said.
TenEyck developed the idea for the refuge after working with the Maasai tribe in the town of Kimuka, 40 miles outside of Nairobi, several times over the past three years. Leaders within the tribe saw a need for a safe house for runaway and mistreated girls, and asked TenEyck to lend a hand through her Simba Maasai Outreach Organization.
“Any kind of change in a culture needs to come from within the tribe,” TenEyck said. “If I come in and impose my own views as a Westerner, it won’t last. I’m not trying to take away from their culture, but create an opportunity for those girls to go to school.”
Maasai girls are often married off at young ages so their parents can collect dowries — usually cattle, a sign of wealth. That practice is becoming less popular among the tribe’s youth, as teenagers opt to stay in school longer before starting families. TenEyck said educating girls raises the standard of living in a culture because of the influence women have on household matters such as health, nutrition and hygiene.
She was inspired to help build the safe house after meeting a 10-year-old Maasai girl who ran away from home when her parents tried to force her into marriage.
“I was so struck by her poise,” TenEyck said. “The work I’m doing is dedicated to her.”
TenEyck first visited Kenya in the summer of 2007, on a two-and-a-half week missionary trip sponsored by Central Kitsap Presbyterian Church in Bremerton. She returned in 2008 for a month-long trip sponsored by St. Charles Anglican Church in Poulsbo, and again in 2009 for two months. Last Christmas, TenEyck visited her Maasai friends again to discuss the safe house.
“I knew I needed to make a decision about the safe house and what my involvement would be,” she said. “And that’s when I made a decision to take a year off.”
TenEyck will likely be in Kenya for a total of 14 months. Her children are grown, so she is able to travel on her own. She said the safe house will probably not take long to establish, but she would like to take her time fully developing it and fit it to the culture.
“I want to be a little bit more free to go to different Maasai schools, to be able to have the freedom to travel around the countryside and live among the Maasai,” she said.
TenEyck plans to return to Poulsbo in August of 2011, right before a new school year begins. The trip is a sabbatical for the ninth-grade English teacher, so she will have a job waiting for her when she returns.
“I may not have the same position, but I will have a job when I get back,” TenEyck said. “In this day and age of cutbacks, it’ll be interesting to see what I come back to.”
The district has had to lay off several teachers in recent years because of reductions in state education funding. Administrators avoided such a maneuver this spring, thanks to a large number of teachers retiring or taking leaves of absence.
After 29 years of teaching, and a lifetime lived in the United States, TenEyck said her friends in Africa have taught her what really matters in life.
“They’ve shown me what happiness is all about,” she said. “It’s not the stuff of life, but the experiences and people. Relationships are so important to them.
“Sometimes I think I’m crazy to do this. But it’s just so exciting.”Contact North Kitsap Herald Schools/Sports reporter Brian Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org.