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From Masailand to Tompkins Square Library: A Journey in Literacy


Last year, Victoria joined a basic reading and writing class at Tompkins Square Library's Center for Reading and Writing. She agreed to speak with me about her experience so far and what brought her here.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kenya, in the Masailand, in a village with 10 huts.

What other languages do you speak besides English?

I speak the Masai language and Swahili, and other tribal languages: Kikuyu, Luo, and Kamba. I came to America in 1986. I speak English every day, but I haven’t learned everything.

Why did you need to work on your reading and writing?

In 1975, when I was a young girl, the first president of Kenya sent the national guard into the Masai villages to force the children to go to school. All the children hid. I hid in the bushes, and my girlfriend hid under the bed, but they found everyone.

For the first weeks, I went to school in my tribal Masai clothes — that was cowhide decorated with beads. After that we had to buy a uniform. My mom bought me the blouse and skirt, but she didn’t have enough money for the underpants and shoes. The teachers did uniform inspections. They found that I didn't have underpants, and they beat me. After two months I ran away. My mom took me to a Catholic school, but to go there I had to live with my aunt, and she mistreated me. She didn’t give me enough food, so I could not concentrate on school work. I decided to run away back to my village. From then on I never went to school again... until now. Now I study at the Tompkins Square Library.

How did you find the Center for Reading and Writing?

My husband found the program on the Internet. He saw they offer free education at the library. I chose this center because it’s close to where we live. I had never been to the library before. But now I have a library card. 

How did you feel when you first came to the Library?

When I came here I did not know how to read or write. I couldn’t read a book. I couldn’t write anything. I knew the alphabet. I could see the letters T, H, and E, but putting them together — I couldn’t. I started with a phonics program on the computer and different teachers helped me. Slowly, slowly I kept learning.

How has your reading and writing changed since you started here?

Since I started coming here, to tell the truth, I’m much better and I feel so good. I just want to continue and continue and continue! I understand more English words. Now I can read books. Before if you told me to read this book, I wouldn’t know what to do. Now I’m on book six of this series An American Family. I’m learning about history.

Also, my spelling is becoming much better. If I continue like this I’ll be a very good writer in the future. So far I’ve been writing my real life story, which makes me feel good. I said at the beginning when I first came here that I wanted to write my life story and that’s what I’m doing. I’m feeding myself with words, with education.

On November 17, 2011, Victoria received the Storylines Award for her story, "In the Center of the Village." Click the picture to read her winning story.On November 17, 2011, Victoria received the Storylines Award for her story, "In the Center of the Village." Click the picture to read her winning story.


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Great Story about Victoria

It's always inspiring to hear life stories of the people who visit the CRW. Thanks for sharing, Hilary!

Victoria's Story

Great interview, Hilary. Victoria has accomplished so much already. I look forward to reading her complete, fascinating life story!

Victoria's Story

Victoria, your stories teach us all much about Masai culture and the Kenyan rural landscape. I look forward to reading more! So glad that you found our library program. Terry

In the Center of the Village

Your interview with Victoria's journey and "In the Village," the story she wrote herself, were inspiring! She is clearly a person of strength and determination, first battling the village bully as a child and now working hard with the help of the CRW to become an accomplished reader and writer. Thank you for sharing!

I am very happy to read your

I am very happy to read your story. I'm learning and understood very well. I want to tell you if you continue in the same way, you will master writing. Keep going and don't stop! Vilner

Reading your story was so exciting!

Victoria, You have come so very far from where you started in our little group. It is totally amazing! Even though I don't usually approve of children hitting each other,under the circomstances, it seemed justified in your situation. I think the leader man was wise in this matter. the boy who was bullying you needed to find out what it feels like to have someone after him like you were! I hope it taught him a lesson! Great writing and great story-telling! GALE


My sister has come a long long way indeed. I am ever so proud of her


Elizabeth are you sister to Tom Kiminta? if so do you know where i can contact him?

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