In Kenya, school offers meals, shelter, education and hope
By Daisy Serem
TURKANA District, Kenya, 16 December 2011 – Gabriel Ekalale, the head teacher of Napuu Primary School in the north-western Turkana District, proudly displays the certificates and awards his school has received. There is one for ‘most disciplined school’, another celebrating the school’s achievements in national exams, and many more for participation in culture, music, tourism and environmental activities.
For Mr. Ekalale, it is a sure sign of how far Napuu Primary has come from the its first days in 1983, when only a handful of students would meet for instruction outdoors. Today, 1,117 pupils fill the school’s classrooms, and the majority continue on to high school.
Education is everything
On this day, students are sitting for mid-term exams. Among them is 10-year-old Samuel Losepicho, a fourth-grader and one of the top students in his class. He diligently completes his science exam, not wanting to miss a single question. For him, failure is not an option.
"I make sure I study very hard because I have nothing else to depend on in this world, only education,” he says. ”I want to succeed in my studies so that in the future, I can have a new life – a better life.”
Life for Samuel has grown increasingly difficult since his father passed away in 2006. His widowed mother, Esther Acharait, has struggled to take up the role of sole breadwinner for her three children. She weaves mats for a living, making less than a dollar week.
A place of learning, food and shelter
Mr. Ekalale says that poverty remains one of the greatest challenges facing the school and its students. Many, like Samuel’s parents, struggle financially. Others cannot afford to keep their children enrolled.
Those who stay in school are not only looking for a better future but also for a day’s meal. Families here have survived drought and famine, and continue to face high food insecurity. Napuu Primary’s feeding programme is often the only place to get food. Samuel shares his school meal with his entire family.
The school also offers boarding. UNICEF provides the school with supplies like beds, mattresses and mosquito nets to further minimize costs for boarding students.
UNICEF is also coordinating with the Ministry of Education and district education offices to respond to serious shortages in education supplies throughout Turkana. So far, 2,800 primary school children in the district have been reached with education kits, and a further 2,300 pre-schoolers have been reached with Early Childhood Development kits.
Still, resources are stretched thin. The Napuu classrooms and dormitories have had to accommodate an increasing number of students and a growing student-to-teacher ratio, with some teachers instructing over 150 students per class.
Hoping for a better future
Despite the challenges, the certificates on Mr. Ekalale’s wall show that his students are determined to succeed. In turn, students like Samuel inspire the staff at Napuu Primary; even when the school is closed, they even make certain he has food for his family.
Samuel sits with his mother in their thatch-and-mud home as she weaves a mat. He wants to be a doctor one day, he says. Dreams like these keeps their family going.
“I have put my hope in my children,” said Ms. Acharait. “That’s why I’m taking them to school, so that they get education. And if they graduate, they get employed and then they can come to assist me.”
She smiles at Samuel proudly. ”Even with the challenges,” she continues, “I am optimistic that one day, one time, better things will happen.”