Children from marginalized communities experience the joy of education
By Daisy Serem
TURKANA, Kenya, 17 January 2013: Eight year old Peter Ekutan and his younger brother, seven year old Emanuel Lowar, have never been to school. The two brothers spent most of their childhood tending their father’s goats in a remote village in Turkana County, north western Kenya; oblivious to the fact that other children were in class getting an education.
That is until UNICEF partnered with Turkana Education for All (TEFA) and the Government of Kenya on an initiative to reach marginalized and nomadic pastoralist communities with low-cost schools. The Rapid School Readiness Initiative programme identifies school-going children in hard-to-reach areas that do not have access to any form of education.
Once the children have been identified, education officers from the Government’s Ministry of Education conduct mobilization activities to sensitize communities on the benefits of educating their children. Since many of these children have never been to school they initially go through a forty day school readiness programme to prepare them for formal education.
This is how Peter and Emanuel finally got a chance to go to school and are now one of the brightest students in their class.
“I am happy in school because I like studying,” says shy Emanuel.
Reaching the unreached
For many other students in Turkana, education remains a distant dream due to the high levels of poverty, harsh terrain and weather conditions, schools are sparsely dispersed. Recent statistics from the Ministry of Education indicate that 81 per cent of children in Turkana who should be undergoing their Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) are out of school.
“This initiative is important because we are able to reach the unreached areas of Turkana,” says UNICEF Education Officer, Joyce Emanikor. “Most of the formal schools are centred around communities that have settled. But with the mobile communities and those distant from urban centres this was the only way to access them.”
The initiative has seen the growth of six ECDE makeshift centres into schools in Turkana South and East. Communities in these regions have also stepped in to support their children’s education by providing building material for construction of more weather-friendly classrooms. The ripple effect from the initiative has also drawn in other partners to ensure that the children will not have to travel long distances in order to further their education.
“These are now going to be formal schools and the Government is ready to provide boarding facilities so that even as the parents migrate the children can remain in school to learn,” adds Ms. Emanikor.
Better than nothing
At Lokwadat Primary School in Turkana South, 432 children now have an opportunity to go to school. For now they study outdoors exposed to the scorching sun, wind, dust and even rain. But the enthusiastic and attentive students hardly notice their harsh learning environment as they listen to their head teacher Eliud Ekeru who is optimistic that conditions will improve.
“The fact that we are outside in a field without a classroom is better than when there was nothing at all,” he says. “The most important thing was to identify the children but now we must provide them a better environment for learning.”
For Peter and Emanuel this means a brighter future than they had ever envisioned. Their father Elim Nyiro acknowledges that although he has lost two herds boys, an investment in their education is priceless. Most of his livestock have died due to the drought and he is now convinced that sending his children to school can provide a more sustainable future.
Peter would like to be a teacher someday, while his brother is also studying hard to be a doctor.
“I expect them to study so that they can live a better life. Their education can lift our family out of poverty,” says their father.