Kenyan schools struggle to cope with influx of children displaced by drought
By Victor Chinyama
GARISSA, Kenya, 8 September 2011 – Dekha Mohamed Noor, 15, has not seen her family for more than a month. At the end of July, after schools closed for the August holidays, they sent her to live with a relative in Garissa, a bustling commercial hub 165 km west of her home village, Modogashe. The drought in north-eastern Kenya and much of the Horn of Africa had decimated their livestock, throwing the family into a desperate scramble for survival.
“We used to sell milk from our cows and goats and then use the money to buy food,” says Dekha. “After the animals died, it became difficult. We ran out of money.”
Leaving behind her parents and four siblings, Dekha came to Garissa to continue her education. Her parents reasoned that hunger and scarcity, which are now the bane of their existence, were likely to imperil her schooling.
“Life is good here, but I miss my family,” says Dekha. “Sometimes I call them on the phone, but things are not the same.” When she speaks about her family, tears roll down her cheeks. She wonders when she will see them again.
Strain on local resources
This week, with schools across Kenya reopening for the new term, Dekha joins thousands of other children from drought-affected areas who will not be returning to their former schools because they have migrated to other, better-off districts.
According to Ahmed Abdi Mohamed, head teacher at Dekha’s former school in Modogashe, 57 children from the school had dropped out by the end of July and moved to other districts. His is among three schools in the district that have experienced a drop in enrolments as more than 20,000 people – the majority of them women and children – have migrated from Modogashe and surrounding communities to other places.
These new arrivals are placing enormous strains on local resources in host communities. Abdinoor Hussein, head teacher at Dekha’s new school in Garissa, Yathrib Primary School, says class sizes have ballooned from 50 to an average of 92 pupils, and the school’s 10 teachers are having a hard time coping with the surge.
“When I came to this school last year, we had 560 students. But now, there are more than 1,400,” says Mr. Hussein. “Most of the new arrivals are coming from rural communities, where they have been forced out by the drought. They have lost all their livestock, everything, and we cannot just turn them away.
Supplies from UNICEF
The Yathrib Primary School parent-teacher association has pooled some resources and hired two extra teachers. Still, the need for more teachers, and teaching and learning resources, keeps increasing.
UNICEF is scaling up its support to schools in Kenya’s drought-affected areas by supplying education kits, which contain teaching and learning materials, along with as hygiene kits, and bedding and mosquito nets for boarding schools.
Beginning this week, 369 education kits are being distributed to benefit about 43,000 pupils at schools in north-eastern Kenya. More than 3,500 beds, 7,000 mattresses and 10,000 mosquito nets have already being supplied to boarding schools in drought-stricken areas, ensuring that children can remain at the schools as their families migrate in search of water, food and pasture for surviving livestock.