Ali's story: In drought-ravaged Kenya, education is the key to a brighter future
By Rob McBride
WAJIR, Kenya, 26 September, 2011 - In a futile attempt to save the last of the goats, Ali Yusef Omar, 16, and one of his younger sisters had no other option but to feed the ravenous animals handfuls of shredded-up cardboard boxes they had scavenged from the local town. Kept in a make-shift pen made of thorn bushes, only three remain out of a herd that had once numbered two hundred.
With the pasture gone and no money for maize, it was the only thing they had to fill their stomachs.
“Of course these goats are going to die,” said the boy with a resigned shrug of his shoulders. “You think they’re going to survive on boxes?”
Burdened with the adult responsibility of providing for his mother and five half brothers and sisters, Ali was sent to town to attend high school, with the hope that it would lead to a job that could support his family. When the rains dwindled, however, so did his chances of remaining in school.
A monumental challenge
Here in Wajir, in the drought-ravaged north east of Kenya, Ali and his family live in a camp mostly populated by other displaced families like his own. Many have arrived in the last few months, in an attempt to escape the ravages of the emergency. Most of the men still tend to what remain of goat herds, while looking for food, work or both.
“The living conditions are terrible for the people,” said a solemn Ali. “All we have is porridge to eat. I feel so bad about it. My family is hungry and there is nothing I can do.”
Trying to get an education had already been a struggle – now it’s a monumental challenge. Sharing a simple hut made of branches and straw with the rest of the family, Ali is forced to do his homework by flashlight.
Hope for the future
Still, against the odds, he has been getting good grades - his last report card detailing all A’s and B’s. “The subjects I like best are science and math,” he explained. “Because, whatever you do, they will help you most to get a job.”
With his family’s fortunes suffering along with the rest of this community’s, a job for Ali is their sole hope for the future, and one that is dependant on him staying in school.
“For me, it’s good for me to do my hard work,” he said in broken English, one of the subjects he is striving hard to improve in. “To save them (the family) for future life to get educated is also important. I want to be an educated man.”