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‘Water is our life’ – Pastoralists adapt to village life in drought-stricken north-eastern Kenya

© UNICEF Kenya/2011/Monier
Fatima Suthi and three of her children in their school uniforms in front of the manyatta (hut) where they live in Labisigale village, near Dadaab, Kenya. From left: Nasri, 10, Hamid, 4, Ms. Suthi and Bishara, 6.

By Cifora Monier

DADAAB, Kenya, 3 October 2011 – “The last time I saw rain was five years ago,” says Fatima Suthi, a 50-year-old mother of eight living in Labisigale village, 15 km from Dadaab town in north-eastern Kenya. Host to over 400,000 refugees from Somalia in three camps, Dadaab is now considered the most populous refugee settlement in the world.

But the area’s pastoralist communities are also struggling to cope with drought and insecurity. Many have lost their livelihoods, in the form of livestock, and have to adapt to new ways of life.

“We used to live in Waraha Labisigale, a two-hour walk from here,” explains Ms. Suthi. “I used to have over 200 goats and 50 cows. We lost everything, all our animals. They all died due to the drought.”

UNICEF-supported projects

Ms. Suthi was fortunate to have family members living in Labisigale village who could host her and her family. “There are a lot of families who have suffered like me, who have come to Labisigale,” she says. “Some are better off than others, and some have nothing. We came to settle here looking for water.”

Descended from pastoralists who have lived in the region for many generations, Ms. Suthi moved to the village under duress. Still, she and her family are benefitting from water, sanitation and hygiene projects that UNICEF is supporting to ease the situation of drought-affected Kenyan families in Labisigale.

The move has also improved her children’s access to education.

© UNICEF Kenya/2011/Monier
With support from UNICEF, a borehole is being drilled at Labisigale Early Childhood Development School in north-eastern Kenya to benefit the school’s students and the local community.

“I was born in Dadaab, and my father refused to let me go to school when I was a child,” she recalls. “When we came to Labisigale, the school director came to talk to my husband and me. He told us that there was a school in the village and that the children could go to school. Out of my eight children, three are in the school.”

First opportunity to enrol

The Labisigale Early Childhood Development School opened its doors to the children of Labisigale and neighbouring villages in February of this year. There are now 263 students in attendance there each day – 157 boys and 106 girls. For 221 of them, it’s the first time they have had the opportunity to enrol in school.

UNICEF built the school with funds from the Japanese Government. It has four classrooms and separate latrines for girls and boys. Many of the students, like Ms. Suthi’s children, were herders and shepherds. Many of the girls stayed at home doing household chores.

Students at Labisigale are in class each day from 8 a.m. until noon. They all get lunch before being dismissed to return home, where many of the girls do chores and many boys take animals out to graze or attend Quran classes.

Today, UNICEF is in the process of drilling a borehole for the school – a difficult task in the rocky terrain. The borehole project will also serve the wider community. If the work goes according to plan, there could be water for the school and community in the next few weeks.

‘We have water here’

“I will never go back to Waraha Labisigale,” says Ms. Suthi. “I have no animals, and its hurts me too much. Water is life, and we have water here. Having the water point so close, in the school, will be very good for us. We will be happy to have water all the time.”

She is also proud that her children are in school for the first time.

“If I could have gone to school and had been educated, I would be able to talk with you directly and not use a translator,” she tells a visitor, speaking in Somali and adding that she wants her children “to be someone important when they grow up.”



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