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Drought in Kenya: Far away from home, 14-year-old Rahama, wants to bring change

© UNICEFKenya/2017/Charbonneau
Rahama (14) comes from Illiret in Northern Kenya near the Ethiopean border, a place severely affected by the drought.

By Ninja Charbonneau

Marsabit, Kenya, 22 May 2017 - When things started to get difficult at home because of the drought, Rahama, 14, and her family first began to skip breakfast drinking only tea in the morning. As the drought continued to bite, they were forced to skip dinner and now eat only once a day.

“We always went to bed hungry. Every day I woke up with an empty stomach”, she says.

Rahama’s home is in Ileret at the far North of Kenya, close to the Kenyan border with Ethiopia. Now, at the beginning of the new school term, she is back at her boarding school in North Horr, about 300 kilometers away. At least here she is provided with three meals a day. But access to food is not the only reason why Rahama is determined to travel so far to come back to school. She has a vision for her future and is determined to achieve it no matter what.

“Many of our students who went home for the school break came back a lot weaker after just 3 weeks”, says Kimanzi Godana, headteacher at Helmer Girl’s School in North Horr. “At their homes, they had almost nothing to eat. They are better off here in school.”

But the physical health of the students is not the only thing that the drought is affecting. Their education and mental wellbeing is at great risk, says the headteacher.

“Many kids are psychologically affected. They worry so much about their families that they have left behind and they find it difficult to concentrate while in school.”
“Operation Come to School”

Rahama stands next to her bed at Helmer Girls Primary School.

Boarding schools are often the only way children, especially girls, from pastoral and nomadic communities from remote villages can get an education. UNICEF is supporting Rahama’s school as part of the “Operation Come to School” programme, aiming to bring out-of-school children back into the classrooms.

At Helmer Girls Primary School, UNICEF has supported the construction of latrines, washrooms, installed a solar power system and has provided school books, uniforms, mattresses and blankets for the dormitories.

Rahama tries not to think too much about what could happen to her family back home, who are still grappling with the drought. But of course she is worried. She is the youngest of 6 children from a pastoral family with a nomadic lifestyle. Like the majority of people here, they lost most of their livestock to the devastating effects of the drought. The few remaining goats are too weak to be taken to the market for sale and even if they did, they would not get much money for the animals due to their poor body condition. This situation in addition to the drastic rise in food prices has made life very difficult for the communities.

© UNICEFKenya/2017/Charbonneau
A family walks across the dry landscape of North Horr in Marsabit County. A devastating drought has hit Kenya's arid and semi-arid counties affecting 2.7 million people.

“Without school, there is nothing!”

The situation at home in Ileret is difficult, says Rahama.

“There is not enough food or water, no schools, and there are no hospitals. If somebody gets sick, they can’t get proper treatment.”

The lack of health facilities makes Rahama very angry, even more, it would seem, than the lack of food or water. She painfully explains that she has been raised singlehandedly by her mother after her father died. Her father got very ill several years ago and could not get access to a hospital. He died at home as the family watched.

This sad experience might have shaped Rahama’s determination to do something meaningful to change the situation back at home.

“Where I live, many girls are already married at my age, some even younger”, says Rahama. "They often don’t have many options. The boys look after the livestock, the girls marry and are busy with household chores with some becoming mothers too early.”

But for this 14-year-old girl from Ileret, she definitely has other things on her mind far from getting married. 

“I want to continue with my schooling. I want to get a good education and become a doctor. Without school, there is nothing. If I leave school and stay with my family, this is bad because everything will just remain the same. We will be stuck in this bad situation. I want to learn more, and then go back home and help my family and my community.”

UNICEF is on the ground to help the families in need in drought hit counties. A lot has already been done, but for many children the danger is not yet over. We fear that the number of children who suffer from the impact of the drought is still rising. And even though the rains have started in some regions, they have so far not been frequent or substantial enough. According to projections, the rains this year will be below average and the harvest is likely to be poor.

In response to this, UNICEF together with the Government and other partners is scaling up response efforts in order to reach every child in need. So far our humanitarian response is less than half funded. UNICEF needs 41 million dollars this year to assist children and families, including 23.3 million dollars for drought response for children who are in urgent need of support.



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