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Hunger pangs leave Marsabit schools empty


Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) learners at Ngurunit Primary School in Laisamis, Marsabit County are served with porridge on July 18, 2019. PHOTO | DAVID MUCHUI | NMG

An aerial view of the Marsabit paints an image of stones together in circles and bare land, dotting where there was once manyattas and human settlement.

But on the ground, the vast land is empty. People have since left in search of the pasture while also escaping the adverse conditions.

Despite a good murram road, a more than a one-hour drive from Sarima Village to Loiyangalani is long through the wind farm, is dusty and temperatures outside are at above 40 degrees Celsius.

The land is rocky and dry evident that it cannot support farming. Occasionally, we meet one or two teenage boys with goats, sheep and camels, some carrying AK-47 guns on their shoulders.

But there is another story besides the emptiness of the land.

Schoolgoing children have been the most affected, grappling with cultural conflicts, a shortage of teachers, a lack of infrastructure, water and electricity even as the area hosts Africa’s largest wind power firm, threatening continued rise in illiteracy rates.

Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School in Loiyangalani has recorded a surge in dropouts as pupils opt to leave in search of food or find pasture for their family livestock.

“In this area, there is a relationship between food and coming to school. You have some children coming to school to have a chance to feed. Most of the parents are unable to provide now when there is drought and the livestock have been wiped out because of lack of pasture,” says the headteacher, Mr Andrew Lepakio.

“Some opt to go for fishing in this nearby lake,’’ he says pointing to Lake Turkana metres away.

“Pupils run to school for at least the feeding programme, if not the education. I don’t remember when it rained.”

The school serves the Loiyangalani area, Mount Kulal, and Kargi locations with some pupils walking up to 110 kilometres.

This forces some to stay around the village with relatives. With the long-distance covered on the rocky terrain, girls are the most affected.

The school has turned to private companies seeking help in building a dormitory to house the girls.

“There have been exits and low enrolment as the adjacent village around here does not produce many students.

“If we have a dormitory we hope there will be higher admissions even from those distances,” the headteacher says.

The area has also witnessed conflicts in the past several years over livestock and grazing space, an issue exacerbated by drought in the region.

Split ethnic groups

This is also coupled with politics, which splits ethnic groups of Samburu, Turkana Borana, Gabra, Rendille, and Burji despite sharing most to the social services.

“At this time there are no conflicts, but when they arise, students fail to go to school,” says 38-year-old Angeline Leikulo, a parent with four pupils in the school.

“We don’t have food now. We depend on livestock. The animals have malnourished and the fish market has not been doing well.’’

The fish from the lake is transported to Kisumu where it fetches better prices at Sh40 to Sh50 than Sh20 to Sh25 at the local markets.

The rising water levels at the lake have, however, led to a decline in fish that swim to deeper parts, making it difficult for those without boats.

Ms Everlyne Nimosa, a parent at South Horr Primary School, also says while families have been dependent on the animals for household expenses and tuition fees, some households do not have this kind of assets.

“In this area, we have a problem when we have a drought. Most people are dependent on cows, camels, and goats and rains is a problem,” she says.

“Most of the animals left have been taken for grazing far-flung areas in search of pasture. Most families do not have these animals and only depend on relief. “

“Without food, these children are not learning, without food they cannot complete school,” says Sky Walome, headteacher at Korr Primary School, in Korr Ward, pointing to challenges of water, shortage of teachers and poor staffrooms.

He adds that desks and the presence of a library in the school, among other facilities, are close to luxury.

The schools in the sub-county have relied on the government feeding programme that ensures each student receives a meal daily.

However, the provision was cut off in March.

Laisamis sub-county director of education Aliyo Kero says the government has been consistent in the provision of food but there have been delays in the distribution in sub-counties since the last term that ended December, disputing claims.

“The delay is occasioned by distribution. The food for this term was supposed to have arrived but the truck got an accident just past Isiolo. Otherwise, the ministry gives us food on time,” said Mr Kero.

County governments are given food in the ratio of 150 grammes of the cereals, 40 grammes for proteins, five grammes of oil, and three grammes of salt for every child daily per term.

“When the delay occurred, we asked the county leaders including Members of Parliament and MCAs to ask for the intervention from companies such as LTWP (Lake Turkana Wind Power).

“We are expecting a consignment of 175 bags of beans and more than 500 bags of rice from the ministry by next week (starting January 17),” he said.

Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School in Loiyangalani with a population of 360 students is served by eight teachers, making even implementation of Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) almost impossible.

This is worsened by the drought affecting the residents’ source of income, poverty, a lack of electricity, gadgets, weak telecommunications network, and accessibility of materials.

“When you have few teachers, it means they can only handle so many subjects,” says Mr Lepakio.

“For the parents, it’s difficult. They don’t understand. Sometimes children are required to buy some materials that are not found around. It is costly for them.”

The lack of electricity in the sub-county is a paradox as the area hosts the Lake Turkana Wind Power generating more than 17 percent of power to the national grid.

Single authority

This has been attributed to the single authority of Kenya Power to distribute.

“We don’t have electricity to print these materials sometimes and we are forced to travel to Marsabit town,” Mr Lepakio added.

“We conducted a study in 2017 to see how much it could cost to bring power to Loiyangalani. We shared the study with Kenya Power, Ketraco, county government and Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation to see how we can move forward but we are yet to receive a response.

It is not within our authority to connect the community. However, it is better being part of the grid if something goes wrong then it’s easy to fix,” said the wind power company.

Mr Lepakio says the challenges are causing disparity in the country as the learners lag behind others.

“You cannot compare the implementation of CBC in Loiyangalni with let’s say in Meru. The parents are aware of the changes in the education system but they have still not internalised it. They are yet to understand and appreciate CBC. The government should focus more on these areas to ensure that students access equal access.”

The government also runs a cash transfer programme implemented through the National Drought Management Authority in four counties — Turkana, Wajir, Mandera and Marsabit, which should be distributed monthly.

The programme aims at reducing extreme hunger and vulnerability by delivering regular cash transfers to targeted households.

The amount disbursed was expected to increase by 2.9 percent to Sh3.496 billion in the year ended June 2021 in the four counties, from Sh3.398 billion in the previous year.

The expected number of beneficiary households is expected to increase by 49.9 percent in the year to 190,380.

The residents say they received Sh3,000 in November and are yet to get any other money since then.

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