Page last updated at 07:37 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Taking the school to Kenya's nomads


Goat dropping numbers and the nomadic school in action

By Will Ross
BBC News, Garissa district, Kenya

Under the shade of a thorny tree in the small Kenyan village of Saka Junction, students sit learning the alphabet - spelled out in the sand using goat droppings.

"Teachers are supposed to be innovative," says Abdi Salat of Garissa district's education office.

"The teacher has to use goat droppings and wild fruits and all these things at his disposal as his teaching aids."

Herding livestock is the daily activity for children in these nomadic pastoralist communities.

For that reason hundreds of thousands of Kenyan children are missing out on an entire education.

Now there are efforts to change that: If the children cannot go to the schools, then take the schools to the children.

Scorpion sting

With no walls to display any visual aids the teacher, Hassan Farah, had pinned a few posters to the twigs of the tree to help with the English lesson.

Kenyan teacher Hassan Farah
If it was not for me they would not have gone to school
Hassan Farah

"We had more posters up yesterday," he says.

"But it rained last night and a few were washed away."

The children operate a shift system - lessons in the early morning are followed by a stint looking after the animals and then they return for another class in the late afternoon.

These children no longer have to make a choice between their nomadic lifestyle and an education - they can do both.

"I really enjoy this job as I am from the same community and I want to help these children," says Mr Farah, who teaches a total of 57 students - two-thirds of them boys.

"If it was not for me they would not have gone to school."

Outdoor lessons do throw up the occasional unexpected problem.

Halfway through the class, one young boy started screaming and clutching his right foot.

"He was stung by a scorpion and most of them here are poisonous," says Mr Farah.

"But with our traditional medicine he'll be all right in a couple of hours."

In addition to the mobile schools, Mr Farah suggests a mobile clinic would also be a great help.

Donkey promised

Just in front of the school several women were building a home - a dome shaped shelter made from flexible sticks tied together with rope which is then covered in thatch.

Kenyan student Adan
Adan wants to work in Nairobi - a major change in lifestyle

It took just a few hours to put up and it was clear that the women, in their long bright dresses and head scarves, had done this plenty of times before.

Whenever a drought hits, they pack up their homes, load up the camels and move nearer pasture and water.

The plan is that the teacher will go with them and look for another shady tree to set up his classroom.

"We want to give them education according to their culture, according to their way of living," says the education office's Mr Salat.

"Once we move them to the villages, this is displacing them and we do not want to do that.

"We have to reach them where they are and then they continue with their normal lives."

He says Mr Farah will soon be receiving a donkey and cart to allow him to keep up with his students whenever they relocate.

The teacher is waiting on a long list of promises. He has not been paid in months.

Cultural threat?

There are 10 of these schools in Garissa district and each year some of their students will head off to board in government primary schools.

Women building news houses in Kenya
The teachers now follow nomadic communities

"I want to continue at another school and then become a teacher in Nairobi," says 10-year-old Adan, speaking the Somali language, much to the amusement of several of the village elders.

Some fear that Adan's dream of heading to the bright lights of the Kenyan capital is a sign that the days of these nomadic pastoralist communities are numbered.

But not everyone agrees.

"This school is a good idea because we are moving away from ignorance," says Zainab Sahal, as she puts the finishing touches to the frame of her new home.

"Education has been brought closer to us. We have to appreciate that. It's good that one of our own people is teaching here and our children are now gaining knowledge.

"I have no fear of our way of life dying out. These children are our children. When they go to town they will come back. So long as we are in the villages wherever they go they will come back."

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