Monday, August 30, 2010

August 30, 2010 - A Kikuyu, a Luo, a Borana and a Mzungu

Sometimes a WFP vehicle has a good mixture of culture and diversity. On my last trip to Garissa we stopped in Kamba land (Kenyan tribe located between Nairobi and the Coast) for lunch and received some odd looks from the other guests at the restaurant and people on the street. It was then that I realized what a strange mix the four of us were. A guy from Western Province, a guy from Central Province, a guy from Northern Kenya and then me, the Mzungu.

We picked up our security escort two hours before Garissa and the landscape changed significantly. Trees were reduced to bushes, houses to huts, and grass to sand. Camels and goats, the most drought resistant animals, where now seen in increasing numbers. The ride was quite smooth and the security concerns I remember having two years ago were gone. It is safe here as long as we travel with a security escort. It is normally the UN vehicle that can be a target, a highly valued commodity, which I actually like too. Not fancy at all, but it seems to have been built for this terrain.

This was the first time since my very first field trip with WFP that I would go back to Garissa, which I wrote a blog about over two years ago. This time around I was facilitating a workshop with a senior staff from the Ministry of Education, a person with whom, I must say, I have established a good working relationship over the years. And we made a good pair, a young guy from WFP and a senior representative from the Ministry. It was a one-day workshop and then we used the opportunity to stay around Garissa district to monitor something called mobile schools. It is a fairly new concept, which our School Meals Programme has yet to fully embrace. That was the plan.

The workshop went fine: 13 districts were represented and the Provincial Educational Officer, so we were talking to the people in charge of education in the whole region.

The following days we were carrying out an assessment on mobile schools. The question was whether WFP should target mobile school under the School Meals Programme.

The School Meals Programme has been operational in Garissa district for more than two decades, during which time it has successfully increased school enrolment and stabilized attendance. Currently the enrolment is approximately 30 percent in Garissa, which shows that 70 percent of school-going aged children are not enrolled in school.

The rural communities in Garissa district are nomadic. They move to find water and pasture for their animals. The nature of this living pattern makes it virtually impossible for the children to enrol in school. The mobile school concept was introduced in Garissa in 2006 with support from the Ministry of Education and Unicef. The idea of the mobile school is to target nomadic communities by allowing one teacher to live and move with the community while teaching children from the Early Childhood Development Centre (from age 3-5) to Standard (class) three. After Standard three the children can then transition to a nearby boarding school. In 2006 the first mobile schools were established in Kenya and over the last two years many more have been established. Some schools are currently receiving school meals through a mother school while others operate without direct food support.

This mission was very different from other monitor missions I have been on. Normally we go to schools and never really meet the communities. As the mobile schools are operating in the community we went really far out this time. All the communities we visited were virtually illiterate. I remember one visit very clearly. We were trying to establish why these communities are interested in having a mobile school: after all these years why do they now want to learn how to read and write? There are many reasons for this, one of which is that this community has had someone within the locality who went to school and is now doing very, very well many years later. Anyway, so we are at this school talking to the oldest man, I think, in the community. See a picture of him further down. He has a six-year old son who has attended classes at the mobile school. Through translation (he doesn’t speak Kiswahili or English) he told us about drought, animals, water scarcity and education. We are unclear whether any teaching has been going on so we ask the son to write numbers 1-10 in the sand. The son does that. We ask him to write his name in the sand. He spells O S MA (N) and after the A I say “Osman” and the farther watching closely can see that we could say his son’s name by reading what he wrote in the sand. We smiled and clapped, well done, well done. I tell you, I have never seen a father so proud of his son. The father didn’t say anything but you could just tell how proud his was. It was an amazing experience. GO educationJ

We came to another mobile school, or so we thought. The community must have left just a few days earlier. There where clear signs of a school and a community living there and it was obvious why they had left. The water pan next to the school had dried up. They had moved in search of a new water point and so we could not find them.

A water pan is not a lake, a spring or a river it is a lower area where water is collected when it rains.

So Kenya is changing…in every corner….slowly by slowly. The people we met were very interesting. They wanted education. “We want a permanent school,” said some adult community members, who were also attending classes at night (at the mobile school).

And, by the way, WFP probably can't provide school meals to mobile schools at this time, because there is not sufficient food storage or accountability for the food, but we do hope that some new systems can be devised to change this in the future.

The school teacher and his tent.

Osman's father.
The mobile school.

One of the ways children learn to read and write.


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