NASIGER, Kenya (August 24, 2011) — Across this vast and semi-arid north-western corner of Kenya, threatened by alarmingly high malnutrition rates, live the Turkana, a traditional ethnic group who work the dry plains as shepherds. In a valley of microclimates, when water and green brush run dry and brown, the communities move on foot to new areas—roaming for life's essentials.
The impact of this year's drought is severe. “School enrollment is down, people are on the move with their children looking for water and grass for their livestock,” said head teacher Samuel Loscuwat, who runs a fixed, stationary elementary school, St. Boniface, where enrollment has dropped from 200 in 2010 to 156 last month. One result of the drought, which has worsened already fragile food security, has been that families are left with no choice but to withdraw their children from school. Mitigation against that is another element of UNICEF's work in education.
In order to help people adapt to the recurrent drought and ensure that every child's right to an education is honored, the Kenyan Government and UNICEF have brought an innovative program to this corner of the Rift Valley—mobile schools which move with the Turkana.
About 3 miles from St. Boniface is a simple structure, thatch walls covered by slabs of corrugated roofing plastic—it is Christine Tukei's mobile school.
Since 2008, Christine, 35, has worked as a school teacher for the Ministry of Education in the Rift Valley, and as the Turkana move, she moves with them—accompanied by her two daughters, Rael, 13, and Lydia, 12. Currently her children attend St. Boniface, but they live in a typical and simple mud house among the Turkana people. She is assisted at the school by two volunteer teachers.
"I teach kindergarten and first grade for children, but also to anyone who is interested in learning," said Christine.
Christine uses simple songs to help her students memorize numbers and basic English words; like parts of the body, animals, and plants. Her classroom walls have neatly hanging, and carefully preserved, educational posters, including a map of Kenya.
Mobile schooling is a key strategy in the UNICEF-supported Nomadic Education Policy, enabling children to access education even in nomadic lifestyles. To improve the quality of learning, UNICEF provides mobile schools with basic learning materials, such as books. UNICEF also undertakes high-level advocacy for long-term government support to mobile schools, including employment of teachers and provision of Free Primary Education funds.
Christine explained the community she serves has been stationary long enough that the Kenyan Government built the temporary building, and another one about 9 miles away, in areas where families often move to in search of water and vegetation. She has worked and lived at the other location, as well.
One of her many challenges as a teacher is that her student body changes randomly, with families coming and going. Both Christine and Samuel have requested the Government to build dormitories at their schools, as this would encourage parents and guardians to leave their children in the care of the school while they find new areas for their livestock to survive.
Christine is a dedicated, charismatic, and inspiring woman, and one living an extraordinary chapter of service. She even has a battery-powered DVD player to share educational videos with her students. It is a quite a draw to help keep her students coming back and inspire others to make the long journey to St. Boniface.
When I said goodbye and thank you, she waved, "See you again. You are welcome." She fully expects me to keep coming back, just like the Turkana.