Livestock is so central to the economy, food, and status of pastoralists in Kenya’s northern drylands that formal education has traditionally taken second place to the role children play in tending to cows, goats, and sheep.
But with climate change increasingly seen as imperiling livelihoods, many pastoralists are now taking the longer view and regard education as a sort of insurance policy. And yet the severity of the current drought affecting much of east Africa, coupled with a long interruption in the provision of free meals, has led to a drop in school attendance.
The drought has become too harsh, said Atiir Lokwawi, a 42-year-old mother who lives in the village of Kalokutanyang, in Kenya’s Turkana County. Animals are dying in huge numbers. We restock, but before we stabilise, drought comes and takes away our investment.
Lokwawi’s husband travelled to Uganda to graze most of the family’s herd. Of the 40 goats he left behind, 35 have died because of the drought.
It is good if at least one child goes to school, said Lokwawi. Educating our children is also another way to earn money � animals alone cannot help us survive, she said, explaining that of her seven children, only one, a 15-year-old girl, is currently attending school.
It will take time for our children to go to school and get jobs, but at least there is hope that, someday, someone will be there for us.
To help make ends meet, Lokwawi makes charcoal and attends evening classes at a local mobile school.
I burn charcoal to invest in my daughter’s education. The government pays for her fees, but I have to buy her books, pen, and uniforms. She is my hope, my only family hope, said Lokwawi, adding that she would like her daughter to become a doctor.
Another of her daughters was married off, bringing the family a substantial dowry of livestock. But most of these animals also perished.
Christine Tukei, a teacher at Kalokutanyang’s mobile primary school, said education for pastoralists needs to go beyond the [national] curriculum.
It needs to add value and incorporate their lifestyle. It is vital to help communities prepare for and respond to impacts of climate change while promoting a sustainable way of life.
The mobile school has about 100 students: roughly two thirds youths aged between nine and 17, and one third adults aged between 35 and 42.
Classes take place between 8 and 10 pm, as during daytime the children are usually tending to livestock herds while the adults make and sell charcoal.
The ravages of the drought have led Tukei to add adaptation strategies to what she teaches.
We discuss the importance of early destocking, minimising herds to manageable levels; the importance of investing in education; and alternative businesses. I also teach about preserving meat with salt as they slaughter some animals and store for food; and about good health and sanitation, she explained.
The current drought, which started in 2016 and which the Kenyan government deems a national emergency, has dried up water resources in half of the country’s 47 counties, leaving an estimated three million people lacking access to clean water, according to OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body.
Recurrent droughts have destroyed livelihoods, triggered local conflicts over scare resources and eroded the ability of communities to cope, OCHA said, noting that prices of staple food had risen considerably.
The drought has sent rates of global acute malnutrition soaring: in Turkana North sub-county, the rate is 30.7 percent, more than double the emergency threshold.
Across Kenya, up to 3.5 million people are expected to need food assistance in August, up from 2.6 million in February, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
Large numbers of livestock deaths have been reported in Turkana County, as well as in the counties of Marsabit, Samburu, and Mandera.
As well as Kenya, drought is ravaging Ethiopia and Kenya. In these three countries, the education of some six million children has been disrupted, according to OCHA.