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Thursday, 29 November 2012

No schooling for the herd's boy!

By Bett Kipsang’
 Even after the free primary education was introduced close to ten years ago, children among some pastoral communities have never had a chance to go to school. Reason being; to look after their parent’s livestock! I recently visited a village in Laikipia west to accompany my two other colleagues who were visiting a tomato farmer, call him ''John'', not his real name. Their identities are withheld because some of the subjects are minors.

Dam: Primary source of water.
John, a diligent farmer; in the area uses a motor engine to pump water from a nearby dam into his farm where he is growing maize, beans and tomatoes under irrigation. After going round to see how the water was circulating, we decided to go and see the source of that water.

Two boys and a girl were watering their livestock on the other side of the dam. They were aged between 7 and 14. 

The boys only knew little Kiswahili, but the girl hardly answered a question, meaning she did not clearly understand any other language apart from her mother tongue.

 I asked them if they had started schoolling and the eldest boy pointed at the other boy, saying, ‘‘This one goes’’. When asked why he did not go to school himself, the answer was rather shocking, ‘‘If I go to school, who will look after the cattle?’’ said the elder boy. He was so deliberate and sincere; to him herding livestock was all that life had in store for a young man of his age! 

Before long other children arrived at the dam driving their sheep and goats to drink water. We asked them if they were going to school and they responded,'No' except the grandson of the farmer we had gone to visit.

 The class eight boy was the same age as the others. I asked them what they wanted to do when they grow up. But to my surprise it was like the children had never imagined of such a distant future.

Then they looked at the camera on my friend’s hand, and they wanted to see what it was. To their surprise, they could see the photos of the farm, dam and their livestock. It became a captivating moment as they all jostled to view the photos. We showed them how to take photos, and they curiously took hold of the camera and started taking each other’s snaps in turn. The camera could have been the only technological gadget they had ever seen, probably apart from the radio and mobile phones which are common in most of the households.

 On our way back a discussion ensued as to what really lay in the future for such kids. Not only was primary education free, it was also compulsory, and parents who failed to take their children to school risked arrest and prosecution. But to our surprise, children grazed livestock in broad day-light without the fear of the arm of the government catching up with them.

‘‘So the free primary education is not accessible to everyone?’’ I thought. Even if education was not free, these children would not have had a chance because their parents value livestock more than anything else. Livestock alone could not by any means guarantee these little kids a succesfull and happy future!

A teacher from a nearby primary school told the LRV  that his school has less than fifty pupils from class one to eight. He reported that pupils from the community who remain in school are ussually very bright. Some of them have livestock and seek permision of absence during market days so that they can go and sell their stock. Though livestock are owned by men,the teacher reported that grazing of livestock in the community is the role of women. A woman who has grown up children is counted as lucky because her children will help in grazing as the mother attend to other duties, and that is why most children are not in school.

LRV contacted another teacher from a different school who sought anonimity, because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of that school. He reported a story whereby children from the same family take turns between school and the grazing field. One child could go to school for one year as the other one looks after the livestock. The following year, they exchange roles and the one from the grazing field goes to school as the other one goes to look after livestock for one year! These children keep on attending the same class for too long untill they are too old to concentrate in studies.

The big question is; How can such children compete with their educated age mates when they grow up? ‘‘Maybe they will only be watchmen and casual laborers to the other schooled boy!’’ said one guy who was in our company.  You are tempted to laugh, but it’s a true painful story! I can now understand why some communities will attach a lot of value to hundreds of heads of livestock, even much more than life.

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