Pokot tales: Search for food leads to much needed education

, BARINGO, Kenya, Jul 10 – Two visibly fatigued women are seated outside the offices of the Chemolingot Primary School which is located in East Pokot within the vast Baringo County.

There are no chairs but they occupy the dusty floor after walking for more than 70 kilometers looking for their two sons who have been ‘missing’ for three weeks.

They are troubled and can be seen stretching their heads to look around the school compound where lower class pupils are playing.

It is the mother and grandmother of the two boys being sought.

They utter something in their local dialect which is translated to the Capital FM News crew by the area chief John Kamama.

“They have seen the two boys right there playing with the rest of the students,” he translates as he seeks to know why they fled their home and sought refuge at the school.

Upon enquiring, the two women reveal that the boys, “left home because there was no food.”

– An exercise book and a plate of food –

It is lunch time at the school and on this date, the cook was late to prepare food.

Temperatures are at about 40 degrees Celsius and all students from Class 1 to 6 are outside playing as they wait for lunch to be prepared.

Classes had been suspended earlier because of the high temperatures as established by Capital FM News.

Students are already impatient and can be seen trying to peep through the windows of the school’s kitchen.

“Please go inside your classes the food will be soon ready,” one of the teachers can be heard telling them.

Among the hundreds of students, one can be able to pick about 10 who are not wearing school uniform with some just having a piece of cloth around their waist.

They all have small bags and inside, there is an exercise book and a bowl.

– Food Programme –

Food is finally ready and the matron of the school is the one serving lunch.

It takes the intervention of some two teachers to guide the students into a queue after a near commotion.

Though the Class 1 and 2 pupils are given priority, the rest are seen trying to elbow each other out of their space, just to make sure they don’t miss any food, despite assurance by the teachers.

Among those being served are the two boys whose mother and grandmother have been looking for.

They joined the school to at least get some food.

And likewise, tens of others students have fled their homes and joined the school according to Jane Kitilit, who is the school deputy head teacher.

“Most of our students come to school just because they want to be fed and in the long run they get to learn and we get to teach them about the values of education,” she said during an interview with Capital FM News.

Kitilit says the school “is now a refuge place for food and security.”

It is that plate of food that is the “backbone of education” in the school, according to Kitilit.

Since January, the area has been hit by severe drought. And according to Kitilit, the school is as a result receiving pupils from as far as Kapedo.

“Some of them have come from as far as 90 kilometers… they walk for at least three days to arrive in the school,” she said.

“We allow them to relax and later ask the rest of the students to give them their spare school uniform for them to be like the rest.”

The school population, she says, has increased from 476 to 735 pupils and the number continues to rise.

Over a period of one week, she said they had received more than 50 students.

“Our feeding programme is the reason why they are coming. As they walk around, they get the word and eventually joins us,” the deputy head teacher asserted.

It is a programme that she says should be sustained in a bid to attract more pupils to school.

“They eventually learn despite coming purely to get food. This will also reduce cases of forced marriages; boys won’t engage in crime (cattle rustling) if they are exposed to education,” Kitilit stated.

She gave an example of the two boys who had fled their homes as a sufficient reason why all schools in nomadic areas should have feeding programmes.

“There is no way the two boys were going to stay at home without food…I have asked their mother and grandmother to just go home since they are in safe hands. We shall train them from the basics, like how to obey school rules since they are fresh from the ‘jungle’, where there are no strict regulations,” she said.

Though the boys and just like many others being admitted to the school cannot express themselves apart from their local dialect, Kitilit expresses optimism that they will catch up with the rest.

“They got great brains and don’t get long to learn,” she pointed out.

– Leading student sought food first –

Moreen Cheruto, 15, is the head girl of the school and first went to the institution in 2010 hoping to get some food.

The third born in a family of seven says she went to school, “because we didn’t have food at our home.”

But with time, she adjusted and according to her teachers; she is also the leading student in her class.

“Some of my friends got married and I can see their lives are not good. That is why I love education,” the aspiring journalist said.

– School Meals Programme –

Baringo County has two types of school meals programmes; Regular School Meals Programme (RSMP) supported by the National Government in conjunction with the World Food Programme and the Home Grown School Meals Programme (HGSMP).

So far, about 115 schools in East Pokot have benefitted.

The National Government is currently supporting 687 schools in Baringo County and an estimated 115,999 learners at a cost of Sh56.8million.

The amount of cash transferred to each participating school is based on enrollment, the number of feeding days and estimated cost of a meal per child per day.

Other than drought, children growing within the East Pokot area have to fight against forced early marriages, insecurity and pangs of hunger, often every time the rains fail.

It is only with such programmes that the pupil hopes to learn without having to focus on looking for other source of food.

Their appeal is for the government to ensure all schools in nomadic areas have food programmes.

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