A section of the Standard Gauge Railway. (Photo: Edward Kiplimo/Standard)
At 2.30 pm, pupils of Ilmao Primary School, located in Sultan Hamud, prepare to close school and go home. Under normal circumstances, this would be too early, especially for Standard Seven and Eight pupils, to leave school.
But this has become the norm here. One of the pupils waiting for the departure bell is Mereso Kitapi, 15, who has to walk over 10km to her home. Initially, the Standard Eight pupil would cover around 6km to get home.
That was before arrival of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
“Construction of the railway line led to closure of several routes, roads and pathways that served as short-cuts and made my journey to school much shorter,” she said.
Matters have been made worse after locals also demarcated and fenced their land, thereby making it hard for anyone to go through their farms.
This has made routes longer for pupils and the entire school is now facing this long-route predicament.
“As a result, we arrive in school late, tired and have to leave as early as possible,” says Peresian Kasairo, a 17-year-old pupil.
They say it is unfortunate that their teachers punish them for getting to school late yet they know the kind of challenges they encounter.
“If we are to get to school early, we have to wake up at 4am and leave home while it is still dark. This is dangerous, especially for the young girls, because we go through thickets,” Kasairo says.
The headmaster, Jacob Selenkeya, says the longer distance has had a direct impact on the school’s population.
“Before the SGR arrived, we had about 300 pupils, today we only have 164. We continue to lose pupils to neighbouring schools because of issues brought about by its construction,” he says.
And even places where the pupils can cross the railway line have become hard to navigate with the current rains.
“Pupils do not concentrate in class as they arrive tired and sweating. To add insult to injury, these pupils have to put up with construction noise and trucks passing by. They get distracted, which makes learning very difficult,” confides a teacher, Joshua Kiluva.
Another teacher, Mary Sein, says their learning schedule has also been interfered with because students come in late yet have to leave early.
“Since construction started, covering the school term syllabus within the allocated time has been a challenge because our contact hours with the pupils has diminished greatly,” she says.
The school is also facing a water shortage because the truck that used to deliver the commodity can no longer do so after its route was blocked. As a result, pupils have been forced to go without food.
“The Chinese contractor is yet to meet some of the pledges made like putting up extra classes, a kitchen and borehole,” the headmaster said.
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He continued: “The SGR is just three metres away from the school compound yet the contractor has not put up a perimeter wall between the school and the railway line as promised. Having this wall in place would help reduce noise levels and enable the pupils to concentrate better since they would not be peeping at passing trains.”