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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

February 26, 2013

Most of us take our right to education for granted.  We assume our children will be able to go to school and receive a free and good education.  This is not the case in many parts of Kenya and as a result most of our properties are involved in various education projects. Today, we will highlight the Nomad Education project of Ol Malo and the Samburu Trust.

Samburu Trust founder Julia Francombe has written this to tell us her story of how the Trust started its nomad education program and some background on how it works.

The drought in northern Kenya lasted longer than 2 years – the men and warriors left the main homesteads to take their dying herds further afield looking for pasture. It was a terrible time – starving people and mountains of dying cattle.

The women were left at home with no food and hungry children. This is when we began the children’s painting project. Hundreds of children would come to Ol Malo each day (the ranch owned by the Francombe family in Samburuland). They would paint pictures and have lunch – we gave them 5kg of beans a week – a little food to help feed their families.

In 2001 after the drought the people had started calling the painting project Julia’s school – although the painting was a necessity during the drought, it was not a school and not enough on its own.

We started by sponsoring a group of the painting children to go to the local Government school on Kirimon, we selected children who would be able to walk the 1.5 hrs each way.

After a month we were shocked when we saw them as they had become skin and bone again due to the long distances they walked to school every day. We provided them with extra food but knew that the real solution was to build a school close to their homes.

We were also worried about them being trampled on by an elephant on the 3hr walk each day.

The obvious thing to do was build a school. The first school was built on community land – mud walls and a tin roof – the same as all the other schools in northern Kenya.

We employed a teacher from a town in the Rift valley, who had years of experience. The money we collected through sales of painting was paid to the community to buy school lunches, pay the teacher and provide the children with the materials they needed for the school.

Within weeks the numbers of children in the school dwindled. The teacher wasn’t being paid and there was rarely lunch. The teaching materials were never renewed and the school was in trouble.

We tried time and time again, employing new teachers and buying materials. After a few months we had a dusty, dirty school, less than 10 children and teachers who often didn’t even turn up!

Something was wrong.

It was at this time I decided to look at the culture. The school was wrong – it obviously wasn’t working for the pastoralist Samburu people and it was time to find out why.

I spent the next few years living with the Samburu – understanding their lifestyle and the role of children in the community. The children are key to the survival of the livestock, herding the baby sheep, goats and lambs from an early age.

It is during this time that they learn about the land, the water and how to survive. This knowledge is key to their survival.

Understanding the culture was key. The nomad education project was born. In 2004 we built our first eco-friendly nomad school.

The school moves when the people migrate; the teachers are from the community, the older boys teaching their brothers and sisters to read and write.

The children are taught on a modular 3 moon system (3 months). In this way they not only have the opportunity to learn to read and write, but they also herd the livestock and learn about their culture and the land.

I can finally say we are seeing some incredibly positive results. The teachers and children and engaged, there is rhythm and we seem to have got through the teething problems – finally.

What sets us apart from other schools in northern Kenya is that we are very clear with our aims; basic literacy and numeracy in ALL pastoralist children. We focus on the teachers – good teachers are KEY to the success of this project.

Our schools are two-fold to;

1. Train teachers. At present we have seven teachers enrolled in a 3 year teacher training course.

2. Teach ALL Children – we rotate the lchekuti (herding) children so that all children have the opportunity to read, write and count. Basic literacy and numeracy.

“The kindergarten and surrounds are quiet and well kept. There is a feeling of order and security. The day runs with a seemingly effortless rhythm. The children have trust in the teachers who show the right balance of caring and interest, without being cloying or interfering. The children are happy. Their eyes shine. They participate in everything with enthusiasm – life is an exciting adventure!” Ann Sharfman, Nairobi Teacher Training.

The Ol Malo school is our model and training school. Each year all the teachers from the north gather her for an intense month of training.

We now have two eco-schools and one thorn-tree school. Each school has a minimum of two teachers – one for kindergarten, ages 4-7 and one for the primary age starting at 7.

We are at present working with the Training teachers to develop a modular course, in conjunction with the Kenyan school curriculum.

Each school has two classes – 25 children in each. The children rotate every 3 moons, (3 months) – completing two 3 month modules per year. 50 children per class per year – 100 children per school per year. 300 children in the 3 nomad schools.

The Future

The training teachers have just spent a week with us and are giving us direction for the future.

Our children at Ol Malo are ready for class 2 – however we do not as yet have a classroom for them. The training teachers have suggested that main teacher from class 1 moves onto class 2 with them as his training matures.

Therefore each school will need a larger kindergarten – class 1 and a class 2 for primary level.

If you would like more information on the Trust nomad education system or you would like to support a nomad school please contact us at info@samburutrust.org