Pupils drop out as school feeding plan hits a snag
Chepkura (not her real name) is frail and tired after walking more than six kilometres on an empty stomach under the scorching sun.
She sits on a stone in the makeshift class under a tree, clutching her most precious item — a bowl.
She is in school, but it is not the learning she is interested in.
It is what the bowl signifies, a meal she desperately needs to survive. The eight-year-old PP1 pupil had walked from Totum village to Lodengo Primary School in Tiaty, Baringo County, leaving her peers herding the few remaining goats.
Sadly, the flour for the porridge the pupils were offered in school since last term was depleted two weeks ago.
Chepkura is among thousands of learners in remote villages in arid and semi-arid areas of Baringo who are drawn to school by food because of poverty and high illiteracy levels in households.
Lack of school rations means they would drop out and return to herding animals instead.
With the biting hunger caused by the long dry spell and lack of food for learners, headteachers in the worst-hit areas say hundreds of pupils have dropped out and the situation could worsen if the government does not intervene.
In far-flung villages in Tiaty, for instance, the land and erratic rains cannot sustain farming, leading to perennial food scarcity with locals depending on food aid.
Headteachers in drought-hit areas said the flour supplied to schools for porridge was used up before the end of last term, prompting some pupils, especially those who walk long distances, to stay at home.
Feeding programmes in Tiaty keep children in school, said Lodengo Primary School headteacher Franklin Lomatong.
“The poverty index in Tiaty is very high, with most families in remote villages living on less than a dollar a day,” he said.
Mr Lomatong regretted that within two weeks, more than half of the learners in his school had dropped out. Out of 134 enrolled pupils, only 55 reported to school on Tuesday.
The situation is not any different at Donyasas Primary School, where the number of learners dropped this term from 70 to 20.
School head Mathew Chesire said most of the affected are learners in pre-primary, who cannot endure walking long distances without food.
“We were given 20 bags (25-kilogramme sacks) of flour to cook porridge for pre-primary pupils but it was finished because we had to share it with other classes as well because of the biting drought,” he said.
Households in the affected villages, he said, have not received food aid for six months, leading to malnutrition among children, who depend on porridge alone or go without food for days.
“The situation in our schools is dire because the few children who come to school sleep in class at 10am due to hunger,” he said.
He said education officials told them food will be distributed to schools in January next year.
At Chesotim Primary School in Tiaty West on Tuesday, the number of pupils had dropped from 60 at the beginning of the term to 12. Headteacher Simion Akoma said parents had migrated with their children to the Kerio Valley and Masol in neighbouring West Pokot in search of pasture and water for their livestock.
“The government should act fast to provide food so that children can stay in school,” Mr Akoma said.
But Baringo County Commissioner Henry Wafula told the Nation that the government distributed food aid recently to the area, saying priority was given to schools.
“We received food aid from the government at the end of October, including 500 bags of maize and the same amount of beans, for Tiaty East and Tiaty West,” Mr Wafula said.
He confirmed that thousands of residents were food-insecure and appealed to the county government and other stakeholders to help provide food aid.
On a tour of Baringo County last month, government spokesman Cyrus Oguna announced that there was enough food for more than 2.1 million food-distressed Kenyans.
He said more than 47,600 bags of maize, 64,100 bags of rice, 37,400 bags of beans and 19,500 cartons of cooking oil would be distributed for the period from October to December.
In Baringo County, he said, 6,000 bags of maize, 3,000 bags of beans and rice and 1,200 cartons of cooking oil would be distributed.
“The government has spent Sh1.2 billion [to buy food supplies] for October and another Sh1.2 billion for November.”
Among the worst-hit primary schools in Baringo North are Chepkesin, Kaborion, Kagir, Yatya, Chemoe, Ng’aratuko, Kosile, Rormoch, Tuluk, Moinonin, Kapkomon, Sibilo, Kamwetio, Chepkew, Tilingwo, Rondinin, Barketiew, Barsuswo, Loruk and Kapturo.
In Tiaty Sub-county are Chepkalacha, Kositei, Katikit, Chemisik, Makany, Chesotim, Korelach, Lotita, Lodengo, Kakapul, Nasorot, Toplen, Akwichatis, Riong’o, Loiwat, Chesirimon, Toplen, Nakoko, Katagh, Krese, Sukut, Chesakam, Chemoril, Chesirimion, Donyasas and Kongor.