KENYA: From The Classroom into the Bedroom

Posted on 9 April 2009. Filed under: Education, Public Health |

Photo: Kenneth Odiwuor/IRIN
Girls who become involved with their teachers are often admired by their schoolmates

For the past year, Karen Awuor*, 15, has had a new daily ritual– taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. She discovered she was HIV positive during an unintended pregnancy that forced her to drop out of school; her baby died after just four months.

“When I was in class seven, I got into a relationship with one of my teachers; he promised to pay my school fees if I agreed to be his wife,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “But when I got pregnant with his child and dropped out of school, he turned against me and behaved like he never knew me in the first place.”

Teacher-student relationships are not uncommon in Kenya’s southwestern Nyanza Province, where Awuor lives. Geoffrey Cherongis, the Nyanza Provincial Director of Education, said sexual relationships between teachers and students were a threat to the health and future of the province’s girls, who make up less than 40 percent of students.

“Some teachers are living with HIV and spreading it to young girls, who hardly know the kind of thing they are getting into,” he said. “It is even more complicated because parents, especially those in rural areas, support these affairs for perceived economic gain.”

According to Kenya’s Centre for the Study of Adolescence, Nyanza has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, as well as one of the highest school dropout rates. Girls in Nyanza become sexually active at an average age of 16, compared to 19 in Nairobi Province. Nyanza’s high HIV prevalence of 15.3 percent, twice the national average, makes them particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.

Extreme poverty appears to be the main reason why girls in Nyanza become sexually active at a young age. More than 60 percent of residents live on less than US$1 per day, and the region also has the largest number of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“Poverty and high death rates, which leave girls orphans at an early age, make them want to get money by any means – not only to take care of themselves, but also to take care of their siblings,” said Luke Opondo, Bondo District’s AIDS and sexually transmitted infections coordinator.

Teachers are well-educated, earn a steady income and are often more affluent than most people in the province. Saulina Ondoro, 65, a grandmother caring for five teenage orphans, told IRIN/PlusNews she would not discourage a sexual relationship between her grandchildren and anybody who could offer money to help her care for them.

“They are old enough and I can hardly take care of them – if any of them can get a man to provide for them, why should I get in their way?” she said. Opondo noted that “Parents who bless these affairs to get money need be sensitised.”

''I get money and my peers in school respect me because dating a teacher is a big achievement for us girls''

The material benefits of such relationships mean that girls who become sexually involved with their teachers are often admired by their schoolmates. “I get money and my peers in school respect me because dating a teacher is a big achievement for us girls,” said Viviane Aoko*, 14, who is having a sexual relationship with her married teacher.

Some male teachers complain that girls actively seek out relationships with them in order to raise their economic status. “Some girls even put pictures of their nude bodies inside exercise books as they bring them to teachers for assignment assessment,” said Daniel Oloo, a teacher at a local girls’ secondary school.

Opondo said it was irresponsible of teachers to put the blame on students. “The claim by some teachers that these young girls approach them to create affairs does not wash, because these are teenagers, and they are adults who should act as their parents; a 45-year-old man cannot claim to be influenced by a 14-year-old girl.”

Many girls were, in fact, coerced into relationships with teachers. “It is a double tragedy for these girls; they cannot negotiate for safe sex because they are vulnerable, and they cannot report to authorities for fear of being victimised,” Opondo said.

“More sex education and punitive measures on teachers are the surest ways to deal with this kind of problem,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. Addressing poverty and the lack of economic support for orphaned girls was also important, he said.

The Ministry of Education has an HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education curriculum that focuses on upper-primary and secondary schools, but does not address the issue of teacher-student relationships, leaving school heads to deal with it at their discretion.

A 2006 study by the Population Council, an international non-governmental research organization, found that although Kenyan teachers were relatively well-educated, they were “confused or uninformed” about important aspects of HIV and AIDS.

Read more:
Grandparents struggle to keep teens in line
Young girls the new bait for fishermen
More education equals less teen pregnancy and HIV

“For example, many teachers are uncertain about the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV infection,” the study said. “This means that they are not likely to advocate their use, despite the existence of a generalised HIV epidemic in Kenya.”

*Not her real name

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Off the Streets in Molo and into School

Posted on 27 February 2009. Filed under: Education, Insecurity |

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Children at the Molo Street Children Project: The poject rehabilitates former street-children and was involved in re-uniting children who lost contact with their parents during the 2008 post-election violence

MOLO, 24 February 2009 (IRIN) – When Sonia Donnan, originally from Jamaica, accompanied her husband to work in Kenya in 2003, she never imagined she would end up looking after street-children in Molo town, Rift Valley Province.

“A short while into my stay in Molo, I realised there were children living by themselves in parts of the town, with some looking after other children,” Donnan said. “I thought of establishing a day-care centre at the local church to help [them].”

Funded by family, friends and well-wishers, she and her husband, Chris Donnan, teamed up with Molo Happy Church to set up a day-care centre for the children.

The Molo Street Children Project began with a small house near the church. By 2004, 10 children were attending school and one a training centre.

Election fallout

In early 2008, Donnan was forced to close the facility as post-election violence swept across the province.

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
The Molo Street Children Project acquired 1.05ha on the outskirts of Molo and rehabilitated a building on the site. It now caters for about 90 children, most of whom have been placed in nearby schools

“We kept track of the children; three were boys whose father was an alcoholic and we tried to urge them to stay at home but they went without food for days,” she said.

“At one time, following a heavy downpour, the boys spent three nights on their feet as their home was flooded and their father just slept in the water; I began looking into ways of helping these children despite the tension that still prevailed in the area.”

Around April 2008, as things calmed down across the province and government and aid agencies sought to resettle hundreds of thousands of displaced, Donnan started looking for a more permanent home for the children.

The project acquired 1.05ha on the outskirts of Molo and rehabilitated a building on the site. It now caters for about 90 children, most of whom have been placed in nearby schools.

“Not all the children we deal with are without homes,” Richard Njoroge, a social worker on the project, said. “Due to ethnic violence experienced in 1992, 1997, 2002 and again in 2007 [election years], a lot of parents have found it convenient to rent houses for their children in Molo town where they feel it is safer. We try to draw such children into our centre so they can spend their days here instead of on the streets.”

Building families

''At one time, following a heavy downpour, the boys spent three nights on their feet as their home was flooded and their father just slept in the water''

Besides efforts to rehabilitate street-children, the centre also provides lunch to those living on their own and was involved in re-uniting children who lost contact with their parents during the post-election violence.

“We believe a child is best kept in a home set-up; we try to put those with nowhere to go or with parents who are [incapacitated] with other relatives so they only have to come to the centre during the day,” Njoroge said.

According to Abdi Sheikh Yusuf, the Rift Valley provincial children’s officer, up to 700 unaccompanied minors were registered after the post-election violence – 500 from Molo area.

“Because of Molo’s history of high volatility, parents put their children in rented premises during times of tension but later reclaim them when things calm down; currently there are up to 200 such children in Molo,” he said.

“Our aim is to give an education to each child in a bid to get them out of the cycle of poverty,” Donnan said. “The little we are doing will go a long way in reducing the number of children on our streets.”

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Tell us more – African Children Call for Sex Education

Posted on 14 December 2008. Filed under: Education, Lifestyle, Public Health |

Photo: Fid Thompson/IRIN
African youth representatives attend the International AIDS and STIs Conference in Africa (ICASA) in Dakar, Senegal

DAKAR, 11 December 2008 (IRIN) – Children in sub-Saharan Africa want to know more about sex and how to protect themselves from HIV, but taboos surrounding children’s sexuality can mean life-saving information is kept from them, according to an international NGO.

Children in the region say they need access to sex education that is comprehensive, practical, and free from moral judgment, according to the report Tell Me More! by Save the Children Sweden (SC-S). The NGO researched children’s views on sexuality, sex education, HIV prevention approaches and sexual identity in nine sub-Saharan African countries.

“Adults think we’re too young to know anything about sexuality. They don’t explain things clearly. They don’t want to give the information to children,” Carine Hlomador, a 15-year-old AIDS activist from Togo, told IRIN during the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

With nearly 1,800 new infections every day among children under 15 worldwide, some through sexual activity, sex education for children is vital to prevent the spread of HIV, Save the Children says in its report, released on 1 December.

Right to information

The 2001 UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS states that young people aged 15-24 should have access to information and services to protect themselves from HIV infection, and aimed to reach 90 percent of youths by 2005.

But three years past that target only 40 per cent of young men and 36 percent of young women worldwide are armed with accurate knowledge on HIV prevention, according to a 2008 UN report.

Under-15s are not targeted at all, despite more than 10 percent of interviewees between 15 and 19 claiming to have had sex under the age of 15, according to Amé David, SC-S programme manager in Dakar.

“Children under 15 have been largely ignored in HIV/AIDS prevention education programmes, because talking about children’s sexuality is taboo,” David said.

''…Teachers don’t seem to want to open the debate to allow children to express themselves…''

Taboos around children’s sexuality also mean that little is known about children aged 7 to 14, according to Save the Children. “There is clearly a need – if not a moral obligation – for studies [on these age groups],” the report concludes, adding that children are being exposed to HIV from a young age, becoming sexually active early and developing their own strategies to protect themselves.

Studies show that children with access to accurate information tend to delay having sex for the first time. “It is the children who don’t have the information who try to discover what it is all about,” SC-S’s David said.

David is convinced that suppressing children’s sexuality can only make things worse: “If we say nothing is happening at adolescence, we are deluding ourselves. If we look the other way and put our head in the sand, children will look for information in the media which is not always a good source.”

Bayala Rodrigue, 16, of Côte d’Ivoire, told IRIN adults would be wrong to avoid the subject. “In Africa, adults say there is an age after which you can teach sexuality to children. But there is no age limit. You think you know your child, but in reality you don’t. On the street you don’t know what he or she is learning.”

Why the taboo

The silence surrounding children’s sexuality in some sub-Saharan countries comes partly from adults’ unease with the subject, says Anta Fall Diagne, programme officer for reproductive health at the Population Council, an international NGO working on reproductive health in Senegal.

“It is adults, policymakers and ministers who are afraid of [talking about it]. The youth themselves are open about their problems.”

Photo: Fid Thompson/IRIN
Young girls get a chance to discuss sex at an after-school health club in the Senegalese capital, Dakar

Religion also plays a significant role, she said. People are reluctant to talk to children about sexuality in societies where sex outside of marriage is frowned upon.

But Fall said: “One thing is sure – many of them [youths] have a sex life. Another thing is sure – they have problems with their sex lives. Thirdly, they do not have the right information to deal with these problems.”

Better sex education in schools

Children surveyed by SC-S who do receive sex education in schools said that it is often negative, contradictory and too focused on biology. Instead children want knowledge that is relevant to their situation and the skills to negotiate prevention methods in a relationship.

“You’ve told me to protect myself,” Rodrigue of Côte d’Ivoire said. “OK, I know that you put the condom on the penis. But there are other things to negotiate. We need more realistic information.”

The report also found that teachers are often unprepared to openly discuss issues of sexuality with children and frequently take a moralistic and negative stance.

“Teachers don’t seem to want to open the debate to allow children to express themselves, talk about what’s happening to them and find solutions for their problems,” Souadou Ndoye, a 17 year-old Senegalese student, told IRIN.

Read one girl’s plea for early sex education

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Nomadic Schools for Garissa Mobile Girls

Posted on 2 November 2008. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Education, MDGs |

Five years after the introduction of free primary education (FPE) in Kenya, the enrolment of girls in schools continues to lag behind in Garissa, in Kenya’s North Eastern region. Most communities living in the North Eastern region are nomadic and semi-nomadic, and depend on livestock for their livelihood. “The nomadic life favours only boys to be in school. Parents force boys to go to school, and the girls are required to look after the animals. They (parents) leave the boys under the care of relatives who ensure they go to school, while girls move around with their parents from place to place in search of pasture for their livestock,” Nur Ibrahim Abdi, the Deputy District Education Officer of Garissa told IPS.

Eleven year-old Nadia Yusuf is one such girl, who has dropped out of school permanently to care for the family’s herd of 100 goats, while her three brothers go to school. “My parents and I move from one water point to the next to feed our animals. If we find a water point dry, we look for the next and we lodge there for days as our goats drink and feed,” she told IPS from the outskirts of the semi-desert Garissa town.

Most communities living in the North Eastern region are nomadic and semi-nomadic, and depend on livestock for their livelihood. That girls’ education here is sacrificed for the sake of livestock is a matter that has come to be of great concern lately.
According to statistics from the Garissa District Education Office, the enrolment rate of girls is just half that for boys. In 2003 when FPE was introduced, the total number of boys enrolled in primary schools was 11,397, compared to 5,539 girls.
Successive years have seen enrolment of boys continue to tower over that of girls. In 2006, the enrolment of boys stood at 13,214, while that of girls was 7,120. A similar scenario was evidenced last year when 14,867 boys enrolled in schools, compared to just 8,071 girls.

“This is serious. We cannot afford to continue losing any girl from school in North Eastern at a time like now when there are all efforts to attain universal education,” Abdi said. He was referring to the second Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which expects countries to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Certain initiatives are under way however, to improve enrolment of girls in Kenya’s North Eastern region. These include the establishment of mobile schools to cater for nomadic children. The schools, according to Abdi, have been established at water-points where families gather for purposes of getting water and pasture for their animals. The timetable of the schools is flexible in that the schools move with the families.

But there are only five such facilities in the vast Garissa district, with an area of 33,620 square kilometres. The ministry of education says 10 more facilities have been approved by the Garissa District Education Board, and will soon be set up.
“This will ensure that children, girls in particular, access education wherever they are, even as they graze their animals,” observed Salat Muhammed Adan, the area assistant chief.

It is emerging that it is not only the nomadic lifestyle of the community that has kept girls out of school, but also early marriages, which are widely practiced in the area. “This problem is more rampant in the reserves and some certain parts within the town. Parents pull their girls from school and marry them off to old men in exchange for cattle and goats. Some girls are as young as 10 years old,” Adan told IPS. He receives at least ten such cases a month, and has been using the Children’s Act to arrest parents who marry off their young girls, as well as the ‘husband’.

The Act, established in 2001 outlaws marriage before the age of 18. For example, last August, when schools were closed, Adan arrested parents of a 15 year-old girl who had been married off to a 39 year-old man. “I found the couple sleeping and when they least expected, I moved in to arrest the man. I went for the girl’s parents too. The girl is now in school.” In determining punishment for child marriages, courts have typically charged both a girl’s parents and her husband, either sentencing them to community service or a fine.

Early marriage is a long-established practice in the region, and the law is fighting a difficult battle against an accepted cultural practice. According to assistant chief Adan, the arrests have deterred many parents from marrying off their girls. “There is tangible evidence to this. Initially, majority of families used to do this a lot and in the open. But now because of the arrests the practice has reduced and it is done in secrecy,” he noted.

The problem has prompted local community-based organisations to team up with the authorities to monitor any violations of the Children’s Act in regard to early marriages. “This is a problem that has to be addressed seriously. We are involving the community and informing them of the importance of education to girls. The communities have started a door to door campaign to spread this message,” noted Fariah Said, chairperson of the Assalam Muslim Women Forum. Other activities seeking to promote girl child education include the Desert Run, a yearly event whereby athletes run in the desert North Eastern region. The purpose of this activity is to among other things raise awareness on girl child education and raise funds to support education for girls in that area. This year’s event took place earlier this month in Garissa, with the poor enrolment rate for girls in schools here being the focus.

“Clearly we need to move fast to ensure as many girls as boys are in school as the clock ticks closer to the deadline set for MDGs,” Florence Machio, coordinator of Women Empowerment Link, organisers of the event said. The world is slightly past the halfway mark of 2015 deadline of the MDGs. Eight MDGs including providing universal primary education were agreed on in 2000 at a United Nations summit held in New York.

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More Education Equals Less Teen Pregnancy and HIV

Posted on 26 July 2008. Filed under: Education, Public Health |

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Girls who stay in school are less likely to contract HIV

NAIROBI, 25 July 2008 (PlusNews) – Keeping Kenyan girls in school and ensuring they have access to HIV and sex education has a dramatic effect on lowering future levels of HIV, according to experts.

“Young people do not have the information they need, and the dropout rate, particularly for girls, is still too high,” said Rosemarie Muganda-Onyando, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Adolescence (CSA), which conducts research into teen behaviour and implements programmes for them.

“Dropping out of school ensures a life of poverty for these girls, and many of them also wind up HIV-positive because the male-female power dynamics become even more slanted against them.”

Although the government introduced free primary school education in 2003, an estimated one million children of school-going age are not attending school. Up to 13,000 Kenyan girls drop out of school every year as a result of pregnancy, and around 17 percent of girls have had sex before they turn 15. HIV prevalence in Kenyan women aged between 15 and 24 is about 5 percent, compared with just one percent for their male counterparts.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2004 found that better educated girls were less likely to marry early, more likely to practice family planning, and that their children had a higher survival rate.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, uneducated girls are also more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, which spreads twice as quickly among them than among girls who have had even some schooling.

The Ministry of Education has an HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education curriculum that focuses on upper-primary and secondary school, but no specific time is set aside for this, leaving teachers and school heads to fit in the subject at their discretion.

“I would like to see compulsory comprehensive HIV and sex education – and not just the bare bones, but something that goes further and teaches kids to become responsible for their actions and take greater control of their future,” Muganda-Onyando said. “Not enough teachers have been trained for this type of education, so children are leaving school with academic qualifications and not many life skills.”

These were not the only obstacles: the strong influence of fundamentalist Christians in HIV funding to Kenya had also played a part in preventing sex education from being taught in schools; and “There is also resistance from parents, many of whom feel school is not the place to learn about sex,” she said.

This lack of information meant girls were not practising safe sex; a 2003 government survey noted that just 25 percent of women aged 15 to 24 reported using a condom the last time they had sex with a non-marital, non-cohabiting partner.

Schools ill-equipped for sex education

Schools in remote, rural areas and deprived urban areas are often ill-prepared to handle sex education; many have not seen the government’s curriculum.
“We don’t have sex education or HIV education; the government hasn’t given us any materials or training so we don’t know where to start,” said Christopher Barassa, principal of Genesis Joy Primary and Secondary School in Mathare, Nairobi’s second-largest slum.

Although registered with the Ministry of Education and the Nairobi City Council, the school is considered as ‘non-formal’ because of its location and lack of facilities; it has no playing ground or toilets, so the school is surrounded by ‘flying toilets’ – faecal matter wrapped in plastic bags and thrown away – and garbage. All the students are from the slum, and Barassa says keeping them in school can be difficult.

''When we investigate the pregnancies, it is almost always an older man … over twenty and sometimes over thirty. We work with the local police to prosecute them.''

“Our drop-out rate is not very high, but teen pregnancy is a real problem,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. The school’s policy is to encourage girls to return to school after they give birth, but many felt too stigmatised or had no help to look after their children and therefore stayed away.

“When we investigate the pregnancies, it is almost always an older man … over twenty and sometimes over thirty,” he said. “We work with the local police to prosecute them – we recently had a 31-year-old man arrested for marrying one of our students who was just 15.”

He noted that many parents in the slum had inadequate control because work kept them away from their children, sometimes for days. As a result, children learnt about sex from the wrong sources, such as the numerous video halls that allowed children to view pornographic films.

“The girls also have to live in one room with their parents until they are mature, and many of them witness their parents having sex, so they learn about it early,” Barassa said. “Sometimes they get a man when they are still young in order to get out of that situation.”

More sex education, less sex

The CSA runs projects aimed at lowering the drop-out rate for girls and teaching them about sexual and reproductive health, including HIV. “The projects train teachers to impart life skills, create safe spaces in schools where girls can freely discuss the issues they are facing, and foster mentor-protégé relationships between older and younger students, so the younger ones have somewhere to turn,” CSA’s Muganda-Onyando said.

“One of the big problems has been the breakdown of our traditional African systems, where an aunt or grandmother was responsible for sex education … people say discussions about sex are taboo in Africa, but this is not true,” she said. “We lost those systems through colonisation and modernisation, and they haven’t been replaced; these projects are trying to give children back that support system.”

The CSA also establishes ties with the community, encouraging parents to take an active role in teaching their children about sex, and to behave more responsibly themselves.

The initiative, which is being implemented in more than 100 schools around the country, has had positive results so far: participating schools have noted a significant drop in teen pregnancy, higher retention and completion rates of school education, and improved self-esteem and confidence among girls, which in turn has led to higher scores in exams.

“Girls also need to be supported with uniforms, books, and other material necessities for school,” said Principal Barassa. “If a girl has everything she needs for school, she can stay in school and concentrate on her studies, and she will not look for an older man to buy them for her in exchange for sex.”

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Kenya Classroom Crush

Posted on 26 February 2008. Filed under: Education, Governance, Humanitarian, Insecurity, Politics, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Children in a crowded class at the Moto primary school, Molo town

MOLO, 25 February 2008 (IRIN) – With four or five pupils to a desk, the average class size at Moto primary school, in the western town of Molo, has jumped from 40 in the last term of 2007 to 80 this year since post-election violence hit the country.

“Look at the children, some are even sitting on stones in the lower classes; we have tried to sit at least three to a desk in the upper classes because the pupils are bigger but this has been difficult; we continue to receive more pupils every day,” Beatrice Nyabuti, the deputy head teacher at Moto primary school, told IRIN.

By contrast, several schools in Kuresoi, a largely rural area which forms one of four divisions that make up Molo District, are silent. No pupils have reported to school this year because of displacement and continuing insecurity.

“We have remained here, sleeping at the school for security, because we want our lives to go back to normal; we want our children to go back to school and be secure,” said Francis Mwangi, a local evangelist and coordinator of about 115 displaced people in Kuresoi. By day they go to their homes and farms but return to Temoyeta primary school in the evening. “If security improves, we hope our brothers and sisters who have fled to Molo will come back soon; in fact two teachers have returned and we hope to get the school re-opened.”

Molo is a relatively new district, having been carved out of the larger Nakuru district in 2007, and one of the areas hardest hit by the violence that gripped parts of the country after disputed presidential elections. Moreover, Molo has, since the 1990s, experienced sporadic violence caused by inter-tribal skirmishes, which intensify during election years. In early December 2007, government and relief aid officials put the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Molo at about 45,000.

Since the post-election crisis, the numbers have increased, with Molo town alone, the district’s capital, hosting at least 42,000 IDPs. Thousands more are scattered in tens of camps around Molo, Kuresoi, Keringet and Olengurone.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Paul Muthungu Njaga, the deputy district education officer, Molo town

According to education officials in Molo, displacement has affected 6,861 primary school pupils and 546 secondary school students, as well as 243 teachers.

“All learning institutions in our district have been adversely affected by the violence; we have 300 primary schools in the whole district, 80 secondary schools, several tertiary colleges and one university [Egerton],” Paul Muthungu Njaga, the deputy district education officer, said. “Some schools were burnt and others vandalised and we have lost property of enormous proportions in the process. The greatest loss has been that of text books which were burnt.”

Njaga said displaced pupils had been distributed in four main centres in Molo town, which are now grappling with congestion, inadequate learning materials and stretched physical facilities.

“In all these centres we have the problems of sanitation, inadequate food and lack of learning and teaching materials,” Njaga said. “Toilets in some of the schools are now full and this poses a health problem; toilets that were designed for a few hundred students now have to serve up to 4,000 and this is rather worrying.”

In a bid to ensure that examination candidates do not miss out on registration, education officials have set aside one school where displaced students can register.

Among the pressing needs and challenges facing provision of education in the district, Njaga said, were issues particular to special groups of students, such as trauma counselling for those who experienced violence, and the provision of sanitary pads.

“The ongoing movement of the displaced is another area of concern; children caught up in this process are often afraid and end up being traumatised; others end up at risk of abuse,” Njaga said.


Nyabuti said they had sought the aid of four nearby churches to use as classrooms as their pupil population had shot up to 2,500 despite the fact that 700 of their former pupils had not reported to school.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
A deserted primary school on the outskirts of Molo town, Kenya

“Even our headmaster is affected, he had to flee his home and has not been able to come to school because of insecurity,” Nyabuti said.

Laurence Achami, coordinator of Baringo B, an IDP camp in Kuresoi, said 96 of the 269 people at the camp were of school-going age but had not reported to any school due to continued insecurity.

“The people here have benefited from relief aid from the Red Cross and other charitable organisations but education for the children and access to farms by the children remain the key challenges,” he said. “Availability of seed and fertilizer is the other issue; if people do not have access to seeds and to the farms I fear we could be headed for food shortages in the near future.”

Regarding the violence, Achami said Kuresoi seemed to have been the “rehearsal ground” for the violence that hit part of the country.

“It looks like some of these people were being trained here as Kuresoi experienced a lot of violence way before the disputed elections and this violence continues,” he said.

The IDP camp at Baringo B has remained because of the nearby tented police post, manned by four officers living in tents.

“This post has assisted very much because if it wasn’t here there would have been no non-Kalenjins in Kuresoi by now,” Achami said. “Now we have to find ways of having the children at the camp access the primary school nearby, even if we have to get the police to escort them there.”

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Kenyan University’s Re-opening A Lesson in Peace Amid Diversity

Posted on 6 February 2008. Filed under: Education, Governance, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Kenyatta University is the first public universities to re-open following the post-election violence

NAIROBI, 6 February 2008 (IRIN) – Kenyatta University, the first public university to re-open since Kenya’s post-election crisis began, has put in place elaborate measures to ensure learning goes on uninterrupted, despite continuing violence and tension in parts of the country.

“After four weeks of delaying the opening date, we opted to take the bold decision to open, and we involved all the parties concerned, including the students, in putting in place coping mechanisms that we hope will work for everyone,” Gabriel Katana, the university’s registrar, told IRIN on 6 February.

The measures include counselling services throughout the university’s departments; meetings with leaders and members of the community around the college; beefing up security on campus; and holding discussions with students as well as student and staff unions.

Katana said the re-opening was risky but the administration was willing to take the chance and would assess the situation regularly.

Regarding the content of courses such as political science, Katana said the university had urged lecturers to be “relevant and moderate in their teaching”.

“What we are saying, for instance, is that when giving examples, the lecturers should be sensitive to the political realities in the country; they should try not to digress from the topics at hand,” he said.

Moreover, he said, the university had “put on hold” student and staff organisations based on ethnic or regional composition. Only broad-based clubs and sports associations are operating.

Student support

Cecilia Thiga, a third-year environmental science student, said the banning of regional associations would encourage peaceful co-existence.

“What we need to do is to take action as individuals, we should not allow ourselves to be used by politicians; instead we should do what is required of us, follow the university’s regulations and concentrate on our studies,” she said.

''We should not allow ourselves to be used by politicians; instead we should do what is required of us, follow the university’s regulations and concentrate on our studies''

Katana said the university’s administration had held consultations with landlords and caretakers of buildings rented by students outside the college about security and tenancy arrangements, and had also consulted the police and local government administrators.

“The district officer actually told us if any student is evicted on ethnic grounds, this should be reported to his office,” Katana said.

He said at least 100 cases of students facing financial difficulties because of the unrest had been brought to his attention. He added that the university had set up five tents across the campus staffed by professionals who determine the type of help to give; those needing health and psychosocial support are referred to the university’s health services.

The university has printed a booklet, Kenyatta University Moving Forward Together – Information and Coping Strategies, which each student receives upon reporting to college. It contains hotlines for information and help, and peace messages from the students’ association, several chaplains and an imam.

“Several proposals were made in regard to how to deal with the opening but in the end we decided that an all-inclusive approach was the best,” Katana said. “So far, classes have started and are going on well; and we continue with our efforts to talk to the students, the teaching staff and non-teaching staff, even the casual workers, on the need to co-exist in harmony and for learning to continue.

“We have held meetings with different groups of students as they arrive and we tell them why we decided to open and also what we expect from them. Our core mission of knowledge dissemination is still intact, and we feel that as a university we go beyond borders; our students can pursue further studies anywhere.”

Katana said 200 members of staff had been coached in counselling skills.

Working for peace

According to a statement issued by the Vice-Chancellor, Olive Mugenda, most students, from across the country, had reported to college. However, a number were affected by the violence and some had been living in camps for the displaced before the university opened.

“I am trying to get my two children, who are in second year, admitted; we have been living in a police station in Londiani [Rift Valley Province] after I lost everything to the chaos,” Andrew Macharia said. He was seeking help from Katana.

“The violence has affected me seriously,” Macharia said. “I am here to plead with the administration to admit my children as I find ways of getting the fees. All my property was burned and my brother was killed on 1 January; my life is completely ruined, I hope my children can salvage theirs by continuing with their education.”

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Sylvester Kweyu, chairman of Kenyatta University Student Association

Sylvester Kweyu, chairman of the Kenyatta University Students Association (KUSA), said members of the association had decided to set aside individual political opinions and work together in harmony, as a student body.

“A lot of the students have expressed their commitment to their studies,” he said. “Those who may want to take part in political activities will be doing so as individuals, not as Kenyatta University, and we have made this clear to all students.”

Kweyu, who comes from the western town of Mumias, said the skirmishes in his area had briefly displaced his family but that calm had since returned in the region.

“Initially, the university was to have opened on 14 January but we [KUSA] advised the administration that emotions were still high and that the opening should be postponed; after some time, we came to realise that students from Nyanza, Western and Rift Valley were suffering, some of them were at police stations, and we urged the administration to open so that some of the students could get into the campus, which you can see is a safe haven.”

Eric Masenge, KUSA organising secretary, said he hoped the university’s experience would motivate students and officials of other public universities in the country that have yet to re-open.

“Universities in areas where there is still tension can perhaps remain closed but KU [Kenyatta University] should encourage the vice-chancellors of other universities to consider re-opening as most students are committed to completing the academic year,” he said.

Kenya has six public universities, three in Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces, which have borne the brunt of the violence that erupted soon after the outcome of the 27 December presidential elections was announced. Opposition leader Raila Odinga is disputing the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

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Tensions High in Kenya as Annan-Brokered Crisis Talks Begin

Posted on 30 January 2008. Filed under: Education, Governance, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Boniface Mwangi/IRIN
President Mwai Kibaki shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga in the presence of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

NAIROBI, 29 January 2008 (IRIN) – The “official dialogue process” began on 29 January between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), even as violence that has ravaged the country since late December continued to spread, with the latest casualty a Member of Parliament who was shot dead outside his home in Nairobi, the capital.

Pledging his commitment to the process of national healing and reconciliation, Kibaki announced that 32 fully-equipped police stations would be built in parts of the country affected by the violence. He said Ksh700 million (US$10 million) had already been committed to this project.

ODM leader Raila Odinga also committed himself to the dialogue process but maintained that the most urgent issue facing the country was the resolution of the “deeply flawed” presidential elections that have resulted in violence in many parts of the country.

Both leaders condemned the killing of the MP for Embakasi constituency in Nairobi, Mellitus Mugabe Were.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told IRIN the police was treating the case as murder, “but this man was a politician and you can never rule out anything”.

The MP’s killing fuelled the already high political tension across the country. Hundreds of people have been killed and at least 255,000 displaced since the violence started soon after an announcement by the Electoral Commission of Kenya declaring Kibaki winner of the 27 December 2007 presidential elections.

Were, who won the seat on an ODM ticket, was shot dead as he returned home in the early hours of 29 January.

“We have put together a very competent [investigations] team,” Kiraithe said, adding that the police were not ruling out a political motive for the murder.

He said ODM was free to send an investigator of its choice to join the police inquiry team to avoid any suspicions of a cover-up.

However, ODM leader Raila Odinga said the killing was nothing less than an assassination.

“This was an assassination; planned and executed by ODM’s enemies,” he said on local television. “How can the police spokesman dismiss it as a common murder yet no investigation has been carried out?”

When the news of the MP’s killing spread, trouble started in various areas of the city, with reports that four people were killed in chaos that erupted in the Kibera slum, in the constituency represented by Odinga.

A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said rowdy youths had created boundaries in sections of the slums, depending on their ethnicity.

“The gangs, armed with machetes and all sorts of crude weapons, have created borders that members of the different ethnic groups dare not cross,” the journalist said.

Earlier, Kiraithe said the police had prevented youths from Kibera slum and Umoja residential area from taking to the streets to protest at Were’s murder.

“Right now the situation is under control,” he said. “People out to destroy lives and property will not be treated with kid gloves.”

However, tension remained high across the country as an African Union-mandated team, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, held its first national reconciliation meeting with Kibaki and Odinga, who have nominated three members each to lead their parties in the negotiations.

Annan arrived in the country last week and has already held meetings with the two groups as well as other stakeholders. He has also visited camps for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Education crisis in Samburu

Meanwhile, in the far-flung northern district of Samburu, school has yet to start as teachers and parents continue to avoid the area due to fear caused by the post-election violence.

Education officials said on 28 January that a number of teachers from outside the district had already secured transfers to their home district or to other areas they considered safe.

The Samburu executive secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, Raphael Lesaloit, said the district was experiencing a shortage of teachers and appealed to the government to consider recruiting local graduates to replace teachers who had moved out of the district.

“We already had a shortage of teachers in the district; the situation is worse now because more teachers have left out of fear and some have secured transfers to other areas,” Lesaloit said.

Some parents who fled the area following attacks soon after the election results had yet to return.

Moreover, local schools have yet to receive teaching materials and funds for free primary education. A teacher at a school in Maralal, the district’s headquarters, said they would have to send home children who had reported to school or demand money from their parents because the government had not sent any money.

Government services in the district have also been affected as several public servants have left, with the worst affected offices the ministry of health, veterinary and livestock services.

At the same time, workers at hotels in Samburu and Isiolo districts have been sent home after tourist cancellations.

Fabian Lolosoli, a member of the Samburu Tourism Cultural Group, said the cancellations and difficulties getting livestock to market had deprived many families of income.

“The government and donors are focusing their attention on the internally displaced in areas affected by conflict whilst we are suffering in silence,” Lolosoli said.

“Intervention measures to help Kenyans affected by the chaos should also take our plight into consideration,” he said.

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IDP Children in Kenya Falling Through Protection Cracks

Posted on 30 January 2008. Filed under: Education, Governance, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Children run for cover during a raid on the IDP camp at Nakuru showground, 26 January 2008, Nakuru Town

NAKURU, 29 January 2008 (IRIN) – Violence in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru has seen the numbers of displaced at the town’s largest camp skyrocket, but camp officials say it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide security for the IDPs, and children are being particularly affected.

“At the moment we have more than 5,900 IDPs in the camp, and more than 2,800 of these are children,” Jesse Njoroge, coordinator of the camp at the Nakuru showground, told IRIN. “Many children come in alone because of the haste with which these families have to leave their homes.”

According to Mary Muthumbi, Nakuru district’s children’s officer, at least one child has reported being sexually abused since the camp was opened on 30 December.

“Unfortunately, although the case has been taken up by the Rift Valley Law Society, the child cannot identify the attacker, so prosecuting it is proving somewhat difficult,” she told IRIN.

Monitoring of volunteers at the camp is weak, and many people masquerading as well-wishers or donors are able to enter the camp without any screening. The police are overwhelmed by the ongoing violence in Nakuru, and have thus far been able to provide little protection.

An attack on the camp on 26 January saw children caught up in the skirmishes, ducking between machete-wielding youths in their attempts to scramble to the safety of marquees housing them.

“The situation is getting worse now, because the violence has turned completely tribal, so even working in the camp has become difficult,” Muthumbi said. “My child protection officers are from non-Kikuyu ethnic communities, and the Kikuyu majority in the camp is mistrustful and even hostile towards them, so for the time being we have withdrawn from the camp.”

Before the department’s withdrawal, Muthumbi said some measures had been put in place to ensure children were identified and protected. “We put the unaccompanied children in one tent as they arrive, and usually within a few days a parent or relatives arrive and collect them,” she said.

Children who have not been identified have been placed in children’s homes and orphanages in Nakuru, she added. However, according to Njoroge, many children have been taken in by local families who have not been vetted for suitability, placing them in danger of abuse or abduction.

“These people come to the camp and reach a loose agreement with the children’s parents to house their kids, but a few days later the parents realise they don’t want to be without their children and approach us, but by then we have no way of tracing them,” he said. “In some cases, the volunteers realise they cannot actually afford to house and feed these children and return them, and we then have to start searching for their families.”

Minimum standards of protection

According to Stenor Vogt, a child protection adviser with the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, children are severely affected by separation from their parents, and are usually more easily traumatised by change.

“The best thing in these situations is to find a way to prevent separation; if this is not possible it is vital that unaccompanied or separated children are identified and reunited as early as possible with their families,” he said.

Vogt noted that after the Rwanda genocide, children who had remained with their family – even extended family – suffered fewer psycho-social problems than those who had been placed in institutions after the displacement or loss of their parents.

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Children attending class under a tree at one IDP camp

“Communities and families are being housed in similar areas of the camp to foster a sense of responsibility and try to make sure every child is looked after by someone they know,” said camp coordinator Njoroge.

Vogt stressed that even in the camp setting, child-friendly spaces needed to be created where children could play together and be monitored to find out whether any had suffered physical or psychological trauma.

“Children should be placed in schools as early as possible to give them a sense that their lives are normal and also to provide them with more protection, as in school they are monitored by their teachers,” he added. “Kids cope very well if they get to a normal environment fairly early – if they are in school and with their families.”

Vogt – who is providing child protection training to carers in Nakuru – said Kenya had the advantage that culturally, children tended to remain with members of their family or community even when they lost a parent, which reduced the possibility of abuse or additional trauma.

Nakuru district’s Muthumbi said primary school-age children had been placed at two local schools, Moi and Lenana primary schools, where large tents have been erected to accommodate the children. The children’s health, sanitation and nutritional needs, she noted, were being fairly well managed by the government and NGOs.

“We now have a problem with secondary school-age children, who have yet to be placed,” she added. “Now that the violence has started again, it will be even more difficult to start placing them.”

Many of these secondary school-age youth are members of the camp’s informal protection unit, standing guard day and night against attacks from local gangs. Njoroge noted that some teenage girls had begun to have sex in exchange for food and money.

UNICEF estimates that the current violence in Kenya has displaced 100,000 children, at least 75,000 of whom are living in IDP camps across the country.

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Kenya Campuses Stay Closed Amid Concern Over Student Protests

Posted on 28 January 2008. Filed under: Education, Governance, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A demonstrator runs from a burning car set on fire by irate youths after a funeral service called by opposition ODM was tear-gassed in Nairobi

NAIROBI, 28 January 2008 (IRIN) – Most of Kenya’s public universities have yet to reopen amid fears of riots and ethnic bloodshed following December’s disputed polls.

The opening of Maseno University in the opposition stronghold of Luo-dominated Nyanza Province in western Kenya has been postponed until April because it was not considered safe for Kikuyu students from Central Province, the home turf of Kikuyu President Mwai Kibaki, to return.

“The community around [Maseno] are mainly Luos and Luhyas and they’ve become so volatile. There are very many students who are from Central Province. That would mean if they go there, apart from students fighting students, it would degenerate to community fighting students,” Joseph Adinda, chair of the Kenya National Association of Universities, told IRIN.

“When they were supposed to open, a group of students went there to wait for fellow students from Central Province – Kikuyus – so that when they alight from the buses, they deal with them even before they reach campus,” Adinda said. About 45 percent of students at Maseno are Kikuyu.

Some of the worst violence in Kenya has been around Eldoret in Rift Valley Province. Here, Kikuyus and Kisiis have been targeted by pro-opposition Kalenjin determined to force “outsiders” to leave “their” province. Moi University is 36km outside the town.

However, Nabos Ekwam, chair of Moi University Student Organisation, was optimistic there would not be trouble when campus reopens on 8 February, after two delays. The university needed more time to find alternative accommodation for some of the 8,500 students whose hostels in town were destroyed during the unrest.

He did not believe there would be any tension between students and townspeople.
“My [positivism] is based on the fact that I was in campus a few days ago. The main campus is located in the interior, surrounded by the community. There was nothing of the university that was destroyed. The only destruction was outside the university,” he said.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Hoping for a new dawn in Nairobi as university campuses around the country remain closed

Student politics at Moi University is not divided on ethnic lines, Ekwam said, using the fact of his own election as a student leader to illustrate this. He is one of about 10 members of his Turkana community at the college.

“People do not vote in terms of tribe,” he said. “There hasn’t been much aggression in terms of tribe.”

However, students will respond to the nation’s political crisis when they return.

Student duty

“Student politics will be a bit hot because of national politics,” predicted Ekwam. “It is going to be a reaction not to fellow students but to what is happening in national politics and the entire society. You feel it’s not right. You have a duty to point it out. Once we get to campus, students have to take a position.”

The student governing council will meet first and then there will be a meeting known as a kamakunji, with all the students, to decide the course of action.

“The main way of being heard is to make a political demonstration, to meet the press and say what we feel should have happened,” said Ekwam.

Only a few months ago, Moi University students held their first demonstration in several years to protest against fare hikes on public minibuses.

“It was a peaceful demonstration. We sorted out the problem,” said Ekwam.

The University of Nairobi (UON) has traditionally been the most politically active of Kenya’s seven public universities. It is the country’s oldest and most prestigious university with a history of producing radical student leaders. Many have gone on to become prominent national politicians, such as James Orengo, and rights campaigners, such as PLO Lumumba, currently a lawyer for the political party Safina.

UON’s main campus is in the heart of Nairobi’s central business district. During the 1980s and 1990s, UON students who opposed the excesses of President Daniel arap Moi’s one-party state regularly engaged in battles with riot police. While UON students have not rioted since 2003, there are fears they could do so now.

“I foresee student protest. There is a likelihood students will express their anger,” said Hassan Omar, who was a student leader at the university during the 1990s and is now a human rights activist.

“The goings-on right now have radicalised every element of society. The net effect of all this radicalisation is to transform us into a violent society. I don’t see the students will be left behind.”

While Adinda insisted that “violence is the last option”, he said students wanted to express their displeasure at the outcome of the presidential elections. Some have been displaced from their homes by the post-electoral violence and are waiting for university to re-open so they can get accommodation.

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, is mediating talks between political parties in Kenya

“Students are now saying when they come back they must show the world that they were disappointed with the Electoral Commission of Kenya [which has been criticised for its handling of the results],” he said.

Campus politics follows national agenda

Politics at the university has closely followed the national scene, with students voting on ethnic lines.

“Campus politics is exactly like outside politics. Everything about national politics has come in, tribalism, which area you come from,” said Adinda, who is also chairman of the Students Organisation of Nairobi University.

Demonstrations could turn into riots. All public demonstrations have been banned since the elections and the police’s heavy-handed response to people trying to protest has repeatedly sparked violence.

On 21 January, a riot broke out at Nairobi’s Kenya Polytechnic University College after students heard that its opening had been suspended indefinitely.

Because of its status, what happens at UON is likely to influence other institutions.

“If we go for very peaceful and well coordinated demonstrations, the other universities follow. But if it is messed up and it is a violent one, when others open it will be the same way,” said Adinda.

The priority now for UON students is to find out when the university will reopen. Term was due to start on 7 January but has been delayed “because of the prevailing circumstances”, according to Charles Sikulu, acting public relations manager in the Vice-Chancellor’s office.

“They wanted to make sure when they reopen its safe for the students and for them to conduct their business peacefully,” he said.

On 21 January, post-graduates and the medical school reopened. A date of 4 February has been pencilled in for the remaining students to return to campus but it will depend on the outcome of talks mediated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

“What happens in the meanwhile will determine whether we reopen on 4 February. If things crop up that dictate otherwise, then the administration will have the power to delay. This is the first time this kind of thing is happening in the country. We can’t tell how the students are going to react,” Sikulu said.

University reforms

Kenyan students have been a lot less radical since Kibaki came to power in 2002. Reforms within the university system have opened up a channel of communication with the administration. The introduction of parallel degree programmes for self-sponsored students, many of whom are older and combine their studies with jobs, has brought a more conservative element into campuses.

Under Kibaki, there has also been greater freedom of speech, giving students other means to express their discontent than through violence. The student movement “disintegrated”, said Hassan Omar, because activists believed they had “acquired the necessary democratic dispensation we were looking for.

“The student movement was localised, deradicalised and depoliticised on the basis of the perception that we had a new framework in terms of leadership and the struggle we had could be best won within government,” he added.

However, “with the new developments, I don’t know whether that might reignite the politics of the student movement and whether they will be immune to tribe, which appears to be one of the most divisive issues we have in Kenya right now. If there were to be a rebirth, I don’t know what shape that would take,” said Omar.

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Massive Displacement Hurts Education in Rift Valley

Posted on 25 January 2008. Filed under: Education, Governance, Insecurity, Refugees/ IDPs |

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Children at “Refugee Primary School” in Mulot attend class under a tree

NAROK, 24 January 2008 (IRIN) – Thousands of Kenyan students have still not started the new school year since the 27 December poll results plunged parts of the country into chaos, raising concerns about the effect massive displacement and continued instability could have on education.

“Many of the teachers in the region are from ethnic communities that have left the Rift Valley in their thousands,” Bishop Jackson ole Sapit, who covers eight districts in Kenya’s western Rift Valley Province, told IRIN. “Many of those who left told us they would seek transfers to areas where they felt safer, which is likely to cause us great problems in the long term.

“Last week, I sent my nephew to the secondary school he attends, but only 10 out of 700 students had reported, so he was sent home again,” he added.

Parents of children in camps in Narok North district said they were too scared to send their children to local schools in case they were attacked by rival communities or unruly youths. One camp, in the compound of the district commissioner, has more than 1,800 residents – who said none of the displaced children was in school.

Tension high

“Our children are not in school yet – if we felt they would be safe then we would send them, but the place is still tense,” said one displaced mother-of-two.

According to district officials in Narok North, however, these fears are misplaced and parents would be better off sending their children to school.

“We feel that the threat is perceived rather than real, but we are still taking it seriously and are doing our best to step up security so people feel safe,” Andre Rukaria, Narok North district commissioner, told IRIN. “We have put additional administration police camps around town and additional patrol bases.”

Narok North had been generally peaceful until opposition demonstrations in the town turned violent on the weekend starting 18 January – eight people were killed in the clashes and the number of displaced has risen drastically.

The district’s deputy education officer, William Kaelo, said although his office had not yet started recording the number of displaced teachers and therefore had little idea of the scale of the shortage, several schools around town had failed to open due to low numbers of students reporting or fear of continued insecurity. Two local nursery schools have also been turned into additional accommodation for the displaced, thus preventing them from opening.

“In town, where most of the violence has happened, at least five public schools – with a total enrolment of close to 4,000 students – have not yet opened, and private schools have stayed closed altogether,” he said. “This means that it is not just the displaced that are affected – many other children in the district cannot go to school.”

In the Rift Valley district of Molo, sources estimate as many as 50 schools have yet to open for the school year.

According to Elias Noor, an education officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), schools offer protection for children in emergency settings. “When children are in school they have a sense of normalcy and bring this sense to their families,” he said. “They are under the protection of trained professionals … schools can also be used to foster harmony through peace education.”

Rapid response necessary

The Kenyan Ministry of Education, with UNICEF and other local partners, such as the Kenya Red Cross Society, has prepared a “response and recovery” plan to enable schools to start, even in the camps.

“As part of this plan, we have conducted rapid assessments and have started providing school kits, recreation kits and tents where necessary, so that children can start school within the camps,” Noor said.

Photo: Keishamaza Rukirare/IRIN
Children in camps who are not in school are helping out with household chores and looking after siblings

“Recovery may mean measures such as extra tuition later on to enable students to catch up on work they missed, but our immediate priority in this case is provision of educational materials, protection and food for school children,” he added. “We have yet to reach many areas and there are logistical difficulties … we cannot force the system.”

Temporary schools have been set up in camps in Nakuru and Eldoret, but in areas where UNICEF and the ministry have not yet arrived, camp officials are coming up with innovative ways to keep the children occupied.

At Mulot Camp in Narok South district, displaced teachers have set up makeshift classrooms under trees and in district administration buildings; the camp’s school has been named – somewhat irreverently – Refugee Primary School.

“We are trying, but we have children from different classes grouped together and we have no chalk, black-boards, books or pens so it’s very hard,” said Samuel Tureiga, a teacher at the camp in Mulot, with 550 residents, a third children. “We’re trying to keep the children busy so they can have some stability.”

There are no displaced secondary school teachers at Mulot, so the high school students among the displaced are left to perform household chores and help care for their younger siblings.

Tureiga said he would be willing to be transferred to a school in the district, but only if he could be near a police post. “I cannot go back to a school in a rural area, where my security is not guaranteed,” he added.

The teachers said they had also noticed signs of trauma among older children, some of whom were very withdrawn and uncooperative; no counsellors have been to the camp yet.

UNICEF is still carrying out assessments in the region, and is working with provincial authorities to get a clearer picture of how the violence has affected children and ensure that education in the region returns to normal as soon as the political situation eases. The violence has displaced an estimated 250,000 Kenyans, most of them in the Rift Valley.

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Kenyan Conflict Disrupts East African Science

Posted on 22 January 2008. Filed under: Education, Insecurity |

The violence that continues to rock Kenya following the disputed December election has dented scientific development in the country — which serves as a hub for many international research institutions — and the East African region.Logistical management of scientific projects has been affected in Burundi, parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, southern Sudan and Uganda.

With further opposition protests scheduled for this week, several Kenyan universities and research institutes have delayed re-opening following the Christmas break.

Masinde Muliro, a science and technology university in the western town of Kakamega — where six people died of gunshot wounds, houses were burnt down and shops ran out of basic goods — remains closed.

Crop and animal research has been disrupted at Moi University, based in the town of Eldoret in the Rift Valley province — considered the region worst affected by the violence.

John Simiyu, head of the emergency section in the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, which forms part of the university, said that more than 325 patients have been admitted with violence-related injuries.

Miriam Gaceri Kinyua, an agriculture lecturer at Moi University, told SciDev.Net that although the post-election violence has displaced scientists working and living in affected areas, field research projects undertaken by the university remain unscathed thus far. But she noted that efforts to fund several future projects had been thrown into turmoil by the violence.

“Though the fracas did not spoil our projects, it has interfered with the normal operations of our research programmes,” said Kinyua, who directed the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) projects to design wheat varieties resistant to rust fungus at their station in Njoro — which has been hit hard by clashing supporters.

Catherine Mgendi, of the Nairobi office of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said that although their researchers have delayed returning to work, no research projects have been destroyed nor researchers hurt. She expects full operations to resume once calm returns.

But work has been severely disrupted at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, whose fence borders Nairobi’s Kibera slum — home to thousands of opposition supporters, and another area badly affected by the violence and the subsequent outbreak of disease.

Science projects around Kenya are expected to return to normal with the announcement that Noah Wekesa has been retained as minister of science and technology by the current government, a position he held prior to the elections.

Kimani Chege
16 January 2008
Source: SciDev.Net
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African Progress to 2015 Education Goals Unimpressive

Posted on 18 December 2007. Filed under: Education |

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A student from Ngoma School, Sikaneka village, Maamba district, Zambia, 28 February 2007

IRIN – Critics say donors at a recent high-level meeting failed to make firm funding commitments for improving education, particularly in impoverished, fragile and war-torn countries, making it highly unlikely the world will meet ambitious education goals by the 2015 deadline.

“I cannot be very optimistic,” Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said at a press conference on 13 December in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, at the close of the three-day meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All, which brought together education ministers, donors and development partners.

While developing countries agreed to allocate 10 percent of budgets to education, donor countries could not agree to include a specific percentage of budgets for education aid, instead pledging “to work to maintain and increase levels of funding to education” and to prioritise low-income, fragile and emergency and conflict-affected states.

“Obviously it’s a major disappointment that we don’t have a commitment to achieve a particular amount,” said Nicholas Burnett, director of the 2008 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, which identified an annual US$11 billion funding gap in external aid for education in order to reach the goals in time.

In the past, “commitments and promises [from donors] were not held,” said Samou Salimata, who oversees the global Education for All programme in Burkina Faso, the world’s least-developed country, according to the UN’s latest human development report. “No measures were taken here so that the same thing [doesn’t happen again],” she told IRIN outside the deliberation room.

Meeting the Education for All goals

At the World Education Forum in 2000, 164 countries agreed to an “Education for All” (EFA) movement to dramatically improve education by 2015. The movement focuses on six goals, two of which were later adopted as Millennium Development Goals: improving early childhood education, achieving universal primary education, meeting the learning needs of young people and adults, reaching a 50 percent improvement in adult literacy, eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary schools, and improving the quality of education.

While there has been substantial progress since then, it has not been fast enough. According to the Global Monitoring Report, if current trends continue, at least 25 countries will not meet any of the goals. Of the 113 countries that missed the programme’s gender parity goal, originally slated for 2005, only 18 stand a chance of achieving it by 2015. Most countries, the report said, have made little progress in reducing the number of illiterate adults.

Another report, released on 11 December by international lobby group Global Campaign for Education, said the EFA goals “will not be realised by 2115, let alone in the next seven and a half years”.

The report identified the USA, Japan, Germany and Italy as “the most miserly of the rich countries” who were not giving their “fair share”.


At the midway point to the target date, many saw the Dakar meeting as an opportunity to turn the tide and propel the world forward on education goals. The High-Level Group meets annually to accelerate movement towards the EFA goals and to mobilise resources.

This year, the group agreed on specific actions to make education accessible to excluded groups, to train and recruit primary school teachers and to provide health and nutrition programmes in schools.

But critics say those positive steps may not have much impact.

While the meeting was to have brought together education ministers from around the world, there were none from North America or Europe, whose countries sent lower-level representatives instead.

“If a great agreement is reached today but no world leaders are here to sign it – does it really matter?” asked the Global Campaign for Education, a coalition grouping Save the Children, Oxfam, ActionAid, Education International and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), teachers’ unions and civil society groups from around the world. “Once again the High Level Group meeting has missed the opportunity to mobilise the much-needed political will,” the group said in a statement.


Still, both recently-released reports note significant progress in education since 2000, including a 36-percent jump in primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa and a five percent annual increase in domestic spending on education in Africa and South Asia. Fourteen countries abolished primary school fees between 2000 and 2006 and many countries have adopted national strategies for which results will be forthcoming.

What is more, the countries furthest from achieving the goals are those progressing the fastest, and at a faster rate than in the 1990s. The World Bank’s Fast Track Initiative has helped support developing countries who show a serious commitment to achieving universal primary education.

However, 774 million adults cannot read or write, 18 million more teachers are needed, and early childhood – the first of the EFA goals – has been completely neglected. Quality of education still suffers.

“The question is not ‘is there progress?’ but `what is the pace of progress?’” said the Global Monitoring Report’s Burnett, also UNESCO’s assistant director-general for education. Education for All by 2015 is achievable, he said, “but it won’t be achieved unless the current quite encouraging progress is further accelerated.”

In 2000, donor countries and institutions pledged that “no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources”.

Now, UNESCO Director-General Matsuura said: “Donors must implement their promises… We cannot afford to fail.”

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The Pastoralist Way of Life – A Fragile Future For Millions of Children

Posted on 31 October 2007. Filed under: Education, Lifestyle |

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
A Turkana girl waters cattle, Oropoi, northwestern Kenya

IRIN – Pastoralist children in the Horn of Africa face some of the greatest challenges and are among the most vulnerable in the world, according to a new report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The region, which covers parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, has about 20 million pastoralists, including an estimated four million children.

They mostly live in water-scarce arid and semi-arid areas, characterised by poor road and communication infrastructure, few investments, limited educational opportunities and a lack of basic services.

“At least 90 percent of children below five years in Somalia [where 50-60 percent of the population are pastoralist] are not immunised against measles,” Per Engebak, UNICEF regional director, said at the launch of The Pastoralist Child in Nairobi on 29 October.

In some areas of Eritrea, Engebak added, just 22 percent of the children have received measles vaccinations, while in Ethiopia there is only one doctor per 300,000 people.

Access to healthcare is also a major problem in pastoralist Kenya, with people travelling an average of 40 to 80km to reach a health facility, said the report. In the Afar region of Ethiopia, two hospitals, nine health centres and 587 health workers serve a population of 1.4 million.

Only 20 percent of children in these areas go to school. Joseph Kelong, a student from Kacheliba in the pastoralist Pokot area in northwestern Kenya, said there are only two secondary schools in the district and very few skilled teachers.

“Our education is affected by cattle rustling, clashes, water scarcity, lack of electricity and poverty,” he said. “The children in Nairobi [the capital] and Lokichoggio [in northwestern Kenya] should have equal standards of education.”

Malnutrition rates in children surpassed the UN World Health Organization’s emergency threshold rate of 15 percent after successive droughts and flooding in 2005 and 2006.

The report said that malnutrition ranged from 11 to 20 percent in Eritrea, and about 30 percent in several areas in Kenya and Somalia. Overall, by early 2006, at least four million children, 1.5 million of them under five years old were in need of emergency nutrition and health interventions.

The pastoralist way of life has faced difficulties for many years, with fixed borders interrupting migratory routes, rainfall diminishing, and growing pressures on fewer areas of pasture and water sources.

According to Engebak, the most serious effects of climate change are also likely to impact fragile areas like those in the Horn of Africa.

In the pastoralist districts of northeastern Kenya, the average distances to the nearest water points are 25-40km, while below four percent of people in nomadic/pastoralist areas of Somalia have access to safe water sources, the report said.

Despite the inherent challenges, these communities have continued to contribute to the economies of the region, Engebak said.

Photo: IRIN/Anthony Mitchell
Pastoralists mostly live in water-scarce arid and semi-arid areas

Ethiopia, which has the largest livestock population in Africa, relies on this as its second leading export earner after coffee. The camel population in Kenya is estimated to be worth 200 billion shillings (US$3 billion) with livestock production accounting for at least 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

The report recommends inclusive leadership, community involvement and budgetary reallocations, coordinated plans, policies and the role of nationl governments and international donors to improve the lives of pastoralists.

UNICEF’s report launch coincided with the start of Kenya Pastoralists’ Week (KPW) – an annual advocacy event aimed at influencing policies affecting pastoralist communities.

According to the acting director of the Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE), Yobo Rutin, the pastoralist way of life is often seen as archaic and has suffered years of neglect from mainstream development.

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Environmental Change and Infectious Diseases

Posted on 15 October 2007. Filed under: Education, Environment, Media |

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

The environment influences our health in many ways — through exposures to physical, chemical and biological risk factors. Globally, nearly one quarter of all deaths and of the total disease burden can be attributed to the environment. In commemoration the BLOG ACTION DAY, we highlight the fact that millions of people die annually from preventable environmental causes, and that such diseases could be prevented through better management of our environment.

Over the last 30 years the reversal in the declining death rate due to infectious diseases has alarmed international health experts. Dramatic successes in eradicating small pox, controlling polio and tuberculosis, and eliminating vector-borne diseases such as yellow fever, dengue and malaria from many regions convinced most experts the era of infectious diseases would soon be over. Unfortunately this optimistic prognosis was premature as a number of diseases have dramatically reemerged. Tuberculosis, cholera, dengue, plague and malaria have increased in incidence or geographic range, as have new drug-resistant strains of bacteria. In addition newly recognised diseases, such as Aids or Sars, have emerged.

The present global emergence of infectious diseases is clearly associated with the social and demographic changes of the past 50 years, particularly urbanisation and globalisation, with the attendant spread of pathogens (agents causing disease) via infected humans, hosts, vectors or commodities. The change in the environment caused by human activities is also apparent in the transformation of much of our landscape and conversion of regional systems once dominated by natural ecosystems. Factors include expansion into urban or peri-urban habitat, deforestation, and the spread of intensive farming. The environment’s role in the emergence of diseases is apparent in the connections between the direct consequences of human changes to urban and rural landscapes and ecosystems, and the secondary effects on disease emergence factors. Developing irrigated agriculture, for example, can create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, a vector for malaria. Likewise the inadequate storm drainage and sewerage systems often associated with rapid urbanisation not only increase the breeding habitat for disease vectors but facilitate the spread of waterborne pathogens causing cholera and leptospirosis.

Overwhelming evidence points to human demographic changes as the major direct and indirect factor contributing to the increase in infectious disease, with somewhat different dynamics and mechanisms at work in urban and rural environments. In the first case the increasing number of people crowded into dense settlements has dramatically increased opportunities for food, water, rodent and vector-borne pathogens to “colonise” and persist in human populations. Each pathogen has unique transmission and adaptive characteristics that determine a minimum population for survival (the threshold for measles is about 250,000 people). Whether the threshold is 100,000 or a million the number of large urban settlements and the average settlement size has been growing fast in recent decades. The number of cities of one million or larger was 76 in 1950, 522 in 1975, 1,122 in 2000, and is set to exceed 1,600 by 2015. This 20-fold increase translates to a roughly similar increase in global infectious disease vulnerability due to this one factor alone.

This type of growth has indirect social and environmental consequences that contribute to multiplying the actual increase in population. Poverty, poor living conditions, including lack of sanitation and infrastructure for waste-water and solid waste management, increases opportunities for vector- borne diseases and others passing from animals to humans. The geographic spread and expansion into peri-urban areas of the mosquito Aedes albopictus, exquisitely adapted for breeding in discarded plastic containers and used automobile tires, is a good example of how a potential vector of viral diseases has taken advantage of environmental change. Lack of sanitation and waste water treatment, and industrial scale intensification of animal production systems the world over, contribute to exotic species, and the proliferation and spread of water and food-borne pathogens. Increasingly frequent outbreaks of infections are caused by these and other organisms, many of which may eat alongside or prey on wild mammals and birds as natural parasites. The contamination of surface waters and spread of pathogens is further promoted by the alteration of catchments and watersheds accompanying urbanisation, and intensive farming around cities. Channelling streams, removing vegetation on the banks, and filling in wetland – all of which accompany unplanned urbanisation – eliminate the natural retention and nutrient recycling systems, as well as barriers to surface run-off contaminated with intestinal pathogens. Nutrient pollution leading to oxygen depletion in estuaries, lakes, streams and even stretches of ocean, such as the Gulf of Mexico, helps such pathogens survive too.

In rural areas population and consumption play a less direct role in contributing to disease emergence, particularly as rural emigration is fuelling the demographic explosion in cities. It is more that urban areas are driving a sustained increase in the timber trade, agriculture, stock raising and mining, resulting in turn in deforestation and changes in land use that are transforming rural landscapes and natural areas in ways that often facilitate the emergence of disease. Deforestation or even “patchy” reforestation leads to ecological changes such as increased edge habitat and local extinction of predators that favour some disease vectors and reservoir species. Encroachment of individuals and settlements on natural ecosystems brings humans into contact with known and novel pathogens. The spread and intensification of farming results in the development of irrigation systems, ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes and a habitat for opportunistic insects and rodents that may be vectors or reservoirs for disease. Dams provide a favourable habitat for other vectors.

Climate change represents a potential environmental factor affecting disease emergence. Shifts in the geographic ranges of hosts and vector, the effect of increasing temperature on reproductive, development and mortality rates on hosts, vectors, and pathogens, and the effects of increased climate variability on flooding and droughts all have the potential to affect disease incidence and emergence positively or negatively. At present there is insufficient evidence to indicate what the net effect will be once climate changes begin to have a major affect on ecosystems. However, a dominant theme emerging from research on the ecology of infectious disease is that accelerated and abrupt environmental change, whether natural or caused by humans, may provide conditions conducive to pathogen emergence: pathogen adaptation, host switching, and active or passive or dispersal.

The resurgence of infectious diseases worldwide reflects our quick-fix mentality, with poor development planning, a lack of political determination and institutional inertia. It is not the inevitable result of development, environmental change, or even incremental population growth. On the contrary much can be done to reverse the current trend. As well as rebuilding the public health infrastructure for infectious diseases, there is substantial evidence and a growing number of examples of how regional planning and development, including urbanisation, agricultural expansion, and the management and conservation of forests and other ecosystems can minimise and even reduce outbreaks of infectious disease as well as environmental damage. Basically we need an integrated approach to pathogen control. This approach will involve meshing social and economic development programmes, environmental and natural resource management, with intervention based on the reinvigorated field of disease ecology and methods involving community participation.

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals


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