Travelling through Samburu County, Kenya, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at the vast, dusty landscape and the huge numbers of livestock that are herded through the region. Beside them is often a child as young as five years.
For children growing up in nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralist communities, mainstream education has, traditionally, not been an option. As cultural mores dictate ways of life, young girls and boys are often obligated to take up the role of shepherds for their family’s livestock, covering great distances with their animals in search of fresh pastures for grazing.
Education, in the past, may have been considered low on the list of needs within this setting. Now this view is gradually changing, but the question of accessibility remains. The herding responsibilities of children during day mean they have little opportunity to attend mainstream schools, even with the support of their families. To make any progress in improving education for marginalised communities, alternative education models are required.
In the publication, Towards Education for Nomads: Community Perspectives in Kenya (Birch et al., 2010), the authors explained:
Too many pastoralist families are still unable to reconcile their growing desire for education with the largely conventional education system on offer. The result is that educational outcomes in predominantly pastoralist districts are still much lower than those in other parts of Kenya.”
In one of the Samburu communities supported by The Road Less Travelled project, this challenge is being addressed with the introduction of evening shepherds’ classes. By creating flexible learning opportunities, with the needs determined and implemented by the community, for the community, more pastoralists will gain access to education.
At the core of all project activities is the strength-based approach to community development. Essentially, it is an approach that engages the local community to use their existing skills and resources to address their own challenges and build on their strengths. In line with this approach, two members of the group ranch in Suguta have volunteered to run literacy classes for their fellow community members – one offering flexible education for young shepherds, and a second class focused on women’s literacy.
Both classes were initiated after the Community Development Committee identified the need for better access to education for marginalised members of their community.
Janet, who has been teaching the adult women’s class since July, says she likes teaching because she is “helping the women in life.” Janet attended school up until class eight (the end of primary school), and believes the adult classes are especially important for women who missed out on education during their youth. She announces proudly that up to 30 women attend her class on any given day.
The sessions take place for three hours on weekday afternoons, allowing the women to first complete their work at home for the day, such as caring for livestock or collecting water. They learn in the local Samburu language, as well as the national languages of Swahili and English.
Janet says increased literacy levels will help women with basic tasks like making phone calls, and understanding documents they are asked to sign, or reading letters they receive. They are simple steps, but this type of education, especially in a marginalised community, can be a catalyst for change.
The classes not only empower local women and youth with increased knowledge, but allow them to play an active role in shaping the direction of future development initiatives that will benefit their families and the wider community.