Murimi Mutiga @murimimutiga
Tucked away in a sleepy island off the coast of Tana River county lies little-known Katsangani Primary School. The only school on the isle whose inhabitants depend on fishing, its dilapidated classrooms are quenching the thirst for education for 425 pupils.
Built on a sand dune (hence the name Katsangani), the school has only two permanent classrooms, forcing pupils to study under trees and mud-walled, raffia-thatched structures. Latrines are almost caving in, forcing teachers and pupils to use nearby bushes and thickets to respond to nature calls.
“Established eight years ago, the school has only 15 desks,” says headteacher, Kongo Tindi. “We are forced to use makeshift classrooms where learners sit on logs made of mangrove poles or on the floor. Others sit outside under trees,” he says.
Pupils here are yet to learn the words “administration block” as the headteacher and his staff have to use one of the mud-walled structures to keep important records and prepare their lessons. “This is a forgotten school. Although the 425 pupils are children of Kenya, their right to education is being violated and this must stop,” Tindi says.
The school is located in the remote, poverty-stricken Katsangani village of Wachu Oda location in Tana Delta sub-county. The village is prone to insecurity due to conflicts between farmers and pastoralist communities. It was the scene of a bloodbath in 2016 when the members of the predominant Giriama and the Wardei clashed, leading to the arrest and prosecution of then Tana River Senator Ali Abdi Bule.
Most of the learners are infested with jiggers and some have to stay out of school for weeks because they cannot walk. “Today, I had to grant a teacher permission to go to hospital after being attacked by jiggers from our dusty floors,” he says.
Staff and pupils are exposed to harm as the area has dangerous sea creatures and snakes. They also risk disease outbreaks due to open defecation. Inside the two permanent classrooms built by the Constituency Development Fund in 2016, digital learning gadgets (tablets and laptops) are kept. Luckily for the school, the government installed solar power on the permanent building and it is here that pupils take digital literacy classes.
There are only five teachers employed by the Teachers Service Commission, forcing the board of management to flout the government’s policy of free primary education to solicit for funds from parents and well-wishers to pay three extra teachers to cover the staff deficit.
The journey to the school is itself perilous, torturous and dangerous. No vehicle can access the village. One has to abandon their vehicle 2km away and wade through marsh, past three makeshift footbridges across a creek to the village. The footbridges are made of mangrove poles and villagers have to frequently repair them as salty water always destroys the poles.
Many pupils stay away from school during the rainy season due to the impassable paths and leaky classrooms. “The makeshift classrooms are usually flooded, making it difficult for learning. Currently, many pupils are staying at home because their classrooms are flooded and we cannot conduct classes under trees due to the rains,” says Tindi.
He laments that the school has been forgotten, yet it posts impressive results in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination. “The pupils in this school deserve better treatment; they sit the same examinations,” says Tindi.
He wants the national and county governments as well as well-wishers to respond to the school’s distress call and provide necessary educational infrastructure to enable the school to perform better in exams.
The school is a beneficiary of the government’s free lunch programme, but pupils have to carry water from home for their meals to be prepared. “We do not have a source of clean drinking water, and we are calling on donors to sink a borehole in the compound as water can be found just 10 feet deep here,” Tindi says.
Selina Munga, a member of the school’s Parents Teachers Association, says locals are poor and are not able to handle the challenges of the school without assistance from the government and well-wishers.
She says parents usually come together to repair thatches on the buildings and believes a lasting solution should be sought.