Simon Naorin Lodio takes self-sacrifice to a new level. The Form Two drop out is the only teacher at a school in Turkana county and his services are free of charge
Simon Naorin Lodio is surrounded by over 100 children as he takes them through an English class.
He points at a picture drawn on the portable blackboard and in a chorus, the children repeat after him: “Ball…ball, cat…cat,” in perfect unison.
Naorin, 32, is the only teacher at Kooliyoro Early Childhood Development Centre in Kooliyoro village, Turkana county.
The Form Two drop out volunteered to take up the sole responsibility of teaching the pupils when the school began in June 2017. Being the founding teacher of the school, he has seen it all.
The school has no single structure for a classroom or office; no desks, no books, no toilets, only a tree with just a bunch of leaves that serves as a shelter for the pupils.
All children despite their age share the same class, he only separates the young ones from the older ones during maths classes.
But none of that has deterred Naorin from pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Up at 5 am everyday, Naorin makes his way quietly around the semi-darkness of his grass-thatched house in Kaitese village where he lives with his wife and five children.
He gets ready quickly and then prepares his three-year-old daughter, who is also among his students, and together they take the sandy path towards the school that he has grown fond of for the past one year.
He says the six-kilometre walk to and from the school does not deter him from a profession he had always wanted to practise since he was a small boy. He also takes pride in impacting knowledge in the young education-thirsty boys and girls who would otherwise be chasing after cows and goats in the vast Turkana plains in search of pasture.
His class ranges from pupils as young as eight months, who often accompany their older siblings to six-year-olds.
When we arrive ‘outside’ their makeshift classroom, we find the children seated on bare sand, stones and logs under the scorching hot sun. They are clearly uneasy and impatient, perhaps because of the unforgiving heatwave.
Those who cannot enjoy the limited shade under the tree or the water tank next to their ‘classroom’ struggle to shield their heads from the scorching sun.
One of the children who is barely four years old soothes her crying nine-month-old sibling, who is tied on her back with a kanga, as she keenly follows through the English lesson.
And just like the conditions are not conducive for the learners, working conditions are worse for Naorin whose teaching has also been made difficult by the harsh weather.
“Sometimes, I have to stop teaching because of the strong wind, which occasionally disorients the whole class. Other times, animals pass right through the school premises. Such disturbances compromises the already bad quality of education that the learners are expected to obtain,” he says. “We also do not have a pit latrine and unlike the pupils who can help themselves anywhere, I have to walk quite a distance to find a shrub, where I can get some privacy to help myself,” he explains.
All these conditions expose him and the students to diseases such as coughs, flu and diarrhoea because of the dust and open toilets.
Aside from environmental challenges, he is not provided with materials to teach such as books and chalk to use on the worn-out blackboard let alone a salary. “When you have a lot of commitment and you don’t have money to do it, it becomes challenging to give the best to the pupils, but the thought of quitting has never crossed my mind. I love this job, and besides, who will teach them?” he poses.
Naorin says the only thing that keeps the school going is the feeding programme initiated by a child-based non-governmental organisation, ChildFund, which supports farmers in the area to plant orange fleshed sweet potatoes.
The highly nutritious, drought- resistant potatoes serves over 3,000 people including the ECD centre.
“See” Naorin says pointing at one of the children’s tins, “this is the reason why they come to school. Were it not for the potatoes and water that is being provided by ChildFund, they would not be here,” he quips.
And indeed, when it was time to go and eat, an alert was raised by their teacher Naorin and immediately, it was a sprint among the children.
Equally hungry, Naorin lines up with them to get a sizable portion of sweet potatoes served with the nutritious sweet potato leaves.
“We saw the dire situation in which the pupils are learning in. They lacked a proper classroom, toilets, reading materials and, most importantly, they did not have food and water, which are the most basic, besides, it is what would encourage them to keep coming to school, so we decided to offer them food,” says Turkana ChildFund Programme Manager, Peter Lochuch.
He says the orange fleshed potatoes, which are highly rich in beta-carotene, which is an excellent source of vitamin A aside from ensuring children in the area are able to attend school, rampant nutritional deficiencies are also alleviated.
Naorin says it is the free school feeding programme that assures him of a class full of pupils, and while at it, the children get the chance of learning to shape their future.