Wahinya Henry @hwahinyas
Seventeen-year-old Abdi Noor dashes into the “classroom’’ and squats at a corner of the rectangular-shaped, semi-permanent classroom after noticing that his headteacher has arrived.
The lanky and older pupil dwarfs his eight-year-old nursery classmate, Ahamed Abdi. Both had reported to school at 6.30am to engage in a soccer game before lessons start.
Twenty–year-old and soft-spoken headteacher, Khatra Abdikadir Mohamed, manages the class at Qanjara South Primary School single-handedly. She calls for order after the pupils have sprinkled water from plastic containers they carry to school to dampen the dust on the floor.
“The class is three quarters full. Usually, it accommodates a hundred pupils, but some of them have dropped out to graze their family’s livestock in distant lands,” says Khatra, pointing a finger at Abdi.
Khatra has been unwell. However, exemplary passion drives her to wake up each day and cover the 60km from Habasweni, Wajir South Sub-county, in a rare determination to share with the children the benefit of attending school. “I have to be present all the time to encourage the pupils and parents to bring children to learn before they grow up,” she says.
A visitor suggests that she should quit the tedious teaching career such harsh climatic conditions and where attacks by bandits are common.
“No! No! No! Even when I marry, I’ll remain here, I have brought this class from far,” says Khatra. She points out a drought-resistant Bilcil indigenous tree that hosted the initial class when the school opened in 2017. “We came from under that tree. I can’t betray the pupils because there will be no one else to teach them. I will soldier on despite the challenges. The potential of these pupils is huge. I can feel that among them there are different professionals. What they need most is encouragement,” says Khatra.
The teacher says her greatest joy will be to see the pupils get an education to help themselves and their families. “After all, these dry regions boast of a few professionals in the private and public sectors despite the numerous challenges such as high dropout rates among the pastoral communities,” says Khatra.
The residents credit her for her initiative that saw the locals respond to her calls to have at least some iron sheets over the heads of the pupils. “The outcome was this room, made of thick poles and twigs round it. Here we have no desks. Children help themselves in nearby bushes for lack of toilets. Yesterday, I had to borrow a chalk board from another school after ours broke down,” says Khatra, downcast.
A looming drought in Wajir county, singled out by Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i, based on a report by the Drought Management Authority, does not dampen the spirit of the diploma graduate from Thika-based Gretsa University, Garissa Town campus. “As I lay out strategies for permanent classrooms here, the pupils will continue to learn. Parents can go look for pasture elsewhere for months, but I can’t allow the young children to leave. They are left behind with relatives,” says Khatra.
The teacher single-handedly manages the class, assisted only by one Edle Billow. Both are hired by parents at a modest wage in a region ravaged by serious poverty levels. Occasionally, she organises lunches for pupils courtesy of the World Vision’s education and protection project in the region headed by Osman Adan.
“At times, pupils have an opportunity to have a single meal per day. Parents come and assist to cook the food for free,” says Khatra. According to Adan, the project aims to ensure children access quality education, putting up classrooms in existing schools and at the same time offers protection, especially to girls.
The Teachers Service Commission subcounty director, Ogle Ahamed says: “Drought negatively impacts on the education sector in the county despite efforts to offer subsidised education services and school feeding programmes”.
Last year, a crisis hit schools in the county after non-native teachers exited the region over security concerns, triggering off a shortage of teachers. Education experts fear if left idle, children could easily be radicalised and join extremist groups.