Forget about the oil find, Turkana is one of the poorest counties in Kenya.
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics says nearly nine out of ten people in Turkana live below the poverty level compared with roughly four out of ten nationally.
In Lodwar town, the county headquarters, there is electricity and a few kilometers of tarmac roads, but dirt roads are the only way to reach far-flung remote villages, homes, and schools.
Across the vast county, which is the second-largest by landmass in Kenya after neighbouring Marsabit, the level of illiteracy is high. The adult literacy rate in the county is 20 percent.
Only half of the school-age children in Turkana are enrolled in primary school, well below the national average of 92 percent, according to statistics from charity organization Save the Children.
The county is very dry and some regions are insecure making an already bad situation worse especially for school-going children.
The scenario is even worse for girls who face the grim cultural practice of early marriages which are often pre-arranged between their parents in the largely nomadic community.
Since 2018, however, a wind of change is slowly sweeping across the county, giving thousands of children a fresh start and hopefully a better chance in life.
An increasing number of children can now look forward to a brighter future through Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP), which is an initiative of a partnership between Zizi Afrique, the Safaricom Foundation, and the Diocese of Lodwar.
The ALP, which targets pupils between Grade 3 and Grade 5 natures the young learners on literacy and numeracy skills and helps bring them up to the right level so that they can read, write and solve numerical exercises.
“This program helps pupils accelerate their speed and how to read. After their daily teachings in school, we dive into after lessons. Our work is to teach the illiterate how to read,” said Ms Rebecca Njue, a teacher, Labolo Primary School.
Mr Charles Lorii, a teacher at neighboring Loreamatet Primary School agrees with Ms Njue.
“Since I brought the Zizi Afrique program, I have seen a lot of changes, especially from the parents. I had many challenges before. Many pupils would not come to class. When they were put into the community program, parents would ask the students if they had learned anything. If they had not gone to class, their parents would bring them to class for the teachers to teach them. The students can now read,” explains Mr Lorii.
In practice, ALP is a learning approach that is split into school-based and Community Based Learning (CBL) segments.
Under the school-based segment, learning is carried out in schools two hours a day for 15 days while CBL is undertaken in the community, where teachers meet the small groups of learners two hours a day for three days a week.
In CBL, both school-going learners and children, who are not actively going to school, are taught.
“Teachers in the ALP, who are in community-based programs, are supposed to meet the children in their villages because these teachers come from those villages and engage with them. There are areas where children are far from school, so teachers meet them there,” Mr Wilfred Mosigisi, a Deputy Director at the Teachers Service Commission explains
CBL is basically a community-backed learning approach that draws involvement from the elders, area chiefs, the parents, a host of volunteers as well as the teachers.
For instance, every month, the area chief Leonard Eporon says he holds at least two public meetings with education as the main agenda where he rallies the parents to take their children to school.
“I have support from the parents. I have one elder who I come with to class. And when I am taking the roll call in the morning and a student is absent, the elder goes out to look for them,” adds Mr Lorii.
“When a student is absent from school, I ask their parents, and if they are not there (their home) I go to the lake to look for them. If I find even 10 students, I return with them to school. For those I find at home, I bring them as well,” said Mr Patrick Anam, a parent.
Mr Wilson Losike, who is the ALP coordinator in the Diocese of Lodwar notes thatthere is a positive impact on literacy and numeracy among the learners.
“This can be seen from the results of Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) national assessment that Grade Three and Four did recently. It shows improvement,” Mr Losike says.
Turkana County largely depends on neighbouring TransNzoia for most of its food supplies. The community around the lake are, however, fishermen and this trade oftentimes tends to distract the children from smooth learning in schools.
“The challenge is the lake. When a teacher is late in a class by five minutes the pupils go to the lake,” says Mr Mark Emathe, a teacher at Loreamatet Primary School.
Besides building classrooms in the schools, Safaricom Foundation has been facilitating the training of the teachers.
“Thank you for building us a classroom, bringing teachers, and radio and lights. We now know how to read,” Paul Nwai, a pupil said.