Tana River
Children at Abaganda Village in Tana Delta, Tana River County

Tana River is home to one of Kenya’s most stunning natural sites.

As the great Tana approaches the coastline, it branches out to form a web of multiple streams all gently pouring into the Indian Ocean. The aerial view of this natural wonder is nothing but marvellous.

Tana River Delta
The river reaches the ocean at the southern end of the delta [courtesy: David Beatty]

Aside from this delta, however, the rest of the region has fewer things to marvel about.

The county is still largely marginalized and regularly ranks poorly in infrastructure development, healthcare and even levels of literacy.

But should you decide to explore the county’s interior, you will notice that things are improving.

For instance, on your way to Abaganda; a village in the southwest near the town of Garsen; you will notice that the roads are navigable as more kilometers are being tarmacked.

A now stable mobile connection may also gradually close the marginalization gap that has haunted this county for so long.

In Abaganda Village, 13-year Luqman Omar – the chief’s son, said that even though life is improving, the greatest challenge has always been misguided cultural beliefs with a flavor of ignorance and then illiteracy.  

After taking out the cattle to graze on the other side at 6:00 am every morning, he comes back at around 7:30 am to round up his age mates in the neighborhood for daily class sessions conducted by Teacher Hamisi under a tree outside his father’s compound.

But this no ordinary class session. The children who attend these sessions are behind with their reading. Most of them are between the ages of six to fifteen but have the reading age of a five-year-old.

They attend these daily sessions to learn how to read and write and to perform basic arithmetic.

These daily reading and writing lessons are part of an Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) conducted by the Safaricom Foundation and Zizi Afrique. The program’s primary goal is to improve competencies in literacy and numeracy.

The sessions have also attracted kids , some of whom have never even stepped into a classroom all their life.

Luqman says that when sessions began, the children were first placed into a common group for assessment purposes. Those that exhibited excellence and understanding during the initial tutoring sessions then proceed to the next stage.

Initially, the Safaricom foundation and Zizi Afrique conducted this literacy program in Local primary schools within Tana River County.

But in the age of COVID-19, they have had to improvise by creating makeshift classrooms under the shade of trees. In Abaganda village, for instance, teacher assistant Hamisi uses songs and dances and various fun activities to get children through the ‘door’.

At a scheduled time on Saturdays, the young ones gather around the makeshift classrooms under the tree for reading and writing sessions aired through Solar Powered radios donated by Safaricom. The sessions are moderated by the local Amani radio station.

“We conduct three sessions every Saturday. From beginner lessons all the way to advanced lessons,” said Valentine Zogolo, a program officer of the Accelerated Learning Program.

“We usually start with syllables where we teach learners how to form words and then sentences up until when they can construct coherent paragraphs,” Ms Zogolo added.

Safaricom Foundation and Zizi Afrique are currently conducting forty of such grassroots learning sessions in Tana River County alone.

Already, 507 out of the initial 998 learners in the Accelerated Learning Program have gained literacy skills in just 30 days.

Solar-Powered Radios Donated by Safaricom Foundation

Illiteracy is a vice that has haunted marginalized regions for so long. A World Bank reported concluded that if a child is not reading proficiently by the fourth grade, there is a 78 per cent chance that they may never catch up.

Figures from the last census report indicate a less flattering observation. Nearly 38,000 children in the Tana delta sub county alone have dropped out or are currently out of School.

It means that without programs such as this Accelerated Learning Program to bring them up to speed, they may have hard time participating in everyday life and they may never discover liberty and the fruits of an education or the countless opportunities that life has to offer beyond the village setting.

In addition, the inability to read and write anything fosters basic trouble and could have far-reaching effects.

Children deprived of words could become school dropouts and when school dropouts are deprived of hope they may behave delinquently. 

Literacy programs in these marginalized areas may be the tools necessary to break these harsh social cycles.

In 2018, Safaricom Foundation selected education among its three key focus areas alongside health and economic empowerment up to 2021.

To date, the foundation has invested Sh64 Million into the Accelerated learning Program and is targeting at least 7,000 learners in 120 schools spread across Tana River, Bungoma and Turkana Counties.

In future, there could be an opportunity to offer tailored learning sessions.

Safaricom and Telkom Kenya, for instance, are involved in the Communications Authority’s Universal Service Fund (USF) program that incentivizes mobile operators to set up base stations in marginalized areas like Tana Delta that do not make financial sense.

This means that aid organizations focused on education could able to take advantage of the high mobile penetration and the power of the internet to offer more personalized learning sessions.

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