Kenya: Education woes for Mau Forest evictees

IRIN

After the eviction of families from the Rift Valley’s Mau forest region, hundreds of children are not in school due to overcrowded classrooms, lack of teachers, and school fees. With few jobs available, parents have no means of providing food for their children and often these young children must join their parents in looking for casual work

Hundreds of children are missing out on an education in Rift Valley’s Mau Forest region as families seeking refuge in temporary camps, following their eviction from the forest, struggle to find alternative livelihoods. “I did not go to school because there is no money,” said Me rcy Chemng’etich, 7, at Mau’s Kapkembu camp. Chemng’etich has been in and out of school since the evictions started in November 2009. Her parents, who were formerly farmers, now rely on casual jobs.

 The government is evicting the families to allow for the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest after decades of human encroachment for farming, charcoal burning and other activities. The Mau forest complex is Kenya’s most important water tower supplying the Rift Valley’s many lakes and rivers. In the camp, one of several along the forest edges, sporadic school attendance is common. “I fear I will have to repeat Class Four again if I do not sit the [end of year] exams,” said another child, Dennis Kiprotich. A successful pass rate in the end-year exam, normally held in November, guarantees progression to the next class.

 Although primary education is officially free in Kenya, the influx of evicted children has led to a shortage of staff and so parents have had to meet the cost of hiring additional teachers. At Kapkoi Primary School, where 100 of Kapkembu camp’s children go to school, there are only 11 government-hired teachers. “This is way too low considering that the school has more than 1,000 pupils and 21 classes,” said John Keror, the school’s headmaster. Some 600 people are staying at the camp. The school has hired six private teachers, with each parent expected to pay 300 shillings (US$3.75) per month. “The money is too much, considering that even getting food for our children is already a challenge,” said John Sogoret, a parent.

 Few jobs

 Casual jobs are hard to come by. “The maize is now green in the farms [so] there are no jobs to dig, cultivate or harvest, we have no means of getting money here,” said Sogoret. Were it not for the evictions from the forest, Sogoret said, “I would have simply sold one chicken and cleared with the school authorities, but now I have none.”

 The same is true at neighbouring Tirigoi camp, home to about 380 people. “If we get some casual jobs, each person is paid 50 shillings [63 US cents] per day. Food is our major priority and this has turned our children’s education into a luxury,” said Joshua Koech, the camp chairman. Sometimes, the children join their parents in looking for casual jobs to boost the family income or for the free lunches some employers provide, added Koech. “I wonder why the government has kept us in camps for a year now yet they had promised to resettle us within three months after eviction,” he said. The government is yet to announce the resettlement of the affected population, with a further 7,000 families set to be evicted from the forest, according to the Mau Forest Secretariat.

 [This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]