Living with hunger is sadly not a new experience for many children and families in Kenya but the brutal drought in East Africa is affecting every aspect of their lives. Plan staff delivering food, water and assistance to health centers and schools report how people are trying to cope:
Without enough food and water, normal life is beginning to crumble for many Kenyans. Families are struggling to hold themselves together as the drought forces them further apart in a search for food and water.
"I wake up early to find mum gone to look for water and she won’t be back until several hours after I have come back from school,” said 12 year old Mwene in Liani, 200 kilometers east of Nairobi. “Sometimes she may not come back until 8pm."
On the impact the crisis has had on her entire family she observes: "We had five cows which my father sold off one after the other in order to buy us food. At the moment we have three goats which give us one liter of milk daily. This is what we depend on."
Schools which should be closed for the holidays have found themselves playing a vital role, not just in teaching but also as temporary feeding centers.
"My elder sister goes to the neighboring school where they get lunch. She eats half of it and brings me the rest every day," says Mwene who is happy that Liani Primary School is rolling out a feeding program enabling her to get her own lunch. But she says many of her friends have contemplated dropping out of school to work and find food.
The head teacher Francis Mutheni confirms that her school has lost pupils who dropped out to do manual work in the rice fields, burning charcoal, brick layering, and other forms of child labor. "We used to be the best school sending children to national schools but this time our examination results show a sharp drop. We have had to cope with frequent challenges of children sneaking out school to look for food, absenteeism, sicknesses, headaches, conflicts over the little food available which have all contributed to poor learning. Teachers have had to bring chapatti (naan bread) to give to the worst affected children to keep them in school."
Other teachers across the region tell the same story and report children being weak and some even fainting in class due to hunger. "The situation is very difficult. Some children are coming to school but at times during the day they complain of feeling unwell, and we can tell that it is hunger that is making them weak," said Onesmus Malombe.
But children who receive food, often think of others, even when they are still hungry. "I eat half of the food I get for lunch. I leave half of it. If my mother returns late I share it with my young sister because sometimes my mother can’t afford to get us enough food," says James, 11, in a comment said by many.
The worse affected, often the elderly and those with very young children are forced to seek help at health centers. At a center where Plan is assisting with drought relief, 29-year-old mother of three Ziporrah Mueni from Masinga district said: "Sometimes we can go for days without food. In most cases we only eat one meal a day, in the evening.
"My children’s health is not very good, they have lost weight, they are weaker than they used to be. I sometimes go for days without eating just to make sure that my children feed on the little that I get. Aside from the shortage of food, water sources have dried and we are now getting desperate. We have to walk long distances in search of water and if you find it, a 20 liter of water costs 25 shillings. Imagine, I have a small baby and I need about 60 liters of water a day but I cannot afford it, so I am forced to use the little I get.
"If it doesn’t rain soon I don’t know how we will manage. Water is life and without it life can be so very difficult."