A New Dawn - Education for Pastoralist Girls in Marsabit

by Saadia Maalim

Sixteen year old Eunice Loilo is one of the girls in Koya Non Formal Education Centre (NFEC). She was born in a family of four and lives in Koya; Laisamis Location, Marsabit County. Koya is home to close to 3,153 pastoralists and is approximately 4kms from Laisamis town in Marsabit County. It consists of small shrubs, thorny acacia trees, with livestock being the main source of livelihood in the area. Koya has only one primary school reaching up to standard four. Pupils seeking education beyond that level must walk 4kms each day to attend classes in the nearest school located in Laisamis town.

Unlike many girls in Marsabit, Eunice got the opportunity to go to school and learn. However, because of the demands of the pastoral lifestyle, her attendance was not consistent as she had to look after the animals which is the only source of livelihood for her family. This caused her performance to deteriorate over time, and she finally dropped out.

A year later, with few options for a better life, and because of the wealth it comes with, Eunice was married off to an older man. According to Eunice’s tribal culture – and many tribal cultures across Africa – a girl child is regarded as a ‘reward’ in a family, since she will bring wealth in the form of dowry to the family. During her marriage, a girl is normally exchanged for eight heifers and is expected to conform to the norms laid down to her by her husband. Life became different and difficult as she moved in with her husband. At a very tender age, she was expecting her first child, and she lost all hope of ever completing her education or gaining any independence.

Eunice heard of the Mobile Non Formal Education (MNFE) project launched in 2014 in Koya through a local community education committees (CEC) during mobilization. She decided to enroll at the Koya NFEC, where she started at level 2, performing well in her entry assessment.

To ensure there is no conflict between livelihood activities and formal education, the project provides flexible timing where learning will only take place when pupils are free – including at night. Some children start their lessons as early as 6am in the morning and attend to the animals during the day, while others catch up with the day’s lessons at night after attending to their livestock. The teacher lights the tent, which serves as a classroom with a solar lamp that he recharges during the day. Eunice now conveniently attends her classes in mid-morning after finishing her household chores.

“Going to school has really changed my people’s perception towards me,” she explains. “Nobody thought a pregnant woman can go to class and learn. The project has changed my thinking and improved my self-esteem.”

Eunice has a passion for learning. She is a performer and even helps other girls in class, as her teacher explains, “She has the dream of becoming a successful business woman.”

With MNFE, Eunice has proven that pastoralism does not have to stop her from pursuing an education anymore.