What you need to know:
- Sikri Jerusalem Primary School is located in one of the toughest places to access, and the infrastructure is dilapidated.
- Sikri Jerusalem’s acting deputy head teacher George Ochanda said accessing the school is a big challenge.
The thirst for education is putting the lives of a group of learners at risk as they are forced to wade through hippo-infested water to reach Sikri Jerusalem Primary School in Mbita sub-County, Homa Bay County.
Five days in a week, the pupils from Ndhuru village must cross a canal that is a habitat for hippos.
They use the dangerous route three times a day; in the morning when reporting to school, in the afternoon when going for lunch, and in the evening when returning home at the end of the school day.
Sikri Jerusalem Primary School is located in one of the toughest places to access, and the infrastructure is dilapidated. The school is on top of a hill, and the best way to reach it is by foot.
This was until three years ago when the area became an island due to the rise in water levels of Lake Victoria.
The school is on a peninsula— a landform that extends from the mainland and is surrounded by water on most, but not all of its borders. It is easier to get to the school by boat from Homa Bay town, than when using a vehicle.
The distance from Homa Bay or Mbita town, however, is longer. Due to the rise of water levels in the lake, the area turned into a wetland and attracted various types of wild animals, including hippos.
Sometime in 2021 when the lake water was at its highest point, Water Secretary Samuel Alima helped the school to build a temporary bridge.
This brought relief to residents, and especially the school-going pupils. However, due to erosion, the bridge was swept away.
Sikri Jerusalem’s acting deputy head teacher George Ochanda said accessing the school is a big challenge.
He appealed to the county and national governments to address the problem.
Mr Ochanda said that it is common for teachers and learners to encounter hippos when crossing through the water.
"Recently, a fisherman was attacked and seriously injured by a hippo while in the lake. Hippos can easily attack teachers or pupils as they wade through the water either on their way to school or home," he said.
Mr Ochanda said that the school has 10 teachers, including two for Junior Secondary School and one at the early childhood development.
He claimed that all the teachers do not wish to be at the school and have asked for transfer to other schools, but their employer, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), has delayed their move to schools they may be more comfortable with.
"Their names and request for transfer are in the TSC portal. No one would like to work in an environment like this," Mr Ochanda said.
The school has no fence, members of the community freely walk through the compound. It is also common to spot monkeys in the school compound searching for food.
Mr Ochanda said the monkeys mostly invade teachers’ houses to eat leftover food. Most of the teachers live within the neighbourhood. The houses are made of mud and old rusty iron sheets.
One teacher said his house has a grave beside it.
"I normally get scared when I sleep. Every time I wake up to go to school, I must pass the grave," the teacher said.
Besides the risky journey to school, Sikri Jerusalem Primary School also has dilapidated classrooms. Some classrooms neither have window panes nor doors.Some have leaking roofs.
Mr Ochanda, who has been at the school for eight years, said the buildings have never been repaired during the time he has been around.
He appealed to Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo to allocate some money from the National Government Constituency Development Fund to renovate classrooms at the school.
"Our records show that the last NG-CDF cash was sent to this school before 2015, while other schools get money on a regular basis for development. Our leaders have abandoned us," the teacher said.
The school also lacks electricity, which has led to the suspension of digital learning.
Another teacher, Jackline Otieno, who has been at the school for three years, said the blackboards are worn out and the classroom floors are dusty.
Despite these challenges, the TSC does not give teachers in the area hardship allowance.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers Executive Secretary in Mbita Roseline Olambo said there is an outcry from teachers at the school.
"It’s sad to see learners and teachers take off their shoes to wade through water to get to school," she said, adding the teachers need hardship allowance.
She urged the government to build a bridge for easier and safer crossing of the flooded section.