During a break on Tuesday morning, Mr Geoffrey Itiiri, headteacher at Mweromalia Primary School in Tigania East, witnessed a disturbing incident.
A Grade Four pupil lay on the veranda panting. On inquiring, Mr Itiiri found out that the girl was hungry.
“She had not eaten anything the previous night and in the morning before coming to school, so we gave her some porridge reserved for younger children and a small loaf of bread. Within minutes she was okay,” he said.
This is the grim reality facing school managers in parts of Meru County ravaged by drought, with some having received no rain for more than three years.
Some of the hard-hit areas are Igembe Central, Igembe North, Tigania East, Tigania West and Buuri sub-counties.
When schools reopened this week, teachers started scratching their heads over how to feed the learners and keep them in class, said county education officials.
Of Mweromalia Primary’s 350 learners, at least 100 had not reported to school because of the drought, Mr Itiiri said. Last term, the school received some food rations, but it was depleted after two weeks.
There is also no water in the schools, leaving pupils suffering.
“There is high absenteeism because of this, and those who come to school tell us there is nothing to eat at home. This is a big problem in this area,” Mr Itiiri said.
Mr Francis Mwikirwa, deputy headteacher at Nkiluthu Primary School in Tigania West, said several children had told school administrators that their parents had left home in search of food and jobs, leaving them to fend for themselves.
He said the school, with 450 pupils, had recorded a high dropout rate, with less than 250 learners reporting by Wednesday.
On Monday, President William Ruto flagged off a caravan of 50 trucks carrying an assortment of food items to be distributed to more than 3.5 million starving Kenyans in 23 counties. But it was not clear how much food will be distributed in schools.
“We have not been informed how the food will be distributed in schools, especially now that there are no feeding programmes in place,” Mr Mwikirwa said.
The Meru County Assembly on Tuesday debated how to ease the suffering of children in schools, with Athwana MCA Jim Muchui calling for urgent interventions to prevent dropouts and absenteeism.
“Several schools in my ward opened with half of the population due to the biting drought. We need school feeding programmes immediately to keep learners in class,” the MCA said.
About seven schools in Muthara ward are affected, with many learners missing classes, said the area’s MCA Aurelio Murangiri.
Last week, residents of Malaene village in Igembe Central ate meat from a dead camel. Seven of them were hospitalised and 112 more were treated for food poisoning.