What you need to know:
- Many schools in parts of Laikipia, Meru and Isiolo counties which have not received food have reported mass dropping out, with some suspending afternoon lessons altogether.
- Pupils are trekking for more than 20 kilometres to have a meal in schools that started receiving food two weeks ago.
- Cases of children collapsing in school are on the increase, most being reported in Early Childhood Development Education centres.
Schools in arid regions of central and northern Kenya are recording high numbers of absenteeism due to famine, with learners seeking transfer to institutions with feeding programmes.
Many schools in parts of Laikipia, Meru and Isiolo counties which have not received food have reported mass dropping out, with some suspending afternoon lessons altogether.
According to Mr Eric Bundi, an education officer in Isiolo, pupils are trekking for more than 20 kilometres to have a meal in schools that started receiving food two weeks ago.
The Sh10 million food provided by Lewa Conservancy was distributed to 23 schools. The aid targeted more than 8,000 pupils in Laikipia, Meru and Isiolo after half of their pupils dropped out.
“Enrolment in schools with food has gone back to 100 per cent and is likely to hit 200 soon,” Mr Bundi said.
“In most cases, the food provided by the school is the only meal the child gets. There is nothing at home.”
He added that cases of children collapsing in school are on the increase, most being reported in Early Childhood Development Education centres.
Many of these hungry children have problems with standing for long periods during assemblies and other gatherings.
“Pupils are seated when being addressed by teachers,” he said.
Mr Kithuchi Mutunga, the headteacher of Shambani Primary in Isiolo county, admitted that the number of children seeking admission has drastically shot up.
Shambani is one of the beneficiaries of the feeding plan.
“Some seeking admission are in CBC classes. To be admitted, they must seek transfer and have the UPI number,” Mr Mutunga said.
“Parents at times visit the school, hoping to have lunch but the law doesn’t allow that. No farming takes place here as there is no water.”
Most learners seeking to join Shambani are from Emejen, Aremet and other neighbouring schools.
Mr Mutunga added that before aid arrived, afternoon classes would frequently be suspended due to the low number of learners.
Those who remained were too hungry to concentrate in class.
“Seeing children smiling makes us happy. They get food here instead of going into the bush to gather wild fruits. Some would come back to school from home after finding nothing there,” he said.
The school, which began about 10 years ago, has 368 pupils. It had less than 250 before the feeding programme.
Performance in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations has improved. Shambani, which had never registered a mean above 187, posted 202.8 in 2021. The highest mean a school can record is 500.
Mr Naro Kiung’a, a parent, credits the improved performance to the feeding programme.
He said many parents move far away in search of pasture and water, meaning children do not get food when they go home for lunch.
Ms Victoria Loasa, another parent, said many children did not report back to school at the beginning of the term as there was no food then.
Lewa conservancy education programme manager Purity Kinoti said the Isiolo County Education in Emergencies platform has appealed for more aid from wellwishers.
She said the platform is working on more sustainable ways to end the cycle of reliance on relief.
“If communities are food secure, schools will be food secure. A child who is assured of a meal will show up for school and will concentrate in class,” she said.
“The schools we have supported with food are receiving more children.”