August 5, 2014 – I arrived in Tipet exactly two years to the day since my last visit (see Sept 7, 2012 blog post). The experience to travel there was much the same: a long and difficult 2 1/2 hr journey over exceptionally rough terrain, traversing dry river beds and steep rocky slopes; hot and dry, with the intense sun brightly shining once again in this semi-arid place; boys herding their camels and goats to find something to eat that day amongst the brush and vegetation. But that’s where similarities with the previous visit ended … you see, as we got closer, off in the distance amongst the greenery of the brush stood the bright red roof of a large structure – a modern primary school in Tipet! I could hardly wait to get there.
We arrived in Tipet to the warm welcome of the community, their leaders and many familiar faces we had met two years prior. Getting out of the vehicle, the feel was different – the children were more confident, the sense of hope and sense of community validation expressed by adults was evident, and the almost-completed school stood gleaming in the sunshine. The Principal, Selena, greeted us with pride and joy. Her new school was almost done and she is eagerly awaiting the day when she will bring the children inside to learn under the best available conditions, out of the elements.
TRANSFORMATION has taken hold in Tipet
What makes Tipet so special is it’s a community that sought its own transformation, and took concrete steps to begin their transformation years prior (I discuss this in the Sept 7, 2012 blog post). Their drive to transform is stronger today than ever, and this project and partnership with World Vision and the government is accelerating the change. First, there are currently 162 children in grades 1-5 routinely attending the existing school under the trees (2 years ago, there were far fewer and the school only educated grades 1-3).
More and more parents have come to realize just how important education is for their children, underscored by the beautiful school being constructed and dedicated to their children’s future. It’s hard to convey in our cultural context the massive importance of a quality structure and the impact it carries in a rural cultural setting in Kenya (suffice it to say, it’s very important). The context for the attendance is remarkable as well: the families in this area are pastoral and therefore nomadic, driven by the abundance or lack of rains and available food for their herds. This area is experiencing drought, putting pressure on the families to move. Yet some forward-thinking parents sought out willing families to house their children for the school year so they could attend school, as the parents temporarily moved on to find suitable pasture for their herds. Other children live in the mountains and walk up to 14km each way every day to attend school (28km round trip, 17 miles). Once the school is complete, the next project will be to construct a dormitory, eliminating the need for children to walk such long distances. This housing will ease the strain on parents and should bring school attendance to approximately 400 children, the capacity of the school.
Secondly, the West Pokot County government and national government are investing along side World Vision, bringing 3 additional teachers for this school along with health interventions. World Vision and the Kenyan government are also looking at ways to bring water reliably to the site to support the planned dormitory, either by drilling a bore hole or pumping water from the river (1.5km away) to tanks at the site. In addition, once the school and associated structures are completed (e.g. dormitory, computer lab), the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has committed to come to visit. My understanding is he wants to underscore the effectiveness of the devolved government in Kenya, which provides more direct authority and funds at a county level in order to meet the needs of their people, irrespective of where they live. His coming certainly will also drive the county government to prioritize to make the roads to Tipet far more passable prior to his arrival!
Most importantly, this school is providing a concrete alternative to early marriage for girls and Female Genital Mutilation, practiced widely in this part of central Pokot. Kenya primary school spans Grades 1-8 therefore the new school will allow the girls to stay in school long past Grade 4 or 5, the typical time when girls are taken out of school by their families to learn to become wives, be cut and marry by age 12 or 13.
The chiefs have agreed to advocate stopping the practice and World Vision is providing advocacy training to community and church leaders to accelerate the groundswell of support. We are in the early days, but already the school girls sing “Father, don’t marry me early” and “Circumciser, go away from us.” I also had an opportunity to address the larger community during the day, and I thanked them for taking the step to stop FGM – and all the women erupted in applause. This is significant, as often the mothers are the ones who drive their daughters to undergo FGM as a prerequisite for marriage.
PICTURES ARE WORTH 1,000 WORDS: School completion will usher a new era of learning
Selena took the opportunity to show us how the children are learning today, so we could fully appreciate the magnitude of their gratitude and appreciation for the modern classrooms. Here are a few pictures that tell the story quite well:
A FEW PHOTOS OF THE SCHOOL
Special appreciation to World Vision and their current contractor: the process to construct a school here is ambitious and fraught with challenges that the World Vision team had to overcome: rough roads and almost inaccessible territory making transport of ready made stone bricks impossible; the 8 hour+ process to transport a large, loaned bricking making machine to the site; the lack of easily accessible water to cure the bricks which slowed the construction process; the crocodile infested waters without proper boats, making navigating the river to bring supplies unfeasible; the remoteness of the area with associated difficulties in keeping workers happy while on the job site. World Vision has been unwavering in their drive to complete the school is the most effective (and safest) way possible. They shared with me how amazing their current contractor has been – this project has taken far longer and at a greater expense than bid, yet he has been willing to forego his normal profits because of the mission of this work and the transformation it’s bringing to this community. Thank you all.
A last word:
We spent almost an entire day in this remarkable community, and learned how they’ve moved from “three darks” to enlightenment about their children and girls, and the power and promise of education as a foundation for change. We learned more about the principal, Selena, and how she doubles as the health practitioner in this community since she’s trained as a nurse and marveled at her tireless love for and devotion to a community that she did not come from. We experienced the real dangers the children and adults currently face in accessing water in crocodile infested waters, became educated on the construction challenges noted above, felt the unrelenting heat and imagined windstorms that blow sand making learning outside impossible, and saw the long distances children walk to school making them vulnerable to all kinds of dangers currently. Most importantly, we saw a resilient community with a vision for a brighter future for all and a willingness to begin to forego the centuries-old cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation for its girls.
And we experienced just how innovative and creative they can be – Selena somehow baked a cake and decorated it in honor of our visit, to express the community’s deep appreciation for World Vision and all of the US donors who have made their own sacrifices to bring something special to them.
If you would like to see more photos of this special day in Tipet, including how they scare off crocodiles, our lunch, and afternoon festivities, you can access them on my OneDrive at this URL: http://1drv.ms/1ABZfP8 I have provided captions to guide you as well.
Tipet is in the midst of a remarkable transformation and I look forward to seeing how this community progresses in the coming years.