In South Omo, Education- a gateway for children but a competition for parents

By Zerihun Sewunet

Students attend class at Alkatekach primary school

DAASANACH, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR), 18 December 2013 – Omorate village in South Omo Zone of the SNNPR is a semi-arid area where the Daasanach tribes live. Their houses are dome-shaped made from a frame of branches, covered with hides and patch works. These houses are scattered along the site where the Omo River delta enters Lake Turkana of Kenya. Most tribes in South Omo are pastoralists. In Omorate too, the people’s lives are bound to the fate of their herds of cattle, sheep and goats that they raise.

Children play a critical role in the pastoralist lifestyle. Boys as young as 6 years old start to herd their family’s sheep and goats, while girls marry very young so parents get additional livestock through dowry. Therefore, parents do not send their children to school. In the Daasanach tribe, education is considered as a luxury. For teachers of Alkatekach Primary School this is their biggest challenge. They use the Alternative Basic Education (ABE) system to cater for the need of the children. The Alternative Basic Education system responds to the urgent need for an education that suits the special needs and constraints of pastoral life. It provides flexible school hours, allowing pastoral children fulfil their household responsibilities of herding cattle to find water and pastures while still finding time for school.

Meseret Chanyalew, Director of the school, explains there is an increase in the number of children from last year because of the continuous effort to enroll and retain students. “We enroll students throughout the year to encourage children to come to school. We also discuss with the community to create awareness on education by going house to house to convince parents to send their children to school.”

Located five kilometers from Omorate town of Kuraz district, the Alkatekach Primary school has only 79 registered students for the 2013/2014 academic year and the highest grade these students can reach is fourth grade. This is because there are no classes set up above the fourth grade.

The Lucky ones in the family go to school

Temesgen Qoshme, 14,  attends a class in Alkatekach primary school14 years old Temesegen Koshme is a third grade student in Alkatekach Primary School. He is sitting in a class exercising the conversion formula for different measurements. His favorite subjects are mathematics and social science. Unlike Temesgen, children his age are taking care of family cattle or are married off. “I prefer coming to school than looking after my parents’ cattle. Alkatekach is where I grasp knowledge,” says Temesgen, “When I go to school in the morning my brother and sister look after the cattle. After school, I go straight to the field to take over”.

Temesgen’s parents told him that his younger sister is waiting to be married off, “I tried to explain that she has to come to school, but they did not listen to me” says Temesgen concerned about his sister’s future. Temesgen is one of the lucky ones to be enrolled this year. For him school is his happiest place.

Agure Amite, a father of twelve, living in Omorate village, sends two of his children to Alkatekach Primary School. When asked why the others do not go to school he says, “Some of them have to look after my cattle and others are not ready for school because they are below 10 years old.” Some parents in the Daasanach tribe send their children to school when they reach age 10. However, nationally children start school at age 7.

Alternative Basic Education (ABE) accommodates the pastoral children

Children, not students, play at Alkatekach Primary SchoolThe 2012 study on situation of out of school children in Ethiopia shows that SNNPR has 46.5% of out of school children making it the third highest region after Oromia (49.2%) and Amhara (48.7%).

With the support of UNICEF and the generous donation of US$240, 000 received from ING the Daasanach tribe now has ABE centers close to in their area. In addition to the construction of ABE centers, ING’s support also helped to provide furniture, training for ABE facilitators and education materials to pastoralist and economically disadvantaged children. For Meseret and her colleagues at the Alkatekach Primary School, this means increasing the schools capacity up to sixth grade means that children like Temesgen will be able to receive education within their community for the next two years.

4 thoughts on “In South Omo, Education- a gateway for children but a competition for parents”

  1. FOVC Ethiopia highly appreciates the UNICEF Ethiopia’s efforts that focuses in children’s education in remote villages in Ethiopia, particularly in the southern Ethiopia. Over the last five years, Friends of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (FOVC Ethiopia) has been running various life changing projects and programs in three districts in the southern Ethiopia. One of the programs is that Helping Orphans Prosper through Education (H.O.P.E Child Sponsorship Program). Our H.O.P.E Child Sponsorship Program was launched in 2010 and has been serving over 200 orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) in each year. The program mostly focuses on educating and supporting OVCs and preparing communities to support vulnerable children in a home-based, community context.

    Now, the FOVC Ethiopia envisages expanding its activities of H.O.P.E Child Sponsorship Program in its existing two project sites and setting up to replicate similar activities to five new districts in the region; so that to reach out about 1050 children each year ( 150 OVCs in each of seven districts) over the next three years .

    The project will include:

    • Educational material support (providing school uniforms, clothing and shoes, exercise books, pens and pencils);
    • Medical support (medical care and fees in the case of illness);
    • Personal hygiene care materials such as body lotion, hair food, soaps, and feminine care materials;
    • Hot nutritious meals at schools or food items to eat at their homes; and
    • Community workers and volunteers regularly visiting the homes of the children to identify their needs and provide onsite support where needed.

    Until now, various donors are being involved in supporting our humanitarian activities in Ethiopia. However, we believe that a more concerted effort is needed to reach more OVCs and prepare their communities to deal with the challenges. As the project we have in mind is very similar to your activities in Ethiopia, we hope that we can work together in the future. Should you feel that this is something you would like to work with us, please feel free to contact us through for more details on this and other activities in the southern Ethiopia.

    Thanks once again for everything you have been doing and will be doing for the most vulnerable children and families in our country.

    With many regards,
    Desalegn Daka
    Founder and Director, FOVC Ethiopia


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