Drought Emergency Highlights Entire Families Not Receiving Primary Education

By Rebecca Beauregard

DANOT, SOMALI, 15 February 2017 – “A woman never tells her age,” says Sadeh Abdihayii with a smile, affirming that this taboo is common around the world. She then admits to be 40 years old. We continue, asking her how many of her children are in school. With eight children ranging from nine months to 20 years old, none of them, including Sadeh, have been to school. Ever.

Sadeh had hoped one of them could go to school, but circumstances did not allow. “It seems sensible to learn, but we have not been able to,” says Sadeh.

40-year-old Sadeh Abdihayii laughs when asked about her age
Sadeh Abdihayii, 40-years-old, laughs about her age with her eight children gathered around her. Neither Sadeh nor her children have ever been to school. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Living through drought

Sometimes Sadeh’s family lives in the vicinity of an organized village or town, such as now just outside Qorile kebele (sub-district), yet often they can be far away from any organized services including healthcare and schools. This is the life of a pastoralist family.

Sadeh’s family is one of the over 800 families that have temporarily settled in Danot woreda (district), in the eastern horned-tip part of Ethiopia. The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has set up these temporary sites to provide life-saving medical and nutrition services, water and food during this drought period for one of the most vulnerable communities in the country, livestock-raising pastoralists.

Drought has hit these lowland areas across the Horn of Africa many times over the years, but Sadeh has never experienced one that devastated her livestock to this extent. Due to the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a weather phenomenon, the December rains failed, making it 12 months since many villages in the area have experienced rain.

It is understandable why school has not been possible for many of these children, whether considering the current food and water shortages, or the nomadic patterns of their  life. The regular school system does not fit into this lifestyle and it is a reality that is not often at the forefront of parents’ worries. With little or no safety net, pastoralist mothers and fathers are concerned with water, food and grazing land.

The GoE however, in partnership with UNICEF, has developed alternative methods to reach children, even those in remote areas.

Adapting education to the pastoralist context

With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has developed a pastoralist education strategy which is implemented across Somali and Afar, as well as some parts of Oromia and Southern Nations and Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP), regions where pastoralists are prominent.

The core intervention is a school equivalence programme, adapted for children ages 7 to 14, where students learn the equivalent of the first four grades of primary school before transitioning into formal schools. This Alternative Basic Education (ABE), is based on the national education system but has altered facets wherever necessary to make it feasible for the pastoralist context. Such alterations include low-cost construction of schools as well as flexible locations and schedules to accommodate children who herd their families’ animals or move in certain seasons.

While ABE is the most commonly implemented strategy for inclusion of pastoralist children, reaching 276,777 students over a period of six years, the GoE encourages families to enrol their children in formal schools whenever possible. UNICEF supports this initiative by identifying and addressing barriers to children joining school. Such interventions range from rehabiliting WASH facilities at schools to ensure proper toilets and water is available, to constructing temporary learning spaces or formal schooling in addition to providing exercise books for families who cannot afford the expense. Additionally, the GoE implements a school feeding programme to encourage school attendance, currently in 252 schools across Somali region.

More than ever, these crucial interventions are  needed now , particularly as hundreds of ABE schools across Somali region are currently closed due to drought conditions.

‘Maybe somehow one day’

Halimo Bandais, 20-year-old mother of a toddler is the eldest daughter of Sadeh.
Halimo Bandais, 20-year-old mother of a toddler, is the eldest daughter of Sadeh. She has never been to school. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Tesfaye

Families gathered near Qorile, such as Sadeh’s, are encouraged  to enrol their children in the Qorile primary school, which is within walking distance, even if it may only be for short term. While the drought situation is dire, there is now an opportunity for thousands of children to attend school while their families are receiving temporary assistance to keep their livelihoods afloat.

Sadeh’s eldest child, Halimo Bandais, comments, “I thought about school sometimes. But I have always been looking after the animals and we are moving here and there. How could I? But some of us will, perhaps my child.” Perhaps he will attend school one day. For now, hundreds of school-age children such as the girls neighbouring Sadeh’s tent, Feysa and Isthel, may be able to finally start their education while in the temporary settlement sites with adequate funding.

UNICEF is committed to the right of every child to receive an education. With contributions from international donors, the GoE, along with UNICEF and other education partners can expand programmes such as ABE or temporary learning spaces to ensure children such as those temporarily settled in Qorile, have an opportunity to access education.

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.