By Rebecca Beauregard
DASENECH, SOUTHERN NATIONS, NATIONALITIES AND PEOPLE’S, 6 April 2017 – A primary school located in the midst of pastoralist territory is no simple feat. Mobility is the central theme of pastoralism, or livestock-rearing livelihoods and pastoralists make up nearly 20 per cent of Ethiopia’s 94.3 million population. In the deep south along the border with South Sudan and Kenya, agro-pastoralism is commonly practiced. They are semi-mobile as they tend to large herds of animals and grow crops. While historically, pastoralists are one of the most isolated and vulnerable groups, more and more are receiving the opportunity to attend school.
The Naikia Primary School offers grades 1 through 4 within the walls of the two-building, single-story school. It is located in the remote Dasenech woreda (district) in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) region. The school is a centrepiece amongst the four villages which comprise the Naikia kebele (sub-district) and serves 193 children from the 1,695 nearby residents.
Until 2005, there was no school in the kebele. The Government of Ethiopia began implementing pastoralist education strategies at that time and Naikia kebele was one of the locations where an Alternative Basic Education Centre (ABEC) was constructed, with support from UNICEF. The ABEC provided flexible, simplified lessons based on the national curriculum, designed specifically to extend the reach of education to pastoralist families.
The community readily accepted the change, and in 2009, the ABEC was upgraded to a primary school, designed to also support a distant ABEC further in the woreda. Over the years, UNICEF has provided teacher training, furniture and educational materials to the school.
Allegn Arsena, 11 years old, is one of the fortunate students to have attended all four years and speaks Amharic well because of his education. I was curious upon first meeting him if he had ever had to drop out for some time, to look after animals or help his family. Upon asking him, he admitted, “Yes,” He paused before going on to tell me he had once been sick and missed an entire three days of school. Otherwise, he has been in attendance every day and even stays after class finishes to continue reading and studying. In fact, with little else to do, it seems most students and teachers and even community members stay around the school once classes are over, with the students carrying on their studies while others connect and talk. Conversation quickly turns to the current drought and how it is affecting everyone.
The South Omo zone is one of the few in SNNP region, along with parts of Oromia and Somali regions, which has been affected by recurring drought. After suffering through the weather phenomenon El Niño in 2015 and 2016, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has caused failure of vital seasonal rains yet again. Dasanech is already underdeveloped and the IOD drought has intensified the dire situation.
“Sometimes I am late in the morning because there is no water available at the school and each of us has to fetch water to provide for the school feeding,” says one student. Her comment is amplified by resounding noise from the crowd of students, a motion I take to mean they have all experienced being tardy for the same reason.
Each student provides a share of water every day, the parents provide firewood and the school provides cracked wheat and haricot beans, supported by the World Food Programme. The essential school feeding has a solid track record for keeping kids in school, particularly in drought-stricken areas; one factor enabling students to learn.
Not every child in the neighbourhood has the opportunity to learn, however. Interestingly, there are more females than males in the school, and once past grade four, there are far fewer females than males going on to attend grade five. The reasons why are simple to explain, yet hard to fathom. Pastoralism requires people to watch the livestock and parents often have to pick which children may attend school and which must tend to the animals. Often it’s a one-time, consistent decision.
“I have two boys of similar age. When they reached school age, I had to select one to go on that path and the other to watch animals. It was a hard choice but I had to make it,” explains Nassiya Tabahai, a mother living in Naikia.
To continue education past grade four, students must attend another school in the woreda capital about 26 km away. For cultural and safety reasons, most families are not comfortable to send their young daughters to live outside of the family home.
Facing limitations in many respects, the resilient community is proud of their 193 students and notes the importance of education. “A man who is not educated fights but an educated man has power and resolves conflict without fighting,” An elder gathered at the school explains.
UNICEF is committed to support the Government of Ethiopia’s pastoralist education strategies and to support those communities most affected by drought. Together with the Government and international donors, the progress witnessed at Naikia can continue and be replicated and expanded across pastoralist territory. For every child.