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How Conservation is Transforming Kenya’s Education Landscape

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

In a small rural village of Lekusero in northern Kenya's Mukogodo Ward, Laikipia County is changing the education landscape through a proactive and revolutionary bursary programme, born out of conservation efforts.

Il Ngwesi community, in northern Laikipia’s Il Ngwesi Conservancy, has developed a funding initiative to ensure that 600 students across all education levels can smoothly transition into higher levels of education. By setting aside funds of 9.1 Kenyan million? shillings [77K USD], organized through a concerted partnership involving various conservation efforts and other development supporters, as well as the creation of a trust that allows members of the community to contribute, Il Ngwesi community’s upcoming generation will be equipped with the right resources to build towards the general growth of the community.

This initiative addresses the widespread epidemic of school dropouts and encourages Il Ngwesi’s school-going youth to access quality education. Gender inequality had further led to the high number of dropout cases as parents prioritize immediate wealth, thus leading to an increase in child marriages in exchange for dowry. The primary-secondary school transition rate in Laikipia is less than 50%, even though over 75% of the students meet the minimum requirements to join secondary school. Nearly 50% of children [should this be boys?] who drop out find alternatives such as herding and small-scale farming, while girls are subjected to early childhood marriage. Area Member of Parliament Sarah Korere is currently championing bursary programs to ensure that gender equality is prioritized so that female students have access to quality education as well.

In an interview with Scholar, Patrick Leresi, a member of Il Ngwesi Conservancy Management Board and Director of Education in the region, reiterates that this initiative will benefit ll Ngwesi community immensely in achieving sustainable development. He added, “We cannot solely rely on pastoralism due to the onset of climate change and long drought spell. We must branch out into diverse income streams. Over 50% of our children are missing education as a result of a lack of school fees following a two-year famine that has even affected our livestock, which we have long relied on as an economic activity throughout history. We must think outside the box to salvage education. We are looking at emboldening the fund by forging more strategic partnerships and through communal support required to empower the family unit financially into achieving education goals.”

The project will target at the onset- High School, college, and university students; to cover all seven communities of Il Ngwesi Conservancy benefiting. Nancy Tausi of Ngare Ndare Women's Group, which sits under the Il Ngwesi Conservancy, has commended the program as “revolutionary” as it aims to provide a permanent and sustainable solution to push the community out of poverty. “Our girls will particularly have access to unbiased, quality education for them to achieve their dreams and various career goals even in the tough but growing economic climate. This is indeed a good thing for the community,” she said, adding that harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriages can be averted through achieving equal and accessible education. Nancy Teiteyo, a 23-year-old Laikipia University graduate and an alumni beneficiary of the education initiative, commended the education program and added, “As orphans, the bursary program has come at the right time as it was introduced, just when I did not know the way forward in acquiring funds to cover my school fees. Thankfully, the program helped to clear overlapping balances. I am grateful that the program allows for gender equality in education which eventually provides a level ground for both boys and girls to be competent in the job market.”

Education in rural Laikipia County has long faced challenges due to insecurity and poverty. However, a variety of donor programs as well as community-based initiatives have supported education as well as significantly contributed to the general sustainable development of the ll Ngwesi Conservancy. Laikipia North, in particular, has benefitted from various efforts from the Northern Rangelands Trust and Laikipia Conservancies Association.

In the neighboring Naiboni location, the Community Management Board, under the Naibunga Lower Conservancy has successfully initiated three bursaries between 2021-2022. The area has 20,000 estimated persons residing in neighboring villages. According to Chairman Matthew Naiptari, education access and school admissions have been on a positive rise despite the drought that has caused a tougher economic climate and the nomadic culture as well. “So far, we have issued a total of Ksh. 460,000 [3,800 USD] that has benefited 81 students, prioritizing orphans and other extreme cases that require immediate attention. In 2021, we had two bursary programs and this year we have had one. The community is now taking education seriously and the program has reduced the pressure on parents in covering school fees. We currently have a total of three secondary schools and multiple primary schools but we are happy with NRT and LCA for championing education in our region and in providing other support programs such as feeding programs and providing access to sanitary towels for women and girls,” stated Naiptari.

The model that conservation stakeholders have adopted is proving to be a ray of hope for many families in Laikipia. Many children can now access education with ease, thus reducing the number of school dropouts.

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