Words from Kenya

Can we help rural primary schools do better?

I have spent the last six weeks with two other people sharing knowledge and skills with the staff and students of Olng’arua Primary School, a remote school in Isiolo County. Like many primary schools in northern Kenya the school has young and untrained teachers with little experience outside their communities. The school operates on a meagre budget, the teachers don’t have access to computers or the internet to help them develop teaching skills and the school only has very basic equipment. With little experience of the world, or teaching, it is hard for these young teachers to come up with creative solutions to overcome the lack of resources. This seems to be especially the case in ... Continue Reading

Flooding in Isiolo Town

Over the last two days the town of Isiolo has experienced damaging floods, though little rain has fallen on the town itself. This strange phenomenon of floods without rain is not so unusual here. Isiolo is located on the northern base of the slopes of Mount Kenya. To the south the land rises and is much more rain prone than the dry and semi desert environment at the foot of the mountain where Isiolo lies. Heavy rain to the south can cause flash floods that pour down the mountain and often pour right through the town. It is odd, on a completely dry day with blues skies, to find the centre of town awash. The water flooding through the main streets and right across the main north road that ... Continue Reading

Oil isn’t a curse it’s inequality that does the damage.

Oil isn’t a curse, it is the inequality of wealth and power that so often accompany oil that is the problem. When large oil deposits are found in an area as poor and marginalised as Turkana there is the potential for that gap to be at its most extreme. The word ‘marginalised’ is used a lot in relation to communities in northern Kenya but it is worth stating exactly what it means regarding the people of Turkana. It means that the local people have not had a direct or indirect voice in the governance of their area. Not directly because civil society is weak or non-existent and because government positions are elitist, requiring skills and qualifications most do not possess. Not indirectly ... Continue Reading

One rainstorm doesn’t break a drought (but two or three could cause trouble).

Several parts of northern Kenya have experienced rain in the last week. This comes as a huge relief to many. The last rains either failed or were very poor across northern and eastern parts of the country. Everybody is desperate for the rains to come so that there will be enough water and pasture to see them through the next dry season. However, according to the Kenya Meteorological Department, we shouldn’t get too excited. They have forecasted that these coming rains will also be below average for most of the north and east of Kenya. Even in Turkana, where more normal amounts of rainfall are expected, they have warned it will not be sufficient to fully recharge underground water sources ... Continue Reading

Upside Down Trees

In parts of northern Kenya you can encounter the curious sight of many upside down trees. They dot the landscape, as many of them upside down as right way up in places. Some areas of northern Kenya have been so dry for so long that there is little but dust to hold the roots of the trees in place. A strong wind pushes at the bare branches and worries away the dry soil round the base of the tree. Sometimes it takes just hours, sometimes weeks or months, but once loosened the result is nearly always the same. An upside down tree. The wind blows the tree over, the roots slip free of the dry sandy soil, then the wind flips it over like a tumble weed. Once upside down a better balance is ... Continue Reading