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Bringing education to pastoralist children

I had the great opportunity to travel out to Babile, a strip of land that divides the Somali and the Oromia regions of Ethiopia.

This land has been hit by ongoing drought for over a year now. It’s also home to thousands of pastoralist families, who are surviving drought and harsh weather.

Water is extremely scarce here; so people need to move according to water availability.

I was keen to find out how the weather has affected children’s experiences and their access to education.

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Schooling against many challenges

I visited a school and spoke to children of all ages, their teacher and community members.

The school has three grades and caters for children from as young as three, as well as their older siblings up to the age of 21.

This used to be one of our project areas under Bridges, a DFID-funded programme involving a system of ‘networked’ and mobile schools that cater for children’s pastoralist lifestyles, ensuring that school moves with them.

Bedria is the eldest of her siblings. In this photo she carries the youngest one. Bedria’s only experience of education was a month in school, many years ago. Now she looks after her family and often takes care of the cattle. She wishes she could go to school, but then, who would feed her family? Bedria doesn’t want to marry and told us she will resist any attempt.

School drop-outs

The only teacher in this school has been teaching for many years, often teaching under trees until the local government built the existing school.

The teacher said that once children have gone away for a few days to fetch water, the likelihood of them ever going back to school is reduced. Some would come back, some would get involved in other activities, while girls over 14 years old might get married.

He was very clear that the drop-out rate is about to increase and that Babile has not yet seen the worst effects of migration to other areas with more water.

What do children want?

Children’s education in this very dry region tests parents’ willingness to prioritise education when children are needed to support the family with essential house chores or cattle rearing.

All the children I spoke to want to stay in school and they want their friends who have dropped out to return to school.

They want a well or other source of water to reach them soon, so that they don’t have to keep moving and can stay in this school.

Speak up for education

While the ongoing crisis in East Africa means that other life-saving work has more prominence than education, it is still essential that we hear more about what education means for the region’s children.

Missing out on education will have a big impact on their lives, as well as on their resilience and development, so we need to speak up.

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