Journey to the Loita Hills
After working in Tharaka-Nithi County for three years, For the Good is currently expanding our footprint to work with more marginalized regions of Kenya. Programs Director Millicent Mikundia, wrote about her recent experiences traveling to Narok County and learning more about the needs of these communities.
After working in Tharaka Nithi County for slightly over three years, we wanted to assess the impact of our work. Data showed that not only was Tharaka Nithi doing well, it was the best in Kenya in terms of education access, enrollment and transition of girls to secondary school, an amazing 96%. This reassured us that it was time to shift our work to a region of Kenya with significantly higher need. After much research, we decided to travel to Narok County to meet with communities there, assess their needs and determine their interest in working with us to address barriers that were keeping their girls out of school.
Narok County lies in southwestern Kenya, seven hours travel from our home base in Chogoria on the eastern slopes of Mount Kenya. The driver and I set out from Chogoria early at 4 AM. When the birds sang their first songs we had travelled many miles eastwards towards Nairobi. Kayce had flown in from the US the night before and was waiting for us at her hotel there; after a cup of tea we started our journey.
The route to Narok descends the escarpment and leads to the Great Rift Valley. The road is rough and narrow, with steep drop offs and so many big trucks on the road there are often accidents and we moved at tortoise speed. When we arrived we met Amos, a Masaai who was to be our guide, and proceeded to Loita Hills on an unpaved road full of pot holes; the dust clouds were so thick that you could hardly see. Amos told us of the challenges they face when it rains when the roads become impassable due to mud. One time, when Amos was riding a motorbike across the escarpment, he met a brown lion with a black mane. The lion stood his ground, and Amos described how he reversed his motorbike and flew off while the lion roared and roared!
After spending the night in the market town of Entasekera that night we met with a local Education Officer the next morning. He told us how one day they traveled around the region, looking for children who were not in school. In Mausa, a community near the Tanzanian border, they identified 477 children. We knew we had found a place with very high need.
After Kayce returned to the U.S., I returned to Narok a second time, this time headed for Entasekera, where we would spend the night. We saw giraffes, waterbucks, wildebeasts and zebras all grazing by the road side and when we reached the top of the escarpment we met Masaai Morans ( Masaai Warriors ) watching their flocks of sheep and herds of goat and cattle.
In Entekesara that night, at one time I dreamt I was being chased by a lion before being woken up at 6:00 AM by the sweet noise of birds in the trees near the guest house. We set off towards Mausa on motorcycles because the road was too rough for vehicles. It was a long ride on a rough road, full of stones, valleys and steep climbs; some places we used only footpaths with no road. Ahead of us, the Loita hills were continuously spread like sheets. When we finally reached Mausa, we met the headmistress of the schools there. She shared more details about the day that she, the Education Officer and the Chief went to the community and found those 477 children out of school. Half of them had already been married off and were no longer attending school at all. She explained how in the community, a male child is often valued more than a girl, and thus many families would rather use their resources educating a boy since girls can marry and bring wealth to their parents in terms of cows.
Later we held a meeting with the school management committee and some local leaders. I shared a local saying we have in Chogoria that an egg cannot brood another egg to get a chick, an analogy we use to describe how important it is that girls be allowed to mature. They corrected me and said they do not keep chicken! So I immediately changed the saying and told them that a calf can never breastfeed another calf - only a cow can breastfeed a calf. They agreed with this, and so we ended by agreeing that girls need to be left alone to go to school and be given opportunity to be empowered grown women before they are married off.
The next step in our work is to engage elders, families and teachers in Mausa to better understand why girls are not in school. The goal of For the Good is to ensure enrollment of children in school, to support their transition from primary to secondary school and encourage retention until they finish. We see a huge opportunity to create this change for girls in the Loita Hills, a region with such deep need for support. We are honored to continue our work here.