The potholed tarmac road from Marigat Town, Baringo County, slowly winds its way into the expansive Perkerra Irrigation Scheme.
Suddenly, the patches of tarmac end just past the Marigat Police Station.
On the right, brown water rushes down a canal, which waters hundreds of hectares of farmland in this area.
From here, the ride to Ng’oswe Agape Academy is bumpy, slippery, and more than once, we almost get stuck in the muddy road.
Ng’oswe is the name of an indigenous, drought-resistant tree.
It is treasured among the Kalenjin, and cutting it is considered a taboo. Obviously, the exceptional grannies that have brought us here had thought long and hard before giving their school a name.
We are told that motorbikes, which speed past carrying people and sacks of water melon fruit from the farms to town, are the fastest and most convenient means of getting around the expansive scheme.
Finally, we get to our destination. In the school compound, a group of elderly women sit in a semi-circle, attentively listening to one of their members.
They are about 40 of them, and are reviewing the end-of-term performance of their pupils, and discussing the development projects they have planned for the coming year.
“We need two more classrooms for the group that will be proceeding to standard seven,” says Esther Kaberi, the secretary of Perkerra Maungano Women’s Group. Over 20 years ago, these women, most of them well into their sixties now, came together and formed a chama, or a merry-go-round.
The aim of the chama was to help them meet their family needs.
Later, they approached the Perkerra Irrigation Scheme manager, (the scheme is a government-run project) and requested for a piece of land on which to farm. Their request was granted, and they began to farm. They would then sell the produce and save a portion of their harvest sales.
THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE
A few years later, these resourceful women began to deliberate on other more sustainable options.
Their money-making initiatives had served them well – they had educated their children and improved the quality of their lives, but they each felt a need to initiate a project that would outlive them.
“We began to ask ourselves how our group would stay relevant long after we were gone,” says Alice Tungo, chairlady of the group.
One of the members shared how difficult it was for her children to get to school and back home, due to the long distance between the two.
She was even considering withdrawing them, since they would be too tired to concentrate in class by the time they got to school anyway.
It was a struggle that most of these women identified with, and so they decided to put up a school in the vicinity of their homes.
“We all agreed that an accessible school would be a great project that would not only outlive us, but would also ensure that our children and grandchildren got good quality education, which would hopefully assure them of better opportunities in future,” explains Esther, the group secretary.
The women started saving towards their new project with zeal, and 10 years ago, they put up their first classroom.
Today, the school has nine classrooms, and come January next year, they will have put up another two to accommodate class seven pupils.
The group’s chairlady, Alice, who is 70 years old, motions in the direction of the nearest school, which is about five kilometres from Ng’oswe Agape Academy, and says,
“Children who attend that other school and others further afield, suffer a lot. The weather here is extreme – during the dry season, the sun is quite hot, and can sap your energy in minutes – imagine a small child who has to walk to and fro school in that kind of weather…”
When it rains, it is not any better; the showers are unrelenting, causing floods, which sweep away roads and bridges – sometimes, lives are lost.
This forces children to stay at home, missing valuable learning hours.
Ng’oswe Agape Academy however, is close to the homes of the 230 pupils who learn here, making it possible for them to attend school throughout the year.
Over 10 members have their grandchildren studying here.
ACCEPTS ALL CHILDREN
Even though the idea was motivated by the need to make learning more accessible for their kin, the school, which stands on three acres, accepts all children of school-going age, regardless of where they come from.
The school has nine teachers, a cook and a watchman – the women say they are able to pay their salaries from the school fees they collect.
When the need arises however, they supplement the money that the school makes to help pay pending bills.
“The last thing we want is to lose out teachers due to poor, delayed or unpaid salaries. We are also careful to ensure that the children have basic facilities to enable smooth running.”
The group only employs trained teachers, even though most of these end up teaching in government-run schools. But, they tell us, they have never had a shortage of teachers.
“We put up notices in nearby shopping centres and in Marigat town. All those who apply have to present their qualifications and go through an interview here in the school,” explains Esther.
Their head-teacher, a man in his mid-twenties, is one of the longest serving members of staff, and leads the interviews.
But a good education is not the only thing that these children get here, these progressive grannies have gone a step further, and ensure that each child gets a cup of porridge every breaktime, as well as a plate of githeri or rice with bean stew.
This, they say, is a blessing for those children whose parents might not afford to give their children three meals a day, besides, it also motivates the children to stay in school. Attendance, Alice informs us, is usually at 100 per cent.
The only really dark cloud is that this area lacks clean water.
“We have no access to safe water that can be used to cook the children’s meals, or for them to drink.
We must buy water from the town, yet every week we need about 200 litres of water,” says Alice.
Sometimes when they run out of money, they are forced to use the canal water, which is only suitable for farming, a factor that exposes the children to water-borne diseases. In fact, once in a while, they have cases of typhoid, diarrhea and amoeba, which keep children out of school for days.
The only water tank they have is used to store water for cooking and drinking, but it is empty most of the time.
Their long-term project is to get piped water from Marigat town, which is seven kilometres away.
They also plan to build a school library, and buy more course materials to aid teaching and learning. Also on their wish list is a staff room for their teachers.
But even with these challenges, they have big dreams for their pupils.
“All the scientists who visit this irrigation scheme come from other parts of country, some from other nations – our dream is that in a few years come, the researchers who visit us to conduct studies will come from this area, and will be people known us, children we educated,” says Alice.
Another dream they have is to put up a boarding school so that their children can get more time to concentrate in their studies, something they are convinced will lead to better results.
In the long-run, they want their children to be among the Kenyans who will bring positive change in Marigat, even though they are not blind to the fact that they are competing with schools that have much more resources, better facilities, and where the last thing pupils are worried about is clean water.