2022 is coming to an end and I have had the privilege of visiting Turkana County with our Country Director, Mr. Festus Juma, for five days between the 5th and 9th of December.
Going to Turkana was an idea proposed this past May and our team was in support of exploring regions and identifying communities where we could replicate the Community-Driven Education model of collaboration to positively impact livelihoods.
We drove for two hours to Eldoret town and boarded a flight, with Festus being reserved because small planes and turbulence to him are one and the same, but it was a smooth forty-five minute flight and the heat that greeted us when we landed in Lodwar was bliss to me, but not Festus. I’ve said it before, I love the tropics, anything above 27 degrees Celcius is home, and when it hits 30, it is heaven. I knew I would love Lodwar and my stay in Turkana because such high temperatures made cold showers a bliss and what a better way to stay hydrated.
We started our day with a visit to the Ministry of Water offices, and got to plan our visit around their water distribution sources. We also checked in with the Ministry of Basic Education to understand how best kindergartens were aligned with regards to access to water and sanitation in the county. From this, we narrowed our visit to three sub-counties; Turkana North, Turkana South and Turkana East. But we didn’t know just how vast Turkana, the second largest county in Kenya, is because Turkana North also had Kibish, another sub-county, and getting there would mean covering 400kms, and that was impossible within the time we had.
We visited some wards in both Turkana South and East and we were able to have an idea of some of the challenges the communities have with regards to access to clean water and education.
There’s this phrase often uttered by Kenyans in Kiswahili. It is “tembea ndio uone,” which in English translates to, “travel and see.” There is a side to Turkana that was unknown to me and what I saw were not the images often shown of starving children, dying livestock, and weak people. What I did see was:
- They have good roads! The Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA) has invested in some awesome roads there.
- The people in Turkana are friendly, like we all are in Kenya, but for them, there is something warm in their smiles and in the way they lean in closer to listen and wish you well.
- Lake Turkana is a saline lake, not a fresh water lake like we were taught in primary school. When I learned this, I nearly went in search for those who drafted the curriculum when I was in school to ask why? Why lie to a twelve year old?
- There are the Samburu in the South, Pokot and Rendille in the East and I found that they do share some similar socio-norms with the Maasai. In the sub-counties we visited in the East and South, the women were hardly home. Women build the manyattas, fetch firewood for cooking, walk miles to get clean drinking and cooking water, and take care of the kids. The men, well, they were lounging under shades either chatting or playing ajua (a game more known to Americans as mancala). I was told they leave early with their stools and return in the evening with the livestock.
- Fuel is expensive- in most places in Kenya, a litre of Diesel goes for Kshs 179, in Lodwar it was Ksh 186/187.
- Oh, and how can I not talk about food? Given their pastoralism culture and background, most people enjoy goat meat, and it’s cheaper than chicken by far. Did I mention that a lot of them found it odd that I do not eat red meat?
- I loved the colorful beads the women wore around their necks. It was beautiful to watch, however, I thought about the weight of it and asked if they sleep with it or get to take it off, and yes, they do take it off.
- Given how hot it is in Lodwar, the capital of Turkana, every office or facility we visited had air conditioning which kinda made me think of how great a business sale it was for the company installing them, and definitely how much their electricity bills were.
- Turkana County has a large number of school-going children under the age of five years. From their Basic Education office we got to know that there are 155,000 pupils versus 545 teachers in the Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) schools. That’s a large number! While visiting Locheremoit, in Turkana South, we got to see children lining up for food and, though schools were closed, stakeholders like Mary’s Meals and MASCOP, were still feeding children. In most cases that would be their only meal, and it was also a way of retaining them when schools resume.
I am in awe of the stories we tell ourselves and more so now that I work with an organization that is in the same space as most NGOs. I hope at Global Partners we continue to share pictures, tell positive stories and enhance human dignity, because in one week I saw a side to Kenyans residing in Turkana that was never shown or
celebrated to me by most organizations under the guise of charity.