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We have spent the last ten years developing a school system which works for nomadic Samburu children between the ages of 4 – 10 years old. Our aim was always simple and clear – to make education available for pastoralist children who would otherwise never have the chance to learn.

‘Move, listen and learn’ by training teachers from the specific family clan we ensure the teachers move with the children, livestock and families.

The children rotate every three moons from herding to school, gaining both the ancient knowledge of the land, wildlife, and livestock from the elders, as well as an the opportunity to read and write.

Our goal is basic literacy and numeracy in all children. As the new world of mobile phones and modern medicines for their animals meet an old world of survival in the desert-lands, we hope to ensure the children have a better opportunity in northern Kenya.

The vast tracts of land and their knowledge of it is what allows the people to survive here.

Moving with the rain and pasture ensures a balance with nature.

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1. looking out

Our nomad schools work for children between the ages of 4-10 years old. At the age of ten they have a choice; to follow the path of the people and herd the livestock, or to enter into the Government school system and continue on to further education.

Our network of nomad schools feeds three main primary schools; Kirimon, Ol Donyiro and Kipsing. Although our focus continues to be to expand our nomad schools we cannot ignore the children who are moving on into further education.

This month we will give you a peek into a world of learning in northern Kenya.

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2. The Kirimon School

I arranged a visit with the headmaster of the Kirimon school, who was very welcoming and desperate for some help.

20+ teachers all piled into one room marking books on tiny tables – with a huge responsibility and task to educate sometimes over 100 children in a class!

3. the Classroom

The nursery, with its falling down roof, houses 500 children. I spent a few hours sitting in at the back of the class, children huddled around desks giggling, sometimes 6 or more squeezed onto a bench.

Lunch hour was an eye opener as two men mixed and spooned yellow maize from the largest cooking pot you have ever seen into the cups of over 800 children patiently waiting in line.

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4. the giant cooking pot

The little ones pushed to the front, the older children keeping the order. It reminded me very much of an old English boarding school.

I walked back to the boarding house with the children from Pinguan who live to far to walk to school each day. I sat on the bunks with them, although a little worried that the lice crawling on the blankets would make their way onto me!

The kids are happy and playful. Little boys living alone in a large room, bunk beds with tatty foam mattresses and an old blanket.

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5. the dorm

Probably every little boys dream! No rules, no showers, and no one to tell them to clean up and make their beds!

They are looked after by a lovely man who is the night watchman at the school. They make their way down to a nearby spring to wash in the sunny hours after school if and when they feel like it!

I asked each group of children what they wanted for their school. They all said water.

Water arrives each day carried in by each and every child in a filthy, dirty little container! The contents are emptied into the huge cooking pot, this is enough to cook the maize for the following day.

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I described the school to someone as ‘survival of the fittest’ – a fight to learn. The ones who make it through are determined and bright. For those who need more, it is a very difficult place to survive.

In 2002 the Samburu Trust sponsored 26 children through school. From this group only three are left.

Experiencing the school first hand gives me a window into how determined you need to be to survive.

It is obvious to me to help these headmasters and teachers create a better for these children to learn.


A little cement, some paint and clean water is really all it will take.

Our focus continues with the nomad schools. For all the children who chose the path of further education, leaving our clean, tidy schools with 15 children classes, we will work towards creating a better place for them to learn too.

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8. a Samburu Trust nomad school

This article is a Samburu Trust collaboration. Please click here for more information.

This Chapter by Julia Francombe, Sacha Kenyon, and Moses Lerusion.

All Images and text ©2013 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.


Image Credits

1-7, : Julia Francombe

8 : Sacha Kenyon

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