The last 2 years have been very difficult for the community surrounding Olng’arua School. Violence has resulted in two thirds of the people who lived here being displaced, houses and possessions destroyed, livestock stolen and lives lost.
The community was totally unprepared for the violence. Though there have been occasional periods of insecurity in the past (the last of any significance was more than 20 years ago) nobody can remember anything as bad as this. They were also left totally alone in dealing with it. A collection of mostly forgotten villages on the border of two counties, there was very little support from the police or either of the county governments.
Shortly after the fighting first broke out the community watched around 70% their livestock die from drought, carcasses littered the area, and there were some families that lost every animal they had. Some managed to restock only to lose the new animals to violent livestock raids.
The last six months have been especially hard. There are drought conditions again and, for the first time in living memory, the springs that supported what was once our marsh have dried up. In the months running up the the elections, on the 8th of August, insecurity became so bad that people could think of nothing except staying alive until the morning.
Many of the men had to leave the area to take the remaining livestock to other places, there was simply nothing to feed them here. This left a heavy burden of security on those that remained. At the school we had to mount a 24 hour guard, nobody ever got enough sleep. We have also had to bring all our water in to the school in 20lt cans from where ever we could get it. In the village the women have been doing the same for their homes, the greater the distance they have to carry the water the less time there is for anything else, and the more exhausted everybody becomes.
However, for the first time is many months, we starting to feel hopeful again. Locally the elections went well, the presidential elections have not yet been settled but for us it was the county elections that were of most concern, and they have been peaceful. There has not been an attack on the community since the beginning of August and, despite a few alerts, there has been a palpable release of tension. When people are near their homes they are no longer checking the bushes every few seconds to see if there is a gun pointed at them. We are all starting to think about more than staying alive until the next day or even the next week.
I can’t say that the election results have solved our problems. There have been no big changes, the causes of the violence have not really been identified (let alone solved) and people are still cautious, but we are starting to regain something of our normal lives.
This is just as well because we still have drought, there is still no water and hunger has become a very pressing issue. The small release of pressure from constant insecurity is giving us a chance to deal with these other very urgent problems. It has also allowed us to plan for the future again, and if anything, these terribly hard years have made all that we are working for at the school feel even more vital.
The community, and all of us at the school, are tired. Resilience is very low, people have used up all their resources just keeping themselves and their livestock alive. The situation at the school is no better. Keeping the school open and safe, providing enough food and water and continuing a remotely normal education program throughout all of the trouble, has brought us to the very edge.
Despite the exhaustion and the losses everybody is grateful to be given a chance to move forward again, to make things better. To make sure that what we have lived through does not become the new normal here. Nobody wants to live like this any more. This makes the school, and the community education centre project, even more important to us than before. It really is our chance to make a better future.
If we don’t want to see our community sucked into repeated cycles of violence, like so many across the north of Kenya, we need to help produce strong and conscientious leaders who have the skills to tackle the difficult issues facing this community and the world. The drought conditions we are suffering are largely man made, while climate change is undoubtedly the huge challenge of our times, locally over-grazing and poor water management has as much to do with the destruction of the environment we all rely on as the weather patterns. These are things we can change. With education and support people here can start restoring the local environment now, there is no need or sense in waiting for someone else to come and do it for us.
We could not have kept the school going through all of this if it wasn’t for the many kind people who have sent us money during these very difficult months. Those that send us regular monthly donations and those who, seeing our urgent need, sent something extra, or made a one off donation. We would have had to shut the school months ago if it hadn’t been for you. On behalf of all the people in the community whose lives you have touched with your generosity, and in particular on behalf of the children, who have had a safe place to continue to grow in mind and body because of your help, we send our deepest thanks. There is renewed hope here for a better future and you have helped to make that possible.