Tuesday, February 19, 2008

School programmes disrupted by post-election violence

The effects of post-election violence in Kenya continue to reverberate throughout the country. Though the fighting has subsided from its peak immediately after the elections in late December, tension remains high with political opponents divided along ethnic lines.
Many lives have been lost in the ongoing violence and thousands of families have been displaced in most parts of the country.

The situation is probably more precarious for school going children whose fundamental right to education has been disrupted as arsonists have destroyed homes, churches and schools. Such devastating events have especially affected the Rift Valley, where the SOS Children’s Village Eldoret is situated. The magnitude of the violence has not spared the teachers some of whom have borne the brunt of the mayhem.

Although schools have reopened many students have not reported back. Students were stuck in their home areas, as roads were barricaded and public transport made insecure by gangs armed with crude weapons. Fears for the safety of some of the SOS high school children, who were learning in different schools across the country (some of which have been burnt), have led to their transfer to the SOS Hermann Gmeiner Secondary School in Eldoret. Many other students are still in IDP camps where they have sought refuge. There seems to be no chance of going back to their former schools anytime soon.

According to the principal of the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Eldoret, Elijah Omobe, the post election violence is weighing heavily on the school programme. "We are experiencing frequent disruption of our daily programmes due to fear" he said. "Any slight unease sends parents in a panic rush to get their children out of school for their safety." Recently, a member of parliament was shot dead in Eldoret causing more violet protests.

Teachers in the school admit that they might be forced to push the programmes into the school holiday so as to cover what has been lost. The principal acknowledged that the teachers are not settled and are fearful of their security. One of the teachers received threats to vacate his home. Another teacher had his house vandalized and household property looted. He is now living with friends as he comes to school to teach. His parents are living in the displacement camp in Eldoret. Fellow teachers have expressed solidarity with their colleague and assisted them with clothes. Yet another teacher had her house vandalized.

Some of the teachers from the targeted communities are already considering transfers, while others consider quitting. “We are trying to reassure the affected teachers and asking them to calm down on the assumption that things will improve", said the principal.

Many students have suffered emotional and psychological trauma and may be unable to cope with high demands of schooling, added Mr. Elima, the acting SOS Herman Gmeiner School head teacher. “We are experiencing a strain in obtaining school resources because our suppliers cannot access the required educational materials," he explained. “This is the fourth week since we placed our order to the supplier, he laments. Nothing has been forthcoming”.

The current Form Four candidates have been hardest hit, having lost nearly four weeks, and considering that they will be sitting a national examination at the end of this year. The school is trying to reach out to the children and has established counselling services through the guidance and counselling department while the children try to catch up on their work.

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