Japan comes to aid of Kinango pupils caught in human-wildlife conflict (Kenya)


Siago Cece, The Nation

Date Published

See link for photos.

Dr Mwatasa Hussein, a research pharmacist, recalls sleeping under desks in a classroom at Ng’onzini Primary School in Kinango, Kwale County, 15 years ago. 

He was a Standard Eight candidate and he and others preferred to stay in school overnight so that they could have more time to study. 

“It was very hard because some of us would walk more than 5km to school. We were candidates and wanted to be closer to the teachers,” Dr Hussein said. 

“We would convert classrooms into dormitories at night by spreading locally made mats made of sisal and then rearranging the rooms in the morning for learning to resume.” Girls and boys slept in separate classrooms. Spending nights at school helped them avoid distractions at home, such as domestic chores, and protected them from elephant attacks. 

Looking back as an alumnus of the school, he is happy that today’s candidates no longer have to go through what he experienced. 

Thousands of learners in Kinango sub-county encounter wildlife frequently, and this spikes in dry seasons.Two months ago, a hyena killed two children from the same family who had gone to buy food in Silaloni, Samburu, Kinango sub-county. 

Kinango is at the centre of Shimba Hills and Tsavo National Park, and encounters with wild animals, mainly buffaloes and elephants, are common.

Children who walk long distances to school are always at risk of being attacked by the animals. 

But the Japanese government has come to the rescue of these children with a Sh14.9 million project. In partnership with the Born Free Foundation, a conservation non-governmental organisation, they have built two dormitories at Ng’onzini Primary School, making it among the first primary schools with boarding facilities in Kinango sub-county.

Japan Ambassador to Kenya H.E Horie Ryoichi, his wife Mrs Horie Yuko and Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya are taken through the newly constructed dormitories at Ng’onzini Primary School on October 27, 2021. The dormitories each have a capacity of 75 pupils, with solar, water and sanitary equipment installed. 

Speaking when the two buildings were handed over to the school administration, Japan’s ambassador to Kenya, Horie Ryoichi, said that investment in education is important for every country and Ng’onzini pupils will have a better environment for their studies. 

“I believe that adequate boarding facilities will provide the pupils with (a conducive) learning environment that will help them study efficiently and effectively to complete their education on time,” he said. The dormitories will have a capacity of 75 each, one for girls and the other for boys. The two buildings are solar-powered, have an efficient water supply system and are equipped with improved sanitary facilities. 

Born Free Foundation Country Manager Timothy Oloo said the organisation worked with the school on their nature conservancy projects and had identified its challenges. “The school also neighbours Mwaluganje Elephant Conservancy, which meant that the jumbos were right at their doorsteps,” he said. The UK-based group put up a fence around the school and the barrier will reduce conflict between humans and wildlife. 

Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya said the county government seeks partnerships with like-minded organisations to reinvest in education infrastructure.

“Such projects are life-changing to the people of Kwale. This also shows the good relationship Kenya has with other countries to foster impactful partnerships,” Mr Mvurya said. 

Parents also expressed relief that the buildings had been completed. “This is what I was waiting for. One of my children is in Standard Eight and I cannot wait to see her finally start living within the school,” said 45-year-old Lathu Kyengo. 

Ms Kyengo, who has five children attending the school, said she sometimes accompanies them to school at 7am to ensure that they are not attacked by elephants. Children are also unable to fully concentrate on their studies because of challenges at home such as drought and famine. 

Headteacher Gube Kenga said parents will only be required to pay a small amount of money for food for their children. He pleaded to other well-wishers to donate food as the region had been hit by drought and famine, limiting access to food. 

“The pupils used to be threatened by jumbos, this being their area. At around 7pm, you would barely walk two kilometres from the school without encountering them,” he said. 

Kenya Wildlife Service Kwale County Warden Jacob Orale said the security of teachers and students would improve, thanking the two entities for the initiative. “The project is going to improve the safety of pupils, because they will be confined in the school,” he said. 

He added that elephants had attacked and killed people in Silaloni, Kilibasi and Kuranze. Elephants have recently been seen leaving their natural habitat in Tsavo National Park in search of pasture and water, destroying private property as they move. 

The beasts have also affected learning in some areas as students can no longer walk to school early in the morning or back home in the evening for fear of being attacked.