According to a new report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and Society for International Development, illiteracy levels are high in northern Counties. Marsabit has a high level of 76%. In 2013 when HODI started working in Balozi, most vulnrable children had limited access to free primary education due to poor management of the schools, communities did not place high value in the education of their children and there was a poor learning environment.

It was not enough to just identify the issue but engaging the community through Mala Mari (community conversations) to deal with the underlying causes laid a foundation for success. The school was cut from most engagement due to its being 17km away from the town. A majority of the community were livestock hearders and had no time to discuss the education of their children. To many, just sending them to school was enough, the rest being the teachers’ responsibility. The task has been tough for the past three years, but getting together to dialogue through Mala Mari was just the beginning.

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Mala Mari is well structured and involves working with community facilitators to help engage the community and each step of the way, community ownership of the process is crucial. HODI initiated the process and it was taken over by the facilitators and our role was that of backstopping, reflecting, learning and acting on the gaps that existed. Parents were engaged separately through Mala Mari and the children who were the main beneficieries were engaged in the school. Teachers were engaged through subject circles and shared their challenges and how to overcome them.

There are significant visible changes in the community in three years: reduced number of drop outs from the school; a high number of parents actively involved in the education of their children and improvement in school governance. As they exchanged with other communities and villages, they learnt one good practice of contributing to a kitty to undertake some of the development plans they had for the school.

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One such plan was that of the playground for the school. One acre of land was donated by a community member. Contributions were made by other community members, and through this, they were able to raise enough to buy an extra 1.5 acres of land. With a total 2.5 acres of land, they were able to create a new playground for their children.

“I am happy that parents are actively participating in school management after HODI’s intervention through community conversations. As a school, we are getting a lot of support from parents and this has produced more recent successful fundraising efforts.” Kano Dida, headteacher at Jaldesa Primary School, explains.

The village has ensured children do not miss out on school and parents meet and follow up with teachers on how their child is doing in school. Very few followed up on the homework of their children before, now every parent has a responsibility to ensure they follow up on it. Even in instances where the parent is illiterate, those with basic education help out and this has greatly improved learning. Other improvements include the children being more eager to learn and be in school with a new space for playing. Community meetings were a preserve for men in the village in the past but women are now included and play a part in decision making. Poor community members are now not left behind during contributions and raise required amounts and ensure their children have access to improved quality education.

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Balozi’s  Mala Mari has identified issues pertinent to the community who live in the village, unlike situations in the past where stakeholders come in with resources to initiate projects which were maybe not the community’s highest priority. Here, the community  identifies gaps and comes up with ways to raise resources to tackle the same. This makes it more sustainable and the community has seen the power they have and ability to resolve their own issues making it one of the best practices. Balozi is a leading example of how communities can turn the tide of illiteracy and invest their time and resources in the education of their children. Other communities especially in Northern Kenya can learn from this good practice and replicate it.

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