LORENGELUP, Kenya, April 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
In this part of northwest Kenya, one of the worst droughts in
years has left the land littered with carcasses of dead
livestock – even hardy camels.
Normally droughts here lead to the early marriage of girls,
as pastoralist families look for dowry payments to help cushion
the impact of livestock losses.
But this time, something unusual is happening: Hard-hit
herder families are instead selling drought-threatened livestock
and using the money - along with government cash payments - to
keep girls in school.
“It is no longer profitable to exchange our young daughters
with livestock, because when the animals die of drought, it is
like we have lost the girl,” Joyce Apus Ipapai, a mother of
eight from Lorengelup village, told the Thomson Reuters
Her 18-year-old daughter, Mercy Lopungre, is one of 150
girls still in classrooms at Nakurio Girls Secondary school this
year, despite the terrible drought.
Next year the teenager will sit final exams at the school,
the only girls’ secondary in Turkana’s Kerio sub-county, a
region with one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the
country, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Responding to drought by keeping girls in school is far from
an obvious coping strategy for poor families like Ipapai’s. Her
family lost its entire herd of 60 goats to the last brutal
drought in 2011.
Normally girls in the area are married well before they
reach 18 years old, often at times of drought.
But since 2013, Ipapai's family has received cash transfers
under the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), implemented by the
government through the National Drought Management Authority.
The programme gives 5,400 Kenyan shillings ($52) every two
months to the poorest and most vulnerable households in northern
Kenya – and lets them decide what to do with the money.
More than 38,000 households in Turkana County receive the
payments, officials said.
Ipapai has kept back some of that money – at points burying
it in the ground without her husband’s knowledge – to try to
keep her daughter in school. Other money she has invested in
starting a kiosk selling Turkana baskets, beans and other food.
The 39-year-old mother is not the only one who has used
social safety net payments to rethink what resilience to drought
should look like.
In recent years, other parents in the area also have decided
to forgo marrying their teenage daughter to win dowries, instead
relying on social payments to get them through droughts and
investing in their daughters’ education and future employment
prospects as a new more resilient form of savings.
DIGGING UP SOLUTIONS
The transition to keeping girls in school has not always
been an easy one. When Lopungre passed her primary school exams,
in 2014, her father began making plans for her marriage.
“That was the main plan, but before marriage arrangements
commenced I dug out the money from the ground and, with
something in my hands, I convinced my husband that it was time
for our daughter to proceed with her education,” the girl’s
With memories of the animals that succumbed to the 2011
drought still fresh, her husband finally was persuaded and
offered to sell two camels to support his wife’s idea.
As a result, Lopungre became one of the 35 girls who started
at the new Nakurio Girls Secondary school in 2015. Today the
school has 150 girls, nearly all of them from the Turkana
“People in this county are slowly changing their mentality.
Unlike what happened just 10 years ago, where girls were
forcefully married off in exchange with livestock, the same
parents are now willing to sell the very livestock in order to
pay school fees for their daughters,” said Missionary Alfred
Areman, the principal at the school and a clergyman at a local
According to Leonard Logilai, who has been the
administrative chief in Lorengelup since 1997, many girls
started school following the 2011 drought that consumed most of
the community’s livestock.
“Some (families) have been selling the surviving livestock
to pay school fees, while others use part of the HSNP money to
settle the fees arrears,” he said.
The switch comes on the back of tireless campaigning on the
value of keeping girls in school by the church, local officials
and humanitarian organisations.
“I have always told my people that when you educate a girl
child, you gain double because apart from adding value to her
life, she will still get married, through which the parents will
still get the much-wanted dowry,” said Logilai.
“Once a few girls get it right, they will become role models
to others, including parents, and that will help us keep up the
campaign to promote girl child education in this area,” he said.
(Reporting by Isaiah Esipisu; editing by Laurie Goering :;
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