The Walking Classrooms of Marsabit: In pursuit of education

Published December 2, 2015 by Saadia Maalim

A group of young pastoralist girls listen to their teacher in Marsabit County Kenya

Meet Doke Sharamo. On a dusty, deserted, and hot plain in Kenya stands a white tent under a sprawling acacia tree serving as a makeshift classroom. Doke and a small group of girls obediently listen to the teacher. Here there are no desks, but rather a woven mat that lies on the hot burning sand.

This is the Mobile Non-Formal Education (MNFE) Center in Kutura, Marsabit County, a village close to the KenyaEthiopia border and home to approximately 950 pastoralists. For generations, Kutura residents have depended on cattle, sheep, and goats to earn a living. Since animals need water and pasture to thrive, communities have to move in search
of these precious resources, often forcing the children to drop out of school. The MNFE center in Kutura was born to address these realities.


Doke, aged 17, has been a regular student since the center opened its doors in September 2014. Previously a primary school dropout, she is convinced the project will help her.

“Education will change my life and my community’s life for the better. I want to go on to secondary school, then to university and one day become a doctor and help my people,” she explains. 

Doke is interested in learning and she regularly attends classes, despite the fact that she lives in a Manyatta (settlement) very far from the school. “People used to think educating girls was a waste of time,” she added, “but that is changing now.”

To ensure there is no conflict between livelihood activities and education, the center provides flexible learning schedules, with classes taking place when pupils are free, including at night. Some girls start their lessons as early as 6am and tend to the goats during the day while others catch up with the day’s lessons at night.

To provide even more flexibility, annual school terms are not based on calendar months like regular schools. Instead, the calendar is determined by rainfall patterns with learning taking place mainly during wet seasons when labor demand on children is low and movement is minimal.

When the project started, close to 300 young women and men showed up to enroll: this was an opportunity of a lifetime for many. In Kutura, 32 pupils attend the center, with the majority being girls. This is particularly encouraging considering that in Marsabit County only 14.6 per cent of girls over the age of six have ever attended school.

In 2014, we embarked on an ambitious 30-month education project to bring education to pastoralists, who, until then, had been denied access because of their nomadic lifestyle. The project builds on experiences and lessons learned from the Pastoralist Youth Leadership (PYL) project we implemented in Somalia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It also builds on our belief that the best way to support peace and sustainable development is to educate young minds. Read more.