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Against all odds, at 17 Eddy Gabriel Leleur stands taller than his classmates in Form One (ninth grade) at Maralal High School, in Maralal town of Samburu County, Kenya. He wants to become a lawyer so that he can fight for the rights of pastoralist children who don’t go to school.

Maralal High School is one of the few national schools in Kenya that admits students who have performed well in their secondary entrance examinations. Despite his difficult situation in life, Eddy (the herder) was one of the top performers, scoring 324 (A-) in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). This earned him a place at this prestigious school.

Eddy, an orphan who lost both parents by the age of 4, was a herd boy who first got the taste of education through IIRR’s shepherd class concept. He joined a shepherd class at the nearby Loltulelei Primary School when he and his ailing maternal grandmother already lived alone in Lkisheki village, Lorroki Division of Samburu County. At that time, they depended on her work weeding other people’s farms to get food and on the work he started at just 4 years old lookingafter livestock as a herd boy.

Ravages of Drought and Shepherd School

Despite his tender age, Eddy performed his task diligently and with perfection. As a herd boy, he roamed the hills, the valleys and the plains in search of water and lush pasture to satisfy the cattle, goats and sheep under his care. However, when he turned 7 years old, a severe drought hit the region and all the animals died. It was a great loss to Eddy and his grandmother, which threatened their survival.

It was at this point that his grandmother decided to take him to school. She could only afford to send him to the shepherd school at Loltulelei primary school because this school still allowed him time to help with work during the day. He fetched firewood and looked after other people’s animals to earn some money for the two of them.

Joining Regular School

In 2007, after spending 4 years at the shepherd school, he joined the regular school at Loltulelei primary school. But he could still leave school early to help his grandmother with household chores. He also peddled charcoal from one home to another to earn some money for their upkeep. When he got to class 5, he underwent circumcision as per the traditions of the Samburu people. This traditional requirement, however, interrupted his school life as he had to drop out of school for one year to move around the villages with fellow initiates in search of food.

“When I resumed school, I joined Kisima Primary school (about 5 kilometres from his home) in class 6. But even here, I encountered challenges. I had to walk a long distance and in many instances on an empty stomach,” he says.

One of IIRR’s PEP coordinators and shepherd class teacher, Martha Lekaswa, noticed him and took him to Maralal District Education Board (DEB) Primary school where he joined class 7. The new school has boarding facilities and Eddy stayed in school, only coming back home during school holidays to the excitement of his lonely grandmother.

“During the school holidays, I till other people’s farms just to earn some money which we can use to buy food and clothes,” he adds.Today, Eddy Gabriel Leleur is a Form One (grade 9) student at Maralal High School pursuing his dream to become a lawyer so that he can fight for the rights of pastoralist children who are denied their right to go to school.

Pastoralists and IIRR Shepherd Classes

As in many pastoralist areas in Africa, bright children in Samburu, Isiolo and Marsabit Counties of Kenya, are usually assigned by their parents to take care of livestock. During the dry season, the child herders are forced to migrate with the animals to ‘foda’, a low lying region where pasture and water can be found. Some of these children herd during the day and only have time for school in the evening. That’s why IIRR came up with the idea of shepherd schools, mobile schools and feeder schools, to address theireducational needs.

Shepherd classes are an IIRR initiative that gives pastoralist children, who do not have time to attend school during normal hours, access to education. Currently, there are 22 shepherd schools in Samburu County. Some of these schools go up to third grade. A child who graduates from third grade of the shepherd school can usually join class two at the regular school, depending on their age and cognitive abilities. Since most shepherd classes use formal school buildings during their evening classes, the transition of learners from shepherd classes to regular schools is easy.

Through this approach, IIRR has already helped 900 children register in the shepherd schools in Kenya alone and over 600 learners to successfully join formal education. Currently some of our strongest scholars are now in secondary schools and going to sit for the Kenya National Secondary Certificate Examination in 2015.

Today, with the support of UK Government Aid, IIRR is constructing and equipping 8 classrooms and 2 dormitories (one for boys and one for girls) across the 3 Counties.IIRR is also training the school management boards to improve education quality and access, providing teaching and learning materials to 56 primary schools in the 3 counties, and distributing educational materials for special needs students in selected schools. During the first quarter of 2015, this program has enrolled 3,243 children who had dropped out of school into shepherd classes and formal primary schools.

There are hundreds and thousands of deserving pastoralist children and youth (boys and girls) like Eddy who are denied the opportunity to go to school like other young people around the world. Through your generous donation to IIRR’s Pastoral Education Program, you will become a partner who can guarantee these young people’s right to education.