Every day as dawn breaks, Esuruan Awet takes up a duty that has become his routine.
Together with other Kenya Police Reservists (KPR), he arms himself in order to guard his children as they begin their journey to Nakatong’wa Primary school in Turkana East.
The father of five, who also doubles up as the school’s Parents Teachers Association chairperson, has been keeping vigil over the minors for the past three year.
The school, situated in Katilia Ward, has been under constant attack from bandits and parents have opted to take charge of their children’s safety.
When The Standard visited the school, established by the Government in 2009, there were over 12 armed KPRs keeping close watch around the school located 50 kilometres from Lokori town.
The ‘soldiers’ seem to have perfected their new occupation as is evidenced by how they position themselves, guarding the only school that is still open in the area.
One ‘officer’ is positioned on top of the hill and has his eyes fixed on the upper side of the terrain where bandits advance from, causing mayhem in the village and the school.
“Two days ago, we spotted four bandits on top of the hill. We believe they had come to spy on our area and there was a fire exchange which lasted three hours but they managed to run away,” Awet said.
He said the decision to join the KPR was arrived at following constant attacks from bandits believed to be from the neighbouring community.
“They came to our village one day and took all my animals, including 80 camels. It is from this painful experience that I made the decision to stop fighting hard for my animals and instead focus on my children’s education,” he said.
He also informed us that many of the parents who are now devoting their time to ensure the safety of their children as they learn, have never been to school but are determined to make sure their children have access to basic education.
“The school has been attacked by bandits more than seven times but we have always managed to repulse them,” he said.
Bernard Etaan a teacher at the school, said the pupils learn under difficult conditions with many suffering from bullet wounds while others prefer to stay at home.
“The region is not safe but these parents have taken the initiative to camp around the school the whole day to provide protection to these young kids who deserve a bright future,” he said.
Etaan said the school needs more teachers and classrooms to contain the huge number of pupils.
Akutah Eudan, a parent and member of the KPR who also keeps watch over the school which hosts more than 200 pupils, says some of his colleagues have lost their lives while protecting the young ones.
Eudan says escalating attacks have seen more than five pupils from the school sustain injuries from stray bullets.
“Recently three people succumbed to gunshot wounds after the bandits struck. Their approach has now changed and they seem interested in killing and maiming without going for animals,” he said.
Eudan however, says that even as they take this risky position, they do not have enough firearms to fight the bandits who are better armed.
“The fire arms we were given by the Government are not adequate. Bandits normally come in large numbers with sophisticated guns to wreak havoc on the village,” he said.
The police reservists however says this will not deter their resolve to protect their children.
“We want our children to grow up knowing that cattle rustling is not the only solution to survival.
We want them to change this region by focusing on education,” he said.
Esther Asokon, a cook at the school says the five solar panels mounted by the Government are their only hope and must be guarded zealously since locals also benefit from free solar power which they use to charge their mobile phones, among other things.
Ward Rep Lawrence Lotomo expressed concern over the high number of schools that have been shut down in the area.
Lotomo said five primary schools – Kidewa, Lomunyen, Naukottem, Kaibole and Echoke – have had to relocate or shut down due to escalating attacks.
He said that safety of children as they access education has now been left to parents, yet it is the Government that has the sole obligation to protect its citizens.
“For how long will parents double up as security officers yet the Government has adequate security machinery that can provide services to schools situated in insecure areas?” he asked.
The ward rep called on the Government to practice fairness in provision of security and make it possible for children to access basic education without fear of attack.
Source: The Standard Wednesday, October 29th