Learning for Peace-The Pokot School Project
Imagine living in an area so remote that schools simply don’t exist. Imagine that by the age of nine, your child is brandishing a gun instead of reading a book. It seems unfathomable, but this is the reality of children living a remote tribal war zone in northwestern Kenya.
The region is Africa’s most remote frontier, a lawless land saturated with weapons, where tribesmen make their own rules, cattle is the ultimate currency, and rustling is a way of life. There are no roads, no medical facility, and no school. The nearest city is a two-day drive, and the nearest medical clinic is a two-day journey, mostly on foot.
In the middle of the region is an area known as Ng’aina, which is primarily occupied by the Pokot tribe, a traditionally honorable people who, for generations, have been forced to literally fight for survival. Their livelihood depends upon the wholeness of their cattle herds. The largest threat to the Pokot people comes from the neighboring Turkana tribe, another nomadic cattle rustling group intent on stealing livestock from the Pokot herds.
Each year, hundreds of Pokot tribe members die defending livestock from cattle raids initiated by rival tribes. Over the last half century, the warfare has gradually become modernized with weapons introduced by bandits from neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia. Today, the weapons range from ordinary shotguns to automatic rifles. By the age of nine, Pokot boys are sent to the “Cow Place,” a veritable boot camp where they are trained by elders to rustle cattle and handle a variety of weapons. Their training takes approximately one year to complete, after which the boys are sent out with their fathers and brothers to defend the livestock – and defend their own lives.
The battle-weary Pokot people have become entrenched in a cycle of violence that has plagued their culture for generations. Pokot elders know that securing a brighter future for their children will require learning about a better way of life. Self-made efforts to introduce education have been futile thus far. The task of finding a teacher or other logistical support for building a school presents a daunting task, according to Pokot Chief Yatta. Rarely visited by outsiders, the Pokot region is so savage even the Kenya army stays away. A number of incidents involving army personnel being killed or threatened upon entering the region have dissuaded further intrusion. Rumor has it that a number of Army officers have entered the territory for general inquiry and never returned.
Admittedly stuck, the Pokot elders realize that replacing guns with books will require cultural change, which likely will not occur without assistance from the modern world – assistance they had prayed for, but had never been offered.
Chief Yatta was indeed surprised when a National Geographic filmmaker, Kire Godal, asked permission to film the secretive tribe. It was an act of bravery for Godal to inquire; no one had ever been granted permission to film sacred Pokot rituals, and it had been decades since anyone dared to ask.
Conferring with tribal elders, Chief Yatta offered Godal unprecedented access to the tribe, and in exchange for the access, Godal would build the Pokot region’s first-ever school once she had completed filming.
“I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I made the promise. I could not pass up such an amazing opportunity… Click here to read the full article (page 10) in AZGM’s digital publication.
Article by Snowden Bishop, Editor-in-Chief, AZGreen Magazine
Photography by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher – See more of their extraordinary works: www.africanceremonies.com