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“[Maybe] education…is the one thing that will remove us from poverty”, says Peter. Many narrators in both communities view education as “the key” to a less impoverished future, but there is also widespread acknowledgement that it doesn’t guarantee stable employment.

Nyiva, for example, talks about the young people in Kibagare and says that even though some of the boys and girls have had an education, the latter are reduced to sleeping with men for money, and the boys to hanging about with nothing to do, often being branded as thieves.

Standards of education are often low, according to some narrators. Peter describes the severe shortage of teachers as “the biggest problem” and cites the example of the local primary school which has 1,700 children and just 16 teachers – a ratio of over 100 to one.

Some of the older women have had no schooling at all. Among these is Nyiva, whose mother died when she was eight: “When I go to a meeting, when I see people can write and I don’t know how to, I feel like crying,” she says. Deborah is illiterate too; she explains that she comes from a traditional Maasai family where girls were expected to look after the animals.

All narrators are striving to keep their own children in school because they see such a direct link between illiteracy and poverty. Peter, who is doing his best to help his younger siblings stay in school, says: “We all want to read so we can lift ourselves out of the poverty of our family.” He says that, as their livestock business is in decline, education is even more imperative: “now you must use your head to survive”.

There is gratitude for free primary education (since 2003), but many narrators make impassioned pleas for this to be extended to secondary level. In February 2008 their request was met: Kenya introduced free secondary schooling. The government will cover tuition fees; parents must still cover boarding costs and buy uniforms.

Lack of training is also identified by many as a crucial factor preventing them from finding a way out of poverty. “Even [if] you were lucky enough to study until Form 4, there is no money to take you to college or somewhere else to learn something,” says Mary.


Education is a key theme of the Living with poverty: Kenya oral testimony project.


Alice: sleeping hungry

Deborah: widows have rights

Elias: cultural change

George: no jobs

Helen: poverty of war

Joseph: keeping optimistic

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Martha: battling corruption

Mary: life of struggle

Mercy: completely forgotten

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Peter: search for work

Key themes






Self-help initiatives

Sanitation and health

Political representation


Crime and unrest



Homelessness and insecurity

Pastoralism and agriculture