Dozens of starving parents from drought-hit areas in Kajiado County have resorted to sneaking into nearby schools for free lunch.
Most of these parents and the elderly have been left vulnerable after losing their livestock to the drought, relying only on relief food.
It has become a trend for parents to sneak into nearby schools during lunch hour and queue with learners for a meal to tame the hunger pangs.
In the Maasai community, the livestock belongs to a man but with this treasured source of income gone, more men are starving. The number of men, especially the elderly, who are sneaking into schools for food is higher than that of women.
A Knn spot check at Ilbisil boarding Primary School in Kajiado Central on Wednesday found a number of parents sitting near the main gate waiting for the lunch hour.
They were dusty and visibly tired from trekking long distances in the scorching sun.
They lined up calmly with the learners, some of them their grandchildren, for githeri – a mixture of beans and maize – commonly served as lunch in learning institutions.
Head teacher Daniel Lantai said the school administration always allows parents to join the queues.
“Each day we have parents who gamble to get lunch from the school. We understand their plight back home so we cannot push them away,” Mr Lantai said, adding that some parents have been approaching the school directly to beg for food.
However he said it’s a risky balancing act considering most parents are unable to pay school fees, meaning the learning institution has been hit hard amid the drought.
“The school management has opted to provide lunch for day scholars. We fear our food reserve will not last the whole term. Most parents are unable to pay the school fees,” he said.
To survive, some parents scramble for bad maize and beans from where the school stores grains.
“The unwanted grain will ensure a meal for my family in the evening. It’s not about quality food. It’s about having something to feed our children,” one parent said.
Most local men are too shy to ask for relief food. Some spend most of the day idling at nearby shopping centers, forcing their wives to become the breadwinners.
The affected parents said they sleep on empty stomachs so they must try their luck at the schools.
“There is no shame for a parent who spent last night on an empty stomach. We have no livestock to sell. The drought has reduced us to beggars,” said Ann Santila, a parent.
KNN also learned that in some rural areas, children who have not attained the age to join school accompany their siblings to school for at least one decent meal.
The practice is spreading among schools with feeding programs either by the government or non-governmental organizations.
Mr Elie Korinko, the Kajiado branch secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), said the drought might cripple learning in the county.
He urged the Ministry of Education to ensure schools, especially those in drought-hit areas, have feeding programmes.
“Most learners come from poor families shaken to the core by the drought. Let the ministry fast-track the home-grown school meals programme and give boarding funds to all schools,” said Mr Korinko.
Recent data from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) shows more than 400,000 families are facing starvation and that more than a million animals have died in Kajiado County.