Education & Family

The school run in Kenya's highlands

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Media captionDebbie Martin reports from Kamuneru Kenya for the Schools World Service

The roads in this highland area in north-west Kenya are among the worst in the country.

Unsurfaced, the mix of clay and rocks is turned into a treacherous slide by frequent rain.

There is very little access to motor transport. Apart from a few scooter taxis, for the majority of Mount Elgon's residents the only way to travel is on foot.

For Isabel and Dixon, pupils at Kamuneru Primary School, that means 5km (three miles) to school and back every day.

The secondary school pupils are required to wear shoes as part of their uniform, but at Kamuneru Primary and others like it, the uniform only deals with clothes. Most of the younger children in the area are barefoot.

Isabel and Dixon said the journey to school is extremely difficult because of poor roads.

Barefoot journey

They pointed out the scars on their bare feet and legs, and both agreed that there was nothing enjoyable about their daily commute.

Image caption Most younger children are barefoot

It's hard to accept that there is so little fun for the hundreds of young children walking Mount Elgon's roads to school each morning.

We pressed Isabel and Dixon to think of something they looked forward to and Isabel finally conceded that when walking with friends at least for a while they forget their troubles.

For Isabel, this has year has been particularly difficult. She told us that just a few weeks earlier, her mother had developed complications following childbirth and died before she could reach hospital.

First taste

Mount Elgon region is a fertile area and the village of Kamuneru is surrounded by green fields full of crops.

But teachers warned us that there is little for most of their pupils to eat as the maize is not yet ready to eat and that families usually have little to eat while they wait for the harvest.

While 11-year-old Isabel and her classmate 13-year-old Dixon waited to be interviewed, we offered them buns and drinks. It was, they told us, the first time either had tasted cake.

The people in this region have more than their share of hardship. But this high altitude, tough environment and daily fitness regime have made the district famous for producing some of the world's best long distance runners.

In nearby Iten, the famous mountain training camp, it is said that the quality of young athletes is so high that it is more difficult to earn a place in the Kenyan running squad than it is to win an Olympic medal once you qualify.

Image caption Isabel and Dixon from Kamuneru Primary

Kip Keino won gold and silver track medals at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, and again in Munich in 1972. Today he is head of Kenya's Olympic Committee.

We asked him about his journey to school as he presided over team trials in Nairobi. It was he said, some 20km a day, run each way, and including a race home for lunch and back.

Two of today's Kenyan athletics stars, brother and sister Moses and Linet Masai, went to secondary school in Kamuneru just a few years ago. They inspire pupils like Dixon to follow in their footsteps.

With an eye on his future, Dixon chooses not to walk to school. "I run," he says, "as I want to try my luck in athletics."

Schools World Service is a BBC-British Council co-production.

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