With many teachers refusing to return to Kenya's north-eastern region in the aftermath of brutal al-Shabaab attacks in Mandera County, scores of volunteers have signed up to ensure schools remain open and students continue with their education, officials and teachers said.
Since November 22nd, when al-Shabaab pulled 11 teachers from a bus and killed them, along with 17 other passengers, teachers posted to the county have been demanding to be transferred to safer areas. The Kenya National Union of Teachers has backed their demands while the Teachers Service Commission, the teachers' employer, has said the safety concerns have been adequately addressed and ordered teachers to return to work.
The ensuing teachers' strike has paralysed public education in Wajir, Mandera and Garissa counties, causing chaos for thousands of children and families.
But now, local volunteers are providing a sliver of hope to students in Mandera County.
The volunteers, who include county government officials, retired teachers, former students, college students and business professionals, have signed up to teach to help mitigate the crisis, Mandera County acting director of education Ismail Barrow says
School administrators are under instruction to take all reasonable steps to keep the schools open and lessons on schedule for the children, Barrow said.
"Desperate situations call for desperate measures," he said. "Schools in other parts of the country are operating normally but we were lagging behind because of the teachers' failure to report back."
Of the 1,406 teachers deployed in Mandera, 607 are from the local community and the rest are external, according to the TSC.
"However, we have gone around and found a local solution to the problem," Barrow said. "It started with a few volunteers and now virtually every school has a volunteer teacher as we try to find a long-term solution to the crisis."
Prospective volunteers must register at the school they wish to work for and have at least finished secondary school in order to be approved to teach, he said.
Volunteer teachers 'a blessing'
The volunteer teachers have been a blessing in this time of crisis but will also provide a bank of temporary teachers to help during future crises, Barrow said.
Mandera Secondary School now has ten volunteer teachers, head teacher Ibrahim Hassan Sheto says.
"Of the 15 teachers from outside the region only five reported back," he said. "Before the volunteers signed up, we had seven teachers sharing the school workload."
At Moi Girls Secondary School, just two teachers out of 19 from outside the region reported to their classrooms, said deputy head teacher Mohammed Hillow.
"We had seven teachers [for] 12 classes," he said. "The workload has been lessened by ten volunteers."
Volunteers have been scheduled so they can still attend to their other commitments, he said, and classes have been merged to ensure children can remain in school.