At the edge of the lush and expansive Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Narok South stands a compact rectangular mud structure with cracked walls and a bumpy and uneven earth floor. Old and rusty corrugated iron sheets generously let in light through their gaping holes, which is a relief considering the little windows that can barely light up the room.
This mud building, which used to be a classroom, makes for an awkward entrance into a a modern school compound with well-built concrete classrooms.
But the school, Emorijoi Primary School, chooses to keep the mud classroom for a reason. “This classroom is a reminder of where his school has come from and why we as an organization exist,” states Justus Mwendwa, the director of WE Villages, which works under Free the Children Kenya.
Thanks to the construction of the school by Free the Children, an international non-profit organization that works in Narok County, thousands of Maasai and Kipsigis children are now able to get an education at the public school.
Just a few years ago, as 57-year-old Ms. Jane Marindany, a resident of the Bogani area recounts, the two communities were warring, and as a result, majority of the children, especially from the Maasai community, were unable to learn.
“When we came here in 2002 the school had just 191 students. The Maasai pupils were unable to report as they had to cross the entire Bogani region, where the chaos were centred, to reach the school. Only two brave Maasai pupils came to school,” says Robin Wiszowaty, the Kenya Program Director for Free the Children.
Wiszowaty reveals that the school enrollment is now at more than 700 pupils and contrary to ten years ago when the school had just a handful of girls, the student population now has slightly more girls than boys.
Getting so many students to the school was not easy, as wiszowaty says. In 2010, Emorijoi Primary School had to be moved to a different location as the Kipsigis and Maasai fought over the original site of the school.
To build a new school, the organisation first required permission from the community, and so it organised a meeting with Maasai and Kipsigis elders. Unknown to them at the time, the meeting would mark a significant step towards the achievement of peace in the Bogani region.
According to Free the Children and some members of the community, the elders were thrilled with the idea of a quality school for their children. Consequently, they decided to stop feuding, allowing for the construction and consequent opening of the school in Bogani.
Ms. Marindany says she has seen a ripple effect ever since the school was built. She narrates, “There was so much insecurity before the construction. We used to sleep in the area between the ceiling and roof in our huts because we feared cattle rustlers would attack us any time. It was a very risky period, so many families were attacked and so many lost their cattle”.
She adds, “Ten, twenty years ago you could not find a Maasai or Kipsigis marrying the other, but intermarriages are now very common”.
With the truce, the community is now beginning to realise the benefits of peace. More children in the region are not only attending school, but also transitioning to secondary school and university. A good number of pupils, especially those from needy families in Narok, go on to attend the two girls' and one boys' private secondary school built by Free the Children.
While Marindany can neither read nor write and her three eldest children did not go past primary school, her fourth born, who passed through Emorijoi, has joined college, becoming the first in the family lineage to ever attend college.
With increased education, Wiszowaty reveals, more people in the community are becoming wary of the implications of Female Genital Mutilation, thereby lowering the prevalence of the practice.
While chaos has reduced significantly over the last two decades, tension between the two communities still exists in Trans Mara East and Trans Mara West. Historically, these disputes have been over a range of issues, from cattle rustling to watering points and land.
Through the drilling of boreholes and installation of water points across Narok by Free the Children, feuds over water have declined.
The installation of water points, according to Wiszowaty, has additionally contributed to the excellence of girls in the school since they no longer have to walk long distances to find water.
Over the years, nearly 12,000 pupils have found education through Emorijoi and similar schools built by Free the Children. While access to education is easier now and life is gradually easing in the region, occasional conflicts and wild animals, which pupils sometimes encounter when walking between home and school, remain to pose a threat.