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How flooding has united school, community for children’s sake

By Robert Amalemba | May 25th 2021
Humphreys Ouma, Headteacher Musoma AC Primary School helps pupils to alight from a boat after arriving at the school for studies. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Mwalimu Humphreys Ouma waits patiently for two wooden canoes ferrying his pupils to manoeuvre a stretch of murky waters to the doorstep of a classroom. He waits to help them disembark to attend classes.

This has been the routine for the last year, since the back-flow of waters from Lake Victoria and floods engulfed part of Musoma Primary School, where he is the headteacher.

The boat takes five minutes navigating the 100m stretch to the classrooms, carrying 10 to 15 pupils per trip in the flood-hit Bunyala of Budalang’i Sub-County, some 60km from Busia town.

The trips are in the morning, during lunch break and evening when nearly 400 pupils sign off. “Before the floods struck in March last year, we had about 600 pupils. Some stopped reporting to school after their homes were submerged and some could not stand the pressure of making an average four trips in the boat daily,” says Ouma.

Ouma, who joined the school four years ago, says pupils and teachers have been battling water-borne infections that compelled some to relocate.

He is only thankful that his school is not fully submerged like Musoma Secondary a stone’s throw away. Musoma Primary’s assembly and playground are the only affected.

Ouma, 54, has since set camp at the school through the flooding period in a five-by-three metres room within the staff room, where he spends the nights. But he first had to convince his family and visit them regularly.

“If you were in my shoes, you would realise you have to be around the school throughout to respond to the emerging risks and counsel pupils and teachers to cope,” says Ouma.

The teacher believes he is doing nothing special other than “simply caring for my large school family like a father should,” alongside 14 teachers.

His deputy Sylvester Omumi says when Ouma moved his bed to the staff room, other teachers were jolted to go the extra mile. “Your conscience cannot allow you to report to school late when you sleep at home, knowing that the headmaster spent the night at school. You will come early and leave late to relieve him of some duties, and that’s what most of us do,” says Mr Omumi.

The two canoes were donated by parents. And they (canoes) are rowed by volunteer pupils from the school and even an alumnus, Thomas Okido, who sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination at the school last year and scored 366 marks. “The 14-year-old (Okido) could have scored higher had we been connected to the power grid and offered the ideal learning environment,” says Ouma.

Kenya Power cut supply to schools and businesses in Bunyala after assessing risks associated with the lake’s back flow and flooding. At least 3,000 families in Budalang’i were displaced.

Parents whose homes were not submerged have also helped.

Ajiambo Liondo has temporarily donated her land to houses a 12m by 10m makeshift structure that is the ECDE centre for Musoma Primary, some 500 metres from the main school. “The ECDE pupils no longer have to cross to school in canoes. One fell and almost drowned. The incident prompted the parent to give us part of her land where parents set up this classroom,” said Janet Nabwire, a teacher at the ECDE section.

The structure made of reeds and tree poles houses up to 130 pupils.

George Owuoche, the Education officer in charge in Budalangi Sub-county, says schools in Bunyala South have been severely affected by the floods, with Musoma primary and secondary schools bearing the harshest consequences.

“We had to relocate Musoma Secondary School with 400 students to higher grounds... The primary section is on a raised area,” he said.

Busia County Education executive Pancras Opata feels the lack of goodwill from the national government is to blame for the perennial problem.

“Flooding has been a common feature in Budalangi. Good thing is that the academics have done multiple research that suggest permanent ways of dealing with them floods for good but it appears the national government is taking unnecessarily long to implement the proposals,” says Prof Opata. When he visited the area last year, Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa promised a lasting solution. It is yet to arrive.

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