Providing Knowledge Access for Kenya’s Pastoral Communities


Working with Horn of Development Initiative (HODI) we’re bringing knowledge through an audio learning initiative to nomadic and pastoral communities in Kenya’s arid north.  Called Audio Learning in Kenya (ALIK), our solar and wind-up Lifeplayer MP3s will deliver age and gender appropriate content in local languages. Proud and hardworking Borana, Gabra, Rendile, Samburu, Turkana and Burji communities will be able to access educational and practical content in ways never before possible.

ALIK is launching in Kenya’s largest county, Marsabit, where HODI is based.  Sparsely populated, Marsabit County is twice the size of Belgium and has more livestock than people.  Bordering Ethiopia, its population is less than 300,000 and the majority are pastoralists. This makes service delivery for health, water, sanitation and education difficult.

“We are excited about this initiative. The Lifeplayer helps us bridge the knowledge gap with access to information and education,” said Fatuma Adan, HODI’s founder and executive director.   “People cannot develop themselves and make good decisions if they don’t have accurate information.  And with few trained teachers, parents often hire untrained teachers. The Lifeplayer will bridge this gap.”

Education in Pastoral Communities

Marsabit County is heavily dependent on external relief. This is due to a combination of factors – harsh living conditions, a protracted drought, and a lack of investment in education and health from the central government.  It’s also physically and politically isolated from the capital, Nairobi.  Only recently was a paved highway completed which shortened the journey from more than two days to less than 10 hours.  HODI is changing the scenario in Marsabit County.  It’s building resilient communities through Mala-Marii, a tested community dialogue process that puts women in the lead.

With a Gabra community under the elder’s tree

Historically, women have had little participation in development and decision-making. Socio-economic, cultural and religious biases, whether Muslim or Christian, have placed females on the margins. They have been subjected to harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), early forced marriage, and a profound lack of access to education, health care and other services.  Literacy levels for women are extremely low, an estimated 10%. They simply have not had an opportunity to gain an education.

Cell phone and radio ownership is also low, while internet penetration is negligible. Nomadic communities are usually made up of between 60 and 75 families.  There may be one or two working radio sets and seldom more than three shared cell phones.  Almost always, these are the property of men. In many parts of the county cell phone coverage is non-existent or sporadic.

Three Knowledge Projects in One

Working with and in the communities that HODI serves, ALIK is made up of three focused initiatives for three groups – school children, women and men.  Each group will receive Lifeplayers pre-loaded with content relevant to them.

Schools – Called SoundStart, Lifeplayers will be placed in primary schools starting from pre-school, which is a Kenyan government priority.  Even mobile schools in nomadic pastoralist communities moving with their livestock will benefit.  Hiring and retaining trained teachers who speak local languages is not easy. Lifeplayers will be loaded with curriculum content to a school’s specific needs. Schools may request Swahili or English language instruction. SoundStart will help to bridge the gap in these under-resourced, often remote schoools.

Women – Her Voice, will provideLifeplayers to women’s groups.  Many of the groups participate in HODI Savings Groups enabling them to start small-scale busineses, yet most women are illiterate. Content will include literacy, numeracy, health, hygiene, mother and baby care and discuss traditional practices harmful to women. Her Voice will allow women to listen and discuss content and radio programmes when it’s convenient for them.  The women are interested in creating their own content as well as recording radio shows on the Lifeplayer.

Men – Called Voices of the Elders, the elders still hold a very important place in the pastoralist communities.  The support of this group is essential.  Groups of men  will have their own Lifeplayers pre-loaded with content on livestock health and management, business skills, literacy, numeracy, men’s health and much more.

We believe in HODI’s deep approach to sustainable development in building resilient communities.  We’ve seen it work. Coupled with Lifeline’s technology, ALIK will be help fill a much-wanted need void for education and information,  In turn, it will help reduce poverty and improve the quality of people lives.