Women in Kenya Change Their Lives Through Basic Literacy Skills

By Dominic Kirui, Special to The Epoch Times
October 15, 2018 Updated: October 17, 2018

LESHUTA, Kenya—The setting sun’s rays fall across the green vegetation cover brought forth by the rains after a four-year drought. Children are playing in a field near a corrugated iron structure.

Inside the structure, 60-year-old Naatana Karbolo is among a group of women learning basic literacy skills. They come to the class every afternoon after their house chores, and bring their children with them, leaving them to play outside as they attend their lessons.

A teacher helps Naatana Karbolo with writing in a community school.
A teacher helps Naatana Karbolo with writing in an adult education class in Narok County, Kenya, on May 4, 2018. (Dominic Kirui/Special to The Epoch Times)

Before Karbolo joined the adult education classes in July last year, the mother of six could not effectively run her business because she could neither read nor write. Now, her business is realizing profits.

Karbolo is a businesswoman at a local shopping center in Naikarra, a small town in Narok County, about 80 miles west of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. She sells maize, cooking fat, and cell phone airtime cards. Since taking the classes, she says her business has improved.

“I used to make losses since I would occasionally give out debts and depend on my memory to remember who I had given some items on credit to. Without seeing them, at times I would forget about it and it meant a loss in my business,” she told The Epoch Times.

But, like many of her classmates who are involved in business, she can now keep records of the debtors and record sales. This became possible only after the women finally received an opportunity to get an education.

High Illiteracy

About 758 million people around the world are illiterate, according to data from the U.N. education agency, UNESCO. Of these, two thirds are women. Of all the regions in Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest level of illiteracy compared to other regions.

The Naikarra market in Narok County, Kenya.
The Naikarra market in Narok County, Kenya, on May 4, 2018. (Dominic Kirui/Special to The Epoch Times)

In Kenya’s Narok County, which is inhabited by a pastoralist community facing the challenges of drought and other retrogressive traditions, illiteracy levels are still high, especially among the women who bear the brunt of all these challenges.

Narok County is ranked as 42nd out of the 47 counties in the country in terms of literacy levels, according to the Kenya Commission for Revenue Allocation.

This may be partly related to cultural reasons, as among the Maasai community in Kenya, where until recently, most girls were denied an opportunity to go to school, as they would undergo female genital mutilation and be married off.

In August last year, Action Africa Help-International, an NGO working in the area, introduced the women to basic literacy skills, opening them up to the world of reading and writing so they could run their businesses and be economically independent.

Nariku Kuyo arranges her items for sale at Naikarra market.
Nariku Kuyo arranges her items for sale at Naikarra market in Narok County, Kenya, on May 4, 2018. (Dominic Kirui/Special to The Epoch Times)

Twenty-nine-year-old Nariku Kuyo is also among the group of women attending classes every evening at Olaburra. Like Karbolo, she is involved in business, selling maize and cell phone airtime cards.

“Since I was born, I never knew school; I have never been in a classroom until last year. My job at home was to look after my father’s goats, and at the age of 19, I got married,” said Kuyo, now a mother of five.


The next day, the women were off to the marketplace at Naikarra, a few miles away from their school. While they settle down to sell their goods, another group of women carrying bags is seated in a group, neither buying nor selling.

Kasiang’u Namako is one of these women. She is a mother of ten and doesn’t know her exact age, and wasn’t carrying her identity card. Women here are mostly not permitted by their husbands to carry their identity cards, which their husbands keep. A woman is also rarely allowed to own livestock, or other property. They fully depend on their husbands.

Women sit while waiting for their husbands to sell cattle or goats.
Women sit while waiting for their husbands to sell cattle or goats and give them money to buy food at Naikarra market in Narok County in Kenya on May 4, 2018. (Dominic Kirui/Special to The Epoch Times)

Namako has been sitting for four hours waiting for her husband to sell a cow that he had brought to the marketplace that morning, so that he could give her money to buy food and other household supplies.

“I’ve been waiting since 8 a.m. and it is now noon. If by bad luck he doesn’t sell the cow, then it will mean that we’ll just have to go back home without the shopping,” Namako said via a translator.

Monica Chepng’etich, the Adult Education officer representing the national government in Narok Sub-county, says that education for the pastoralist women, especially the Maasai, can be a turnaround in their lives.

“At first, girl circumcision led to the feeling that they had become adults, leading to early marriage, and this barred them from getting an education,” Chepng’etich said. “But adult education of the women has been effective in ensuring that abuse and domestic violence against them reduces and, as a result, helped them be part of decision-making on matters involving themselves and their families.”

As for Namako and her friends who have not been enrolled in the classes, they are appreciative of the chance to become educated.

“We admire how our friends from Olaburra have been taught and can now even speak Swahili. We desire to also be part of such a thing, but our village is far from their village. If the government or anyone takes us to learn, to read, we will be happy,” she said.