Roots of Change: Transforming Narok County’s Landscape a Tree at a Time

Stanley Kioko a student at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School prepares to plant a tree at his school.
Victoria Musimbi Kenya March 29, 2024

When Stanley Kioko enrolled at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School in the Narok South Sub County of Narok County three years ago, he had no idea his path would lead him to a compelling story of profound change. Back then, the school looked like a desert. The landscape in shades of brown and beige, stretched as far as the eye could see, cracked and thirsty. The classrooms, weather-beaten and dilapidated, stood like ancient relics, bearing witness to years of neglect. The few trees left were struggling to survive, with hardly any leaves left. 

“When I joined this school four years ago, it was dry everywhere,” reminisces Kioko, his voice tinged with the weight of memories. “We had few classes and students, there were few trees, and there was no water.”

Kioko remembers the tough journeys he and his fellow students undertook, trekking more than six kilometers under the scorching sun, their footsteps stirring up clouds of dust into the air, all in pursuit of water.

Stanley Kioko a student at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School prepares to plant a tree at his school.

Stanley Kioko a student at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School prepares to plant a tree at his school.

For Kioko and his peers, each day brought new challenges. The winds, fierce and unrelenting, bore down upon the fragile structures, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of their education. And when one day the winds made real her threats bringing down one of the classrooms, learning had to be halted.

“That day, we were so scared. The teachers asked us to go home and we had to wait for the classroom to be repaired before we could resume studies. The winds were often so frightening we dreaded them,” Kioko recounted.

In the face of these challenges, Nguzo Africa, an organization dedicated to fostering community resilience through environmental stewardship emerged, giving the school a glimmer of hope. Through strategic alliances and a shared commitment to positive change, Nguzo Africa donated 1,800 saplings to Kotolian, heralding the dawn of a transformative journey, visible in the school today. 

The organization has been at the forefront of changing the mindsets of the community toward tree planting and tree growing. 

The donation by Nguzo Africa was made possible through its partners including Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) – which works to promote the sustainable development of communities through social investment, resource mobilization, endowment building and grant-making, and I&M Foundation, who support initiatives that bring positive impact to the society in different areas among them environmental conservation.

Expressing profound gratitude to Nguzo Africa, Mr. Isaac Kipkoech, the Environmental Club Patron, said the saplings had unfolded a new era for Kotolian.

“We are profoundly grateful since as a school now, we have water, an energy-saving jiko that has lessened the burden on students, and the learners eat on time,” Mr. Kipkoech said, “The inception of the tree planting program three years ago was a beacon of hope during our time of dire need. It not only addressed the pressing issue of drought by attracting rainfall but also provided crucial protection against strong winds for both the school infrastructure and its students.”

Mr. Kipkoech underwent extensive training facilitated by Nguzo Africa in the art of tree cultivation. Empowered with newfound knowledge, he subsequently imparted this wisdom to the members of the Environmental Club, entrusting them with the responsibility of stewarding the greenery that would soon adorn their school grounds. With diligence and care, they embarked on a mission to introduce a diverse array of tree species, carefully selecting those renowned for their resilience in drought-prone environments. Thornless acacias, pines, cypresses, casuarinas, and African olive trees were among the varieties planted, each chosen for its ability to thrive amidst challenging conditions. 

Mr. Isaac Kipkoech, the Environmental Club Patron at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

Mr. Isaac Kipkoech, the Environmental Club Patron at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

Through meticulous efforts encompassing weeding, watering, and tender nurturing, the club members ensured the flourishing growth of their arboreal charges. Additionally, the installation of water tanks proved invaluable, enabling the school community to harvest precious rainwater for both irrigation purposes and personal consumption, thereby fostering a sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystem. Kioko himself became deeply involved, learning the intricacies of tree care and nurturing.

“I have learnt so much about trees,” he says. “The spacing of the hole and how deep it should be and to take care of trees in general.”

Daniel Pere, the cook at the school, reflected on the transformative impact of Nguzo Africa’s intervention.

“In the past, the learners had to walk long distances to get firewood, and the choking smoke was also a problem. At that time, we only had one cooking jiko and food always took time to be prepared,” said Pere. 

An installed water tank at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

An installed water tank at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

He noted that Nguzo Africa’s provision of two energy-saving jikos had significantly improved their quality of life. According to him, these jikos not only reduced the consumption of firewood but also maintained food warmth for extended periods, ensuring timely meals for the students. Pere emphasized that this improvement enabled students to focus on their studies, highlighting the increase in enrolment from his previous capacity of cooking for 200 students to now catering to 450.

 

Daniel Pere, a cook at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

As the trees took root, their impact extended far beyond the school grounds. Ratia Ridge Primary School, in Narok North once plagued by similar challenges, found solace in the promise of change.

Mr. Anthony Njogu, the Headteacher at Ratia Ridge, reflected on the challenges the school faced in the past, stating that it was always dry but when it rained, severe floods hindered learning.

He recounted, “When I joined this school, it had countable trees, we had strong winds, and the school also struggled with limited infrastructure with barely 150 learners.” 

Through Nguzo Africa’s initiatives, Ratia Ridge Primary School received 1000 saplings, transforming the landscape and creating a more conducive learning environment.

The two energy-saving Jikos installed at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

The two energy-saving Jikos installed at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

Mr. Ngugi marveled at the sweeping transformation that had unfolded over the past three years, underscoring the profound changes in both environmental sustainability and educational infrastructure. 

“We now revel in frequent rains and have mastered the art of harvesting rainwater,” he observed. “The sprawling canopy of trees not only offers sanctuary from the sun for our students but also doubles as invaluable teaching aids for our competency-based curriculum (CBC).

He said the school’s enrollment had also surged to 400 learners, buoyed by the expansion of our classroom facilities.

Reflecting on the impact of Nguzo Africa’s initiatives, Josphat Ngatia, a Junior Secondary School learner in grade eight, expressed heartfelt appreciation.

“Nguzo Africa has indelibly reshaped our school landscape. Their unwavering support has cultivated a culture of environmental stewardship within our community,” he enthused.

Daniel Pere, a cook at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

Daniel Pere, a cook at Kotolian Mixed Day Secondary School

Ngatia said that armed with newfound knowledge about tree care, he has developed an intense passion for advocating for a healthy ecosystem. With the installation of water tanks, he noted that the long treks for water are now a thing of the past.

“It is a great honor to be recognized as the Environmental Club champion, having planted over a hundred trees both on campus and at home. Nguzo Africa acknowledged my work and awarded me a certificate, my immense source of pride,” said Ngatia. 

The impact of these initiatives extended beyond the school gates. Community members also benefited from grass for their livestock and protection against strong winds.  

The success of these initiatives was a testament to the power of collaboration. Organizations like the KCDF and the I&M Foundation played pivotal roles, driving progress and inspiring hope in the hearts of communities. 

“We work with community-based organizations to be able to build their capacity,” explained Emilly Omudho, the Team Lead for Livelihoods, Environmental, and Natural Resources Management at KCDF.

James Gatere, the Head of the I&M Foundation, highlighted the foundation’s overarching goal of bringing positive societal change through environmental empowerment, education, and economic upliftment.

“When we contemplate environmental conservation, our aim is not merely to effect change for the present, but to pave the way for a sustainable future,” Mr. Gatere articulated. “To achieve this, we recognize the imperative of instilling a progressive mindset in the younger generation.”

 

Gatere said the project was piloted in Narok, working with various learning institutions in a bid to get the communities to embrace a new culture. “A culture where it is not about planting trees, but growing trees and making sure they survive, bringing in clean energy, and once it is ingrained in various people it will be sustainable,” he said.    

Peering into the future, Mr. Elizaphan Ogechi, the Executive Director of Nguzo Africa, implored residents to persist in their tree-planting endeavors, underscoring the promising economic prospects associated with the establishment of value chains.

He further underscored the stipulations for tree donations to schools, emphasizing the necessity of fencing the premises to safeguard against livestock intrusion, maintaining sanitation standards, and pledging holistic stewardship of both trees and the natural environment.

According to the Entontol area chief Moses Dabaso, Nguzo Africa has been collaborating with the area administration and the Narok County government in having the community focus more on tree planting including the provision of seedlings.

“When we started these environmental protection and afforestation initiatives, that is government initiatives of reafforestation, we started going around telling them to plant trees in schools, in villages, in churches, and all other institutions,” said Dabaso. 

The community, however, cited the lack of seedlings as a challenge. “Luckily enough, I happened to meet the director of Nguzo Africa, in one of our meetings in Narok. I requested him to supply us with some seedlings. And actually, he gave us the first 800 seedlings which were planted here.”

Over three years, commencing in 2020, the project Ksh.8,526,140 and Nguzo Africa’s in-kind contribution of Ksh.2,535,140 targeted the pressing issues of drought, flooding, and food security, surpassing its initial objectives. With a remarkable achievement of planting over 92,000 trees across schools and communities, the endeavor, led by Mrs. Ogechi, holds significant promise for Narok County’s environmental sustainability and the well-being of the residents. 

Nguzo Africa’s tree nursery where community members and schools get their tree seedlings from 

Nguzo Africa’s tree nursery where community members and schools get their tree seedlings from

Other notable beneficiaries of the project include Ololulunga Primary School and Oloolorten Primary School. This widespread impact extended to 40 primary schools, 15 secondary schools, and 1 vocational training centre, engaging key stakeholders such as headteachers, learners, students, and the broader community. 

Additionally, the distribution of six energy-saving jikos to selected schools, along with improved stoves benefiting 50 households, and the provision of rainwater harvesting tanks underscored the project’s holistic approach.

Moreover, the establishment of a dedicated tree nursery reflects the project’s commitment to long-term sustainability and environmental stewardship.

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