Woman brings literacy to Pokot using mobile library

Edith Cherotich walks with storybooks and reads with children

In Summary

• Nomadic community lets children go to school in turns so there is labour available

• Cherotich fills the gap in education by going round at 11am with a mobile library

Edith Cherotich holds a storybook during a reading session in Lokna, West Pokot county
Edith Cherotich holds a storybook during a reading session in Lokna, West Pokot county

Communities in the Pokot region are known for being semi-nomadic pastoralists.

But a young girl, Edith Cherotich, from the village chose to be a ‘nomadic’ teacher.

Cherotich comes from West Pokot county.

Her village, Lokna, is located a few kilometers from Kapenguria town.

She doesn’t walk with cows and other animals looking for pasture.

Cherotich walks with storybooks, looking to impart knowledge to young children.

On a bright sunny morning in Lokna village, we set off with a suitcase, drum, blackboard and a set of chalk.

Her mother packs a dish of food and a bottle of water to keep us going for the day.

“Everyone in my family supports this project that I have: my siblings, Mum and Dad,” she said.

Cherotich is going on her journey to a homestead in Lokna.

Together with her crew of three other people, we trek for a few metres before we get to our destination.

When we get to the village, she hits the drum to alert families that she has arrived for reading sessions.

"The first time I met these kids to read, I cried. The kids were very excited because some had never seen or owned storybooks," she said.

On hearing the drum sounds, children flocked out of their homes and joined us.

About 10 of them gathered under a tree, waiting for us to prepare the set-up.

We swiftly set up the blackboard on a double stand and begin our classes.

The children range in age between three and 20 years. Some are schoolchildren while others are ‘partial’ learners.

“Unfortunately some families have kids going to school in turns. If one goes today, the other one goes tomorrow,” Cherotich said.

The ‘partial’ learning is made to ensure cattle, chickens and goats have one child to take care of them.

Children in Lokna village, West Pokot County read books under a tree.
Children in Lokna village, West Pokot County read books under a tree.

During the reading sessions, children are asked to select a book of their choice.

On the day we visit Lokna, it’s a Monday, when most children are reporting to school for the third term.

But we find a number of kids who are not reporting to school.

“We do not have a curriculum which we teach them. I help them read storybooks,” Cherotich said.

On several occasions, she starts her sessions with around 10 children.

“But by the time I’m halfway with the reading, you get more kids join us, and that makes me happy,” she said.

As we progress with the sessions, more children joined us.

This idea of restoring literacy in Pokot began in a manyatta library at Sinenden village.

Cherotich talked to the chief and a few mamas, who bought her idea.

Together, they set up a round, grass-thatched, muddy manyatta library.

“We are dealing with a semi-nomadic and pastoralist community, which has this conflict between formal education and their lifestyle,” she said.

The library has been smeared with black mud at the top and bottom, while the middle wider part has red mud.

“I have seen a lot of buildings that are being put up and nobody uses them. So I put up something traditional that they can relate with,” she said.

This is also because a manyatta library would mostly serve students going to school.

Cherotich meets the kids at 11am, when they go for a break.

A student walks towards the library manyatta in Sinenden village, West Pokot County
A student walks towards the library manyatta in Sinenden village, West Pokot County


The mobile librarian decided to be accessible, even to children who stay at home during school time.

 “Growing up in a literate family, I saw the need to go after my dreams, but I never knew how important it was until now,” she said.

Just like Cherotich, most of the children learn a lot from themselves in the herding field.

Cherotich was no exemption. She learnt to pronounce her first word while herding cattle.

“The first word I said was ‘home’, and we were herding our cattle with my siblings,” she said.

Cherotich runs an organisation called ‘Colour my dreams Africa’.

She started the organisation with books from her home library.

“I was lucky to have literate parents. My dad exposed us to books, he loved reading novels,” she said.

Her ability to have access to books in her village didn’t mean every child can read books.

Even despite trying to set up a ‘library manyata’, Cherotich said the children prefer the mobile one.

In the black briefcase, we have a number of books for any age group of kids available for classes.

They include Big Shark little shark, all about me, how lightning and thunder came, and I can jump.

When she wakes up in the morning, Edith Cherotich combines a set of storybooks.

The books selected are mostly based on themes fronting acquisition of life skills.

In other weeks, she visits neighbouring villages, which are Nakwijit, Chemakew and Miskwony.

Before she gets to a village to read with the children, she plans with parents and teachers.

They assemble the children for the lessons a few minutes before Cherotich arrives.

Cherotich is a trained teacher but she only taught for one year in Dadaab before she decided to follow her new activity.

“I never saw myself being a teacher, I always saw myself working in the media,” she said.

With the help of local leaders, Cherotich already conducted mapping to find suitable areas for reading hubs in future.

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