The Sanya people traditionally lived in the East African coastal forests, hunting the animals and living off the natural resources. Although people no longer live inside Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, a large population of mostly Giriama people now live around the forest boundary. Roughly 104,000 people live in the fifty or so villages bordering the forest. Most of these people are subsistence farmers, growing enough maize, cassava and beans for themselves and their families.
Around Mida Creek, people rely heavily on fishing and mangrove cutting for food and building materials. Their only income is derived from any excess which they are able to sell. Earning enough to provide for their children's school fees is therefore very difficult. As a result many children receive a limited education, and very few have the funds to attend secondary school. Without secondary school education in Kenya it would be extremely hard to find employment. These are future doctors, lawyers and great people in the society but without the ASSETS scholarship their dreams were as good as dead.
These local people are heavily reliant on "free" natural resources to be able to pay for their children's school fees. These communities therefore have a strong relationship with the forest and the creek, hence the need to provide sustainable sources of income which derive directly from the local environment.
Forest, Creek & People
The coastal people have drawn resources from Arabuko- Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek since time immemorial. However, over a decade ago, resource use by local people was severely restricted. The people therefore felt alienated from the forest. An additional source of bitterness was the damage to local farms caused by forest elephants and baboons. In 1992, more than half of the community wanted the entire forest to be cleared.
Thankfully attitudes started to change. People living around the forest were allowed to harvest certain resources sustainably and an extensive environmental education programme is having an impact.
However, many people still regard the forest as a source of problem animals, while receiving little benefit from it. At the same time, due to a rapid increase in population around the forest and creek, there is immense pressure on resources and land. If the forest is to survive, it is essential that local people value it. This can only happen when they benefit from living next to one of the most important ecosystems in Africa.
Kipepeo, a local butterfly farming project, has shown that economic benefits can really change peoples' attitudes towards the forest. Financial benefits are also essential if people are to break away from the poverty which keeps them reliant on the "free" natural resources.
The Education Problem
Education, especially at the secondary school level, is a luxury for most people living around Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek.
Whilst primary school is subsidised by the government and therefore more affordable, the comparatively high cost of secondary school fees means few families can afford it. In the year 2000, in Malindi District (where Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek are located) 23,000 out of 25,000 children who qualified for secondary school did not attend, largely because they could not afford it. Many dreams got shattered due to inability to raise the money for school fees.
Most people around the forest and creek remain bound by poverty and cannot afford the education which would offer them the opportunity of a better standard of living.
The provision of scholarships is a significant step in alleviating this problem in that it gives an opportunity for these children to go school apart from helping to conserve these important environmental hotspots. In the end it is a win-win for both the locals and the environment.