Leaders and members of Kenya's education unions are struggling to respond to the post-election violence and unrest that have convulsed their country since late December. Francis M. Ng'ang'a, Secretary General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, said that the union is working on an emergency programme to bring affected members food, clothing, blankets, and medicine as well as trauma counselling and emotional support.
Teachers have been among those killed, but it is not known precisely how many, he said.
The conflict began after the December 27 election, which returned President Mwai Kibaki by a narrow margin. The main opposition leader, Raila Odinga, says he was robbed of victory and Kibaki should stand down. International observers said the election fell so short of being free and fair that it is virtually impossible to tell who really won.
At least 1000 people have been killed and 300,000 more displaced in the ensuing clashes, which have increased tribal tensions and even escalated into "ethnic cleansing" in some areas, according to Jendayi Frazer, the top US diplomat for Africa. United Nations officials are reported as saying that the government has failed to protect civilians, including girls who were being raped at camps for displaced persons.
KNUT has appealed to the government and political party leaders to embrace dialogue as the way to resolve the conflict, Ng'ang'a said.
At the same time, EI is working to implement a solidarity action plan in cooperation with the three member unions in Kenya. "Education is key to restoring tolerance, confidence and stability in Kenyan society," said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.
The impact on Kenya's public school system has been devastating in both urban and rural areas, affecting more than 10 million learners. The United Nations Country Team in Kenya reports that 1.7 million children in early childhood education institutions, 8 million children in primary schools, 1.1 million pupils in secondary schools and more than 100,000 university students have been affected.
There were delays of two weeks or more in opening primary and secondary schools as well as public universities for the new semester in January. Some schools may not be able to reopen as they were damaged extensively by violent mobs, Ng'ang'a said, and other school grounds are being used by the Red Cross as camps for displaced persons.
Many teachers lost their homes through arson and looting, especially those who worked in the Rift Valley and other severely-affected regions. Some teachers fear for their safety and security, and are requesting transfers to less risky areas.
KNUT members have visited displaced persons in some camps to assess the situation, and have shared their information with other stakeholders to help find a political solution to the crisis.
"We have a lot of hope in the on-going negotiations for peace, initiated by eminent leaders in Africa led by the former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan," Ng'ang'a said.
Mr Annan heads a panel set up by the African Union, which includes former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela.