Evelyn Mkite is a Fahamu Fellow 2013 based in Cheptais location in the Mt Elgon region in Bungoma County, western Kenya. Her activism work revolves around fighting against child labour in Cheptais with the intent of keeping them in school.
In the Mt Elgon region there has been an upsurge in school dropping-out over the last couple of years. This is as a result of a number of contributing factors such as the re-introduction of the ‘Shamba System’, armed conflict in the recent history of the region, poverty and certain cultural practices.
The Plantation Establishment for Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS), better known as the Shamba System, is a government programme which was re-initiated in 2008. The programme sought to promote the livelihoods of the communities that live near forests through agro-conservation; they would do their subsistence farming on allocated land parcels while tending the forest. The wisdom of this programme has been brought to question. However it is the resulting social conditions in the Mt Elgon case that have given credence to Evelyn’s work in advocacy.
It turns out that the beneficiaries of this forest land in Mt Elgon are not the needy of Mt Elgon. These individuals are not cultivating their allocated land themselves; they are busy running their various entrepreneurial ventures in towns. In turn they either lease out the government land or hire farm hands who most often than not are children, especially girls.
As you will quick learn when with Evelyn, children advocacy can’t be divorced from woman advocacy and in often they tend to be one and the same. Following the armed conflict between the government and the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) back in 2005 and onwards, a big segment of the Mt Elgon community has experienced impoverishment. The conflict left many households without men. Many were recruited in the SLDF and consequently killed by government forces; others were government officials killed by the SLDF. The poverty has pushed children out of school and into the forests to farm and in other cases into early marriages with the able in the community.
Evelyn’s work is largely on awareness where with the assistance of the district education officials she has taken her campaigns all around Chaptais to whatever social gathering that is convened. She works a great lot with children, teaching and creating awareness of their rights and giving access for interventions where need be. This is seen in her recent work against child sexual violence cases in Cheptais. To this effect, together with her host organization Mt Elgon Resident Association (MERA), Evelyn has worked with several women’s groups for example Mt Elgon region Widow’s programme and Dairy products women’s initiative.