Thursday, January 01, 2009

1 Tears as Kiambaa survivors relive flames of death

By Joseph Murimi

The scars on their frail bodies tell it all.
Four children who miraculously escaped from the burning Kiambaa church in Eldoret tell moving accounts of how they survived as they mark the first anniversary of the horrific incident.


The survivors (from left) Mercy Wanjiru, Anthony Njoroge, Mary Wahito and Jedidah Wahito (carried and inset) after a Press conference in Nairobi, yesterday. They appealed for help to raise Sh30 million for treatment. Photos: Boniface Okendo/Standard
Their bodies full of scars, they recalled how raiders set the church ablaze, killing 28 people.
Tender young bodies were scarred for life as acts of madness engulfed the country this time last year.
The attack that shocked the world inflicted wounds on many children, who will carry scars forever.
It marked the lowest point in Kenya’s history as protests over the disputed presidential election results degenerated into an orgy of violence.
And as the children desperately seek assistance, the political class responsible for the violence retreated to idyllic coastal resorts to usher in the New Year.
Narrow escape

Yesterday, when they narrated their miraculous escape from the flames that devoured Kiambaa Church, Serena’s Amani room was dead silent.
Tears swelled in their eyes and flowed as memories of the horrific January 1, 2008, arson attack returned. The youngest– Jedidah Wahito - is now four years. She was saved from the petrol-powered fire by her aunt Mary Wahito Kariuki, 16, who also saved another sibling Anthony Njoroge, 11. Mary sustained burns as she rescued them. Anthony was burnt on the head and is yet to heal.

Severe burns

Mercy Wanjiru Njenga, 14, sustained severe burns all over her body. Her face was disfigured. The four spent a grueling nine months in hospital.
They spent three months at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and six months at Kijabe Mission Hospital. And now, they require Sh30 million for further treatment in the US.
It is for this reason that they called a Press conference to appeal to well wishers to help them raise the money. Already, their treatment has cost more than Sh2 million.
On that fateful day, Mercy and other Kiambaa residents took refuge at the Kenya Assembly of God Church. She recalled yesterday that they had been warned of an impending attack the previous day.
"We spent the night at the church even after we were told we would be attacked. In the morning of January 1, our mothers went to prepare breakfast and we were left with the children. Our fathers had slept in the open guarding us. But at around midday, we heard screams. Suddenly, we saw raiders armed with bows, arrows and pangas.

"They chased the men and killed some. We began escaping from the church but they forced us back. They secured the doors then poured petrol on mattresses and set them on fire. Within minutes, the entire church was in flames. People were burning. At this point, I grabbed the children and jumped out. Jedidah was strapped to my back. We managed to reach the road despite excruciating pain. A Good Samaritan took us to hospital," she recounted.
New Year

Anthony’s escape from the flames of death was the most dramatic. Like other boys of age, they had spent the night ushering the New Year guarding sheep. They had been informed of the impending attack and stayed away from the houses.
When the raiders attacked, Anthony and a group of other boys were pushed into the church.
He recounted how he jumped out of the burning building only to be kicked back.
He fell next to an armed raider.

"I bit him hard and as he struggled to free himself, I rushed out and ran very fast towards the road. By now, I had sustained burns on the head and my clothes were burning," he said.
Anthony’s mother Peninah Wangui Mbuthia broke down as she told her story. She looked at her son and wailed. Peninah says life has never been the same. She has been in and out of hospitals.

Assistance

Some NGOs have been helping them recover.
Disaster Foundation of Kenya established by the Africa Disaster Risk Reduction Organisation and the Centre for Justice and Crimes Against Humanity are spearheading efforts to assist ten survivors – the four children and six parents.
Chairman of the centre Mbuthi Gathenji said they require Sh30 million for medical expenses for the children.
He said well wishers including the Government have been of help but needed to do more.
Mbuthi asked well-wishers to make their donations to account number 0170293014368 at any Equity Bank branch.
He said the funds would be audited by a reputable accounting firm to ensure they are spent appropriately.

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