Union urges probe into ‘mysterious’ teachers’ deaths

A union has called for an investigation into what they said were mysterious deaths of teachers in Taita Taveta.

Five teachers -- three from secondary and two from primary schools -- have died in two weeks in the county, causing panic and concern within the education sector.

With several others reportedly taken ill, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) is now demanding a probe to get to the bottom of the “baffling” deaths.

Senior branch officials of Kuppet, one of two unions that agitate for the welfare of teachers in the country, said the deaths had caused panic among teachers, and something needed to be done to address the problem.

“Unfortunately, the teachers are dying while on duty, some in unclear circumstances. Walter Juma of Bura Girls died while talking to his wife,” said Kuppet Branch Executive Secretary Shedrack Mutungi. 

Among the dead are Apollo Nyaswanga (Voi Boys Secondary School), Beatrice Anyango and Juma, both of Bura Girls. Bura Girls has also lost a board member.

Another teacher from Munda Secondary School lost an 11-month-old baby, said Mr Mutungi.

Of particular concern to the union are the two recent deaths at Bura Girls. The official claimed that one of the school’s senior teachers is suffering from a severe back ache.

One of the teachers was in class when he fell sick, Mutungi said. He was admitted to a hospital where he died three hours later.

Speaking to Saturday Standard, senior county education and Bura Girls officials likewise expressed concern but described the deaths as natural.

Our inquiries showed that at least one of the teachers may have succumbed to a terminal illness.

Bura Girls Principal Eunice Wambua, said: “God knows why it (the deaths) has happened and we are really depressed”.

Teacher Beatrice Anyango, 29, died on January 9 while his colleague Juma, 27, died on January 14. Both teachers hailed from Siaya County.

Ms Wambua said Ms Anyango died of breast cancer that was detected late. “The killer disease had spread all over her body. She died while undergoing treatment at Pandya Hospital in Mombasa,” she said.

Shocking news

Most shocking to parents, teachers and students, she said, was Juma’s death less than a week after Anyango’s death.

Juma collapsed in his house, never to wake up. “There was no medical history that we know of. Juma played volleyball,” the principal said.

“He took a shower after work and played with his two children. He was in his sitting room talking and laughing with his wife who was in the bedroom when tragedy struck. He suddenly went quiet, and when his wife went to check on him, he was unconscious.”

Neighbours rushed him to St Joseph’s Shelter of Hope Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. 

“We have asked ourselves many questions. Why is it only our school that has been rocked by deaths? Only God knows,” said Wambua.

A year ago, the school was in the news again after its principal, Asumpta Munyao, collapsed and died in Machakos town.

A postmortem of Juma, who will be buried today, revealed that air was trapped in his lungs, causing capillaries to burst leading to his death. 

An official of Kuppet said the work environment has of late become demanding and that some of their members are not coping well.

The official said some of their members are undergoing stress at their places of work, and asked for the intervention of their employer, Teachers Service Commission.

“Teachers are suffering from stress. Part of this may be attributed to rigid policies and the controversial teacher appraisal and development programme. There is much stress and this may have contributed to the sickness of the dozens of teachers in Taita Taveta,” he claimed.

New County Director of Education Simon Mwangi Wanjohi dismissed as baseless and retrogressive claims that teachers were stressed.

“The deaths are unfortunate. But they have nothing to do with the work regime,” said the Education officer in an interview yesterday.

“Everybody, myself included, is working hard to help improve the poor standards of education. Work pressure is not to blame,” responded Mr Wanjohi.

Mwatate OCPD Monica Kimani said the deaths had caused concern in the region.  

Anyango was buried last weekend while Juma will be buried today.

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