Dangerous crossings: Agony as pupils risks their lives to attend school

Pupils from Okwach Primary school in Nyang'oma, Muhoroni. (Denish Ochieng/ Standard)
It is 12:40pm and a group of school children stand at the banks of River Makindu waiting fearfully for the swollen waters to go down before wading through for a return trip back home.

They remove some of their clothes and stuff them into their bags before holding hands. Older ones lead younger ones across the river.

At one point, one of the younger children, probably six years, is nearly swept away by the strong currents as an adult carrying a child on his shoulder intervenes and drags him to the bank.

This is the experience pupils of Okwach Primary School in Muhoroni Constituency have to contend with daily in their pursuit for education.

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Over the years, lives have been lost in the river as authorities engage in blame games over construction of a bridge to serve the key region. When the Saturday Standard visited, they found a dire situation where parents and teachers have to wait for pupils at the bank of the river every morning and escort them back home during lunch as well as after school. Other locals have taken advantage of the situation to make a kill from the vulnerable children, charging their parents Sh50 for each crossing.

George Ouma, a father who is also one of the few people who have volunteered to help pupils cross the river, regretted the situation that has also placed the education of hundreds of children in jeopardy. He charges children Sh50 to help them cross the river, with those unable to part with the amount sometimes missing school.

“We have to time the children at lunchtime and in the evening to help them cross,” said Ouma. He accused leaders in the region of turning a blind eye to the disaster that has also affected their economic activities.

Pupils from Okwach Primary school in Nyang'oma, Muhoroni in a picture taken on June 12, 2019 cross a river. Pupils from Makindu village have been forced to wade in a waist deep flowing water to cross to school as a bridge that was to be built lies unfinished for the past three years. (Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

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“We have written several letters to them and came up with a number of proposals but all we have seen is people visiting the place and taking pictures with no meaningful impact,” he said. Mary Akinyi has to wake up early to help her three children cross the river to school. “Whenever I have an emergency, my children do not go to school because I am afraid for their safety,” said Akinyi. She noted that the river recently swept away a woman.

The situation gets worse whenever it rains. Teachers have to end their lessons early and send the children home before the rains start pounding. Peter Sawo, a teacher at the school said that daily, he has to ensure that his pupils are safe - he is among the teachers who escort the children home. “It pains me whenever pupils miss lessons because they cannot cross the river. That is why I do not hesitate to change my clothes and help them cross the river,” said Sawo.

A woman carries her class four daughter learning at Okwach Primary school in Nyangoma, Muhoroni in a picture taken on June 12, 2019 to cross a river. Pupils from Makindu village have been forced to wade in a waist deep flowing water to cross to school as a bridge that was to be built lies unfinished for the past three years. (Denish Ochieng/ Standard)

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He said the situation has in the past affected their performance in exams but praised the dedication of his pupils to attend classes despite the risks they are exposed to. But it is not only the school children that are affected, patients at the Makindu Dispensary have also been affected by the lack of a bridge. According to past records, a bridge meant to solve the problem received Sh8 million for the 2015/2016 financial year by former Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma.

The project however stalled, with the county government remaining mum on its fate even as residents continue to suffer. The road connecting the two villages plus the bridge are projects of the county government.  

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