Dangerous crossings: Pupils risk their lives to attend school

A woman carries her daughter across river Makindu in Muhoroni. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

It is 12:40pm and a group of young school children are standing at the banks of the fast-flowing river Makindu waiting fearfully to wade through the dangerous river.

They remove some of their clothes and stuff them into their bags before holding their hands together as the older ones lead them in making the dangerous crossing.

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

This is the experience the pupils of Okwach Primary School in Muhoroni Constituency have to contend with daily in their pursuit of education even as a Sh8 million bridge whose construction stalled in 2015 continues to waste away.

Taking advantage

The river has claimed several lives as authorities engage in blame games over the construction of the bridge to serve the key region.

So dire is the situation that parents and teachers have to wait for the pupils at the bank of the river every morning and also escort them back home during lunch break as well as after school.

Other locals have also taken advantage of the situation to make a killing from the vulnerable children and are charging their parents Sh50 for each crossing.

When The Standard visited the area, some of the younger children were crying after failing to find their parents at the banks with some volunteers helping them cross.

Interviews with a number of pupils, parents and teachers, established the frustrations that they go through on a daily basis. The situation gets worse whenever it rains upstream.

Mary Akinyi, a mother of three, narrated how she has to wake up very early in the morning to help her three children cross the killer river to school.

“It is a sad state of affairs because whenever I have an emergency, my children cannot go to school because I am scared of their safety,” said Akinyi.

She noted that the river recently swept away a woman whose body was found several kilometres downstream.

George Ouma, who is one of the few people who charges to help pupils to cross the river, also regretted the situation which has also placed the education of hundreds of children in jeopardy.

He charges Sh50 to assist children manouvre the raging waters, with those unable to part with the money sometimes compelled to miss school.

“We have to time when the children have been released to go for lunch and also in the evening to help them cross,” said Ouma, who also assists some of his relatives across.

He accused leaders in the region of turning a blind eye to the situation, and said the ongoing rains are likely to bar their children from attending school.

“We have written several letters and come 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.

The situation has forced teachers at Okwach to end their lessons early and send the children home before it rains.

Peter Sawo, a teacher at the school, told The Standard that he has to ensure every day that his pupils are safe and is among the teachers who escort the children home.

“It pains me whenever several pupils miss lessons because they cannot cross the river to attend school. I feel bad about it and that is why I have to change my clothes and help them cross the river,” said Mr Sawo.

Adversely affected

But it is not only the school children that are affected. Patients at the Makindu dispensary have also been adversely affected by the lack of a bridge to connect the region.

In many occasions, their families have been forced to seek alternative means of treatment.

Stephen Juma, a nurse at the facility, said that whenever the river swells, they are no unable to access the hospital.

“Most of the workers do not stay around at the facility and have to cross the river every day. At times we cannot cross the river when the water levels are high,” said Juma.

According to past records, a bridge that was meant to solve the problem received an allocation of Sh8 million during the 2015/2016 financial year.

Area MP James Koyoo yesterday told The Standard that he has already sought the intervention of the Kenya Rural Roads Authority to help address the problem.

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river MakinduThe Standard