Kakamega Primary headteacher is calling for help to better structures after 15 pupils died.
Sylvester Barasa is emotional as he clings to the photograph of his granddaughter, who was among 15 pupils killed in a stampede at Kakamega Primary School on February 2.
Also in the hands of the 70-year-old are the shoes of Lavender Akosa, 11. They were recovered from the scene and kept in the headteacher’s office.
It was on Friday and Barasa had been invited to the school to collect Lavender’s items. The photograph had been brought to the school, after the incident, to help in identifying the girl.
Incidentally, this was the same day the Salvation Army church was meeting the affected parents and members of staff at the school for counselling.
The church was also offering financial support to the affected parents.
Mr Barasa said Lavender’s death has devastated his entire family and that memories of that fateful day are still haunting them.
“She had been in her new school for three weeks only. Death is cruel. But we know time is the best healer. We hope to get over Lavender’s death some time,” Barasa says, as he joins other parents in a tent where Stephen Chipkurui, Salvation Army territorial commissioner in charge of Kenya West, is delivering a sermon.
He added: “I am hoping the government will soon release the report of the investigations that have been going on for us to know what caused all these.”
Mr Chipkurui and members of the church said they were meeting the parents and teachers ‘to offer special prayers and wipe their teachers tears after the death of the pupils’.
And as this was happening, learning was going on. Some classrooms in the three-storey building where the pupils died were occupied, with teachers taking pupils through their lessons.
Other pupils were playing in the field while others, curious to know what the gathering was all about, drew near the meeting tent.
Obadia Aluvisia, a foster father to Fidel Kumbuti, who was in Standard Five, wants the authorities to guarantee learners safety while in school.
“It was heartbreaking when we were informed that our children had died. Viewing their bodies at the mortuary, when they had left home healthy and well, was so devastating. We are hoping the government can correct the wrongs on the buildings so the safety of our children is guaranteed,” says Aluvisia.
“We are also asking the police to speed up investigations so we can know exactly what caused the deaths of our beloved children,” Aluvisia said.
He spoke on Friday as Governor Wycliffe Oparanya shared out Sh6 million collected during a requiem mass for the pupils to the bereaved families at the county headquarters.
Aluvisia petitioned the school management to identify a church that would give teachers and learners spiritual nourishment. Kakamega Primary has no specific sponsoring church as is the case with most schools.
Most parents are concerned about the building where the stampede happened, especially after engineers said it does not meet minimum standards of safety.
Ibrahim Keverenge, who lost his daughter, claims parents have not been given a chance to play any role in ensuring safety of pupils.
“I left Kakamega Primary in 1998 and I can tell you since then, there has been little improvement, especially as far as infrastructure is concerned. This is despite a huge number of learners currently at the school,” says Keverenge.
“Then, the school had a population of about 900 pupils and the facilities were adequate. “We had just about two streams per class unlike today where the school has up to three streams. My daughter’s classroom had 68 pupils.”
“It was sad to see my daughter Naila lying dead on the fateful evening,” he said.
“We were expecting the government to improve the safety at the school before it is reopened. Unfortunately, this was not done,” Keverenge added.
While the Institution of Engineers of Kenya had made several recommendations, including making adjustments to the fateful building, it has emerged the school lacks the funds to undertake such works.
“We need support to undertake such adjustments,” said Dickson Wanyangu, the school’s head teacher.
Jane Mutulili, from the engineers’ institute, said they have handed over their report to the inter-ministerial agency looking into the incident.
“The agency will make sure buildings at Kakamega Primary meet the safety standards ,” said Ms Mutulili.
“Normalcy is fast returning to the school. As you can see, teachers are busy in the classrooms, teaching as usual. The counselling sessions and prayers are helping us to move on,” said Mr Wanyangu.
He adds: “The incident took a heavy toll but we thank all stakeholders - the national and county governments, parents, the church and the local community - for the support they have given us. We will continue to soldier on.”
He said: “Contrary to reports that pupils are not ready to come back, we have 3,058 learners with us. The ECD has additional 225 pupils,” he says.