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Free sand and water, but island on Lake Victoria faces distress

Abandoned Maduwa dispensary that used to serve residents of Maduwa village in Budalangi Constituency, Busia county. The village has now turned into an 'Island' as Lake Victoria waters have slowly and steadily surrounded it. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Residents of Maduwa Island located in Lake Victoria know what it means to endure a life of hardship.

Theirs is an isolated community that survives without the barest amenities such as roads and electricity.

There are no health facilities or vehicles on the island. The daily prayer of locals is not to fall sick.

On Wednesday, The Standard team undertook an arduous one-hour journey to the island. It was not an easy trip being propelled along by a single-motor wooden boat without life vests.

From Osieko beach, we rode precariously down River Yala through narrow passageways and across Lake Victoria to our destination.

The town of Osieko lies on the border of Siaya and Busia counties. Administratively, Maduwa is under Busia County, where the chief also lives.

Our first stop was the only government-run school, Maduwa Primary, which has a population of more than 200 pupils and 10 teachers.

Head-teacher James Mwari, who has been at the school for the last two years, said they were "surviving by the grace of God." “We had a boat and engine but it broke down. It is, therefore, not easy to paddle the boat to the mainland."

He added that circumstances had forced some of the pupils to become reluctant boarders.

"Even though it is not official, some pupils decided to come with bedding and they turn the classrooms into dormitories at night. They also cook for themselves because their homes are far and they cannot commute," said the teacher.

Mwari revealed that they were forced to open the school more than two weeks after the official opening date.

Moses Amotto, a teacher at the school, said learning was suspended for one week after teachers fell sick due to a malaria outbreak.

"Life is really difficult here and it is ironic that the government only concentrates on established schools instead of supporting schools that struggle like this one,” said Mr Amotto.

The teacher said the number of learners fluctuated because parents regularly transferred their children to other schools. "Last year we had 270 pupils. Our 17 candidates were forced to sit for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in Osieko Primary School."

There are no shops on the island, and the only free commodities are water and sand. Everything else has to be brought in from the mainland, and the shopping is done in bulk.

Even the water cannot be described as safe for drinking without treatment. The smell of decay hangs over the polluted lake that is also contaminated by the actions of sand harvesters.

Sleepless nights

It is, however, the lack of healthcare that gives residents sleepless nights.

According to Margaret Chai, 70, two pregnant women died last year after they developed complications during delivery.

"The incidents happened at night and because we could not get a boat to rush them to Bondo Hospital or Port Victoria Hospital in Budalang'i, they died,” said Ms Chai.

When we visited, the shores of the island were dotted with unattended boats, with residents revealing that the once-busy landing sites were now a shadow of their former bustling selves.

Fishermen lazed by the shore, grumbling about hunger and poverty. Their anguish, they claimed, was the result of over-fishing, siltation and flooding.

James Abuoga, a resident, put it more succinctly; their woes were self-inflicted because of uncontrolled sand mining, deforestation and cultivation that crept to the edge of the lake.

"We can blame the perennial flooding on the water back-flow from River Yala, but human actions have also contributed to the suffering," said Mr Abuoga.

He urged the Siaya County Government to raise the Goye causeway, which is situated on the main Bondo-Usenge-Osieko highway, and separates Usare from Lake Victoria, to address the back-flow problem.