University terror attack survivors yet to heal, nine years on

Kisii University students sign a white piece of cloth at their institution on April 01,2016 in commemoration of the first anniversary of the 147 students killed by terrorists at Garissa University. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The events leading to the Garissa University terror attack are still fresh in the mind of Rajab Abwamu, nine years later.

Abwamu says he still lives in fear despite the fact that the attack happened on the morning of April 2, 2015.

Abwamu, who hails from Kakamega County, was among the survivors of the deadly attack from Western region who gathered at Bungoma High school to mark the day.

“I was shot in the right hand and until today, I still feel the pain. I can’t lift heavy loads, not even a five-litre jerrican with water,” he said.

He said on the fateful day, he was among the students who were airlifted to Nairobi courtesy of Amref to get specialised treatment.

To date, he said, “whenever I am in a storey building, I always check if there’s any exit just in case another attack occurs again. I always wonder whether my life will ever be the same again,” said Abwamu.

“I know I behave weirdly, I am not myself after the terror attack, the counselling we got was not enough as I am still traumatised psychologically. I feel, I would need more counselling sessions,” said Abwamu.

The attack left over 147 people dead, mainly students and many others nursing life-threatening injuries.

It was carried out by four gunmen of Al-Shabab terror group, a terrorist organisation linked to al-Qaeda.

They carried the attack at dawn when the students were dead asleep in their hostels.

Mark Simiyu, another survivor of the attack says that after the mass killings at the university, majority of the students did not get any support from the government.

He notes that many of them are still stranded at home after they discontinued their studies.

“After the attack, the Kenyan government did not help us much, it is the help we got from other countries that intervened giving some of us scholarships to continue with education,” said Simiyu.

When friends and relatives staged a vigil in honor of the slained Garissa University students. [File, Standard]

He argues that currently, those who did not land the scholarship to continue with education, are living a painful life where their families haven’t accepted the burden of raising “our colleagues who suffered permanent disability.”

“While at university our parents had a lot of expectations but now that we are at home we remind them of the attack,” Simiyu noted.

Everline Wanakacha cannot travel beyond Eldoret because of fear. She fears police officers in uniform with guns. 

“Whenever I see them, my heart beats faster and I cannot move past them,” she said.

“I can never sleep in the house alone because memories of the attack come back to haunt me the whole night,” said Wanakacha.

She urged the government and organisations offering guiding and counselling to consider helping the terror attack survivors, saying “we are not yet healed.”

Duncan Ombunga, said he was left with bullet scars on the entire body. 

“We did not have time to attend the burial ceremonies of our fallen colleagues as at the time, we were still traumatised and even had no money to travel and say goodbye to our friends,” said Ombunga.

Maximillah Okello, a counsellor who mobilised the survivors said the government should reward the survivors with jobs to enable them support their families.

The attack was the second-deadliest in Kenya.  Al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in 1998 killed more than 200 people.