Puzzle of 2,000 absentee pupils in flood-ravaged Mai Mahiu school

Aftermath of the dam tragedy that killed over 60 people. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

Ngeya Primary School in Mai Mahiu, Nakuru county is struggling with an abnormally high rate of absenteeism since the flood tragedy that left 62 people dead and over 30 others missing.

Five days after schools reopened following a two-week delay over heavy rains that caused flooding, over 2,000 pupils have kept away from the classrooms. The school has a population of over 3,000, and education officials report that more than half the number has not reported to classrooms.

Parents and teachers are attributing their absence to trauma caused by the tragedy as well as the displacement of more than 100 families who are living in two camps in Mai Mahiu town. 

This came as a committee appointed to address the issues facing the families affected by the tragedy embarked on the process of buying school uniforms and books for the learners.

On Friday, the school head teacher Josephat Nduru, said most of the pupils came from the villages that were affected by the Mai Mahiu floods tragedy that occurred two weeks ago.

He said most of the students lost their belongings including school uniforms, books, and other school items, thus hindering them from attending classes.

“We have over 3,000 students in this school but over 2,000 who were affected by the dam tragedy are yet to report back as they are not mentally strong,” he said.

Nduru identified mental instability which has caused trauma as noticeable among the students even as counsellors continued engaging them and their parents.

He urged the government to avail counsellors and mentors to team up with the teachers who have formed a mental wellness team to address mental issues among the students.

A parent, Ann Wanjiru, noted that minors were the hardest hit mentally with many of them unable to sleep as they were traumatised by the incident.

“Many of the students are not in a position to report back to class and we are happy that teachers understand this and the only way forward is counselling,” she said.

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Mutua Kisilu said that learning had kicked off smoothly in most of the schools in the area.

Meanwhile, two secondary schools in Kakamega county failed to reopen on Monday after parents withdrew learners.

St Stephen’s Namulungu mixed secondary school and Namulungu Girls in Matungu constituency remain deserted with closed gate manned by a security guard, overgrown grass and vandalised school infrastructure. Stakeholders started raising concern after the schools with a population of  450 students failed to reopen as expected.

The Standard established that both schools were headed by one principal who later opted to phase out the girls’ school and decided to move some students to Namulungu Mixed Secondary School without consulting the sponsor, parents and other stakeholders.

On Tuesday, Bishop Joseph Wandera of ACK Mumias Diocese held a crisis meeting with the two school boards and demanded immediate reopening of the schools as well as suspension of the principal.

[Additional reporting by Benard Lusigi]