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Parents find solace in son after Kyanguli arson attack

By | Nov 8th 2010 | 4 min read


The Kamba word tunga translates to "return". A child born in the wake of its sibling’s death is named Mutunga for a boy or Katunga for a girl meaning "the lost one that has returned".

Somewhere on the haunches of the now denuded Iveti Hills overlooking Machakos town live the Kiluus, and their five children. Both Hillary and Stellamaris Kiluu are schoolteachers. They remarkably have Mutunga in their brood.

Seven-year-old Mutunga arrived three years after the Kyanguli Secondary School fire incident to replace his brother, Kitata Kiluu. He was born nine years after the couple had called it quits with procreation. Explains Hillary: "Kitata was our first born. We lost him in the Kyanguli Secondary School inferno of March 26, 2001. He had just entered Form One.

Kitata’s name is the 10th among the 13 Form One students who burnt beyond recognition in the arson dormitory inferno.

Mutunga, whose parents confess was conceived on the advise of psychologist Dr David Ndetei to serve as a consolation to his distraught parents, dreads the school where his brother perished.

I am scared of that school

"He tells me ‘mum, I am scared of that school. Do not take me there when I grow up because I do not want to die like my brother,’" says Stellamaris.

Incidentally, the school located in a valley is visible from the Kiluu home on the hill and a day hardly passes without little Mutunga peering at it from the safety of his home.

"Mummy, why was he buried there and not here," he asks innocently, prompting his grieving mother to lie that there was no suitable site for a grave on the home compound.

"He nags me on this, but he remains the best thing that happened to our lives after the death of our son. It drove me nuts and had it not been for the counselling from Ndetei, I would have raved mad. He told us the only way to recoup our loss was by getting another child to fill the void he had left behind.

"We love him so much. He is our jewel," says Hillary of Mutunga, currently a Standard Two pupil at Mbukoni Primary School where his mother teaches.

Stellamaris says the tragedy spawned an anti-school phobia in one of the Kiluu siblings, 17-year-old Caleb Mumo Kiluu who, before he changed his mind with age had sworn never to go to secondary school. "He had expressed interest in becoming a pilot and pleaded with us to take him to college without going through a secondary school," says Hillary.

"When at last he agreed to go to a secondary school, we took him far away where nothing would remind him of Kyanguli," says Hillary.


Twins in school

To further reconcile with their fate, the Kiluus have retained their umbilicus with the school where they have twin daughters in Form Three.

Says Stellamaris: "I took my daughters there, first because they expressed the wish to be near their departed brother and second, to comfort my heart. The fact that they are there makes me visit my son’s burial site more often to pray for the peaceful repose of his soul."

She continues: "Close contact with the school and solidarity with other bereaved parents in whatever manner has helped reduce stress. I was present when the decision was made to bury our children in a mass grave and I have never missed the annual memorial event since the mass burial.

I routinely travelled to Nairobi to attend court sessions against the two ringleaders up to the day they were acquitted. I was in the meeting where appeal against the judgement was decided and was in High Court when the appeal case came up for mention recently.

I have learnt that living in denial of the reality does not help and that sharing one’s plight with others in a similar predicament reduces stress. We have lost about ten bereaved Kyanguli parents to stress alone, so far.

Affected parents

The Kiluus and other affected parents accuse the Government of abandonment. "We do not see them any more. We hold our annual memorial meetings alone at the school. Not even the local chief comes these days," says Hillary.

"We know our children will never come back, but we deserve moral support from the authorities and we cry for justice," he says, wondering why the deputy principal at the time of the tragedy who was charged with neglect was set free after only eight months in jail.

"We were shocked to see him free yet, as the teacher on duty on the fateful night, he bore the brunt for what happened," says Hillary.

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