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Residents forced to take care of 200 orphans after the Sachangwan fire tragedy

COUNTIES
By KARANJA NJOROGE | March 29th 2014
Some of the children who lost their parents in the oil tanker tragedy, five years ago. (Photo:Standard/File)

By KARANJA NJOROGE

Sachangwan, Kenya:  Joseph Muchiri, 15, appears weighed down by the heavy responsibilities bestowed on him.

Muchiri lost his parents in the Sachangwan fire tragedy on January 31, 2009, and was forced to take on parental responsibilities. He was then 10 years old.

The teenager together with his siblings Ibrahim Kuhutha (14), Stephen Njoroge (12), Veronicah Wangari(10) and Miriam  Wacuka  (7) now live under the care of their aging grandmother. He is now a Standard Eight candidate at Nguzu River Primary School.

Being the eldest Muchiri, juggles schoolwork with helping his grandmother take care of his siblings. “She relies on casual work and sometimes it is difficult getting money to buy us school uniforms and food,’’ he says.

Five years since the Sachangwan oil tanker fire tragedy, life has never been the same for the residents. The tragedy thrust the sleepy village into the national limelight.

Each family in the area has a tale to tell about the accident that changed the lives of so many people. The eerie silence at the monument for the fire tragedy victims, is an indicator of the survivors’ scars and children who were orphaned.

On the ill-fated evening, residents received reports that an oil tanker had overturned and rushed to the scene to scoop fuel. Armed with any container they could lay their hands on, they jostled for the free fuel unaware they had just walked into a death trap.

At least 132 people died while more than 200 sustained serious injuries when the tanker exploded.

The tragedy left hundreds of children orphaned and residents of Sachangwan have been struggling to raise them. According to the chairperson of the Sachangwan Tragedy Unity Group Rosemary Chepkwony the community has more than 200 orphans.

“Most of the children are being taken care of by their grandparents some of whom are too frail to engage in any meaningful economic activity,” she says.

Susan Adhiambo, 13, a pupil at Maji Mazuri Primary School, lost her mother during the incident and is now under the care of her grandmother.

Adhiambo’s mother Mary Akinyi died with their four month baby strapped on her back. Cecilia Wambui, who lost her son, accuses the Government of neglecting them.

Deserted

Following the incident politicians, church leaders and well-wishers trooped to the area to console the bereaved families.

The leaders including former President Kibaki promised to assist the victims but this has never been honoured.

“We were only given Sh50,000 and while the Government  assured us it would continue assisting us our plight appears to have been forgotten,” Ms Wambui says.

The mausoleum erected to honour the victims remains deserted, save for the few motorists plying the Nakuru-Eldoret highway who occasionally make stop overs.

The anniversary of the tragedy which used to be held on January 31 is seemingly forgotten.

Ms Chepkwony says the victims filed cases seeking compensation from the Government but this have been pending before courts in Nakuru and Nairobi.

“But due to financial constraints most of us have been unable to follow up on the court cases,” she says.

She says the support group has on numerous occasions tried to seek assistance from the authorities in vain.

The rising number of deaths of the survivors has raised concern while others are living in a state of despair.

Problems afflicting survivors of the tragedy have been attributed to lack of psycho-social support, which could have assisted them overcome trauma.

“We have several survivors who suffered stroke, depression and paralysis while some of those who lost families are yet to come to terms with the traumatic event,” Chepkwony says.

 “Assistance will go towards settlement of hospital bills, provision of related humanitarian assistance, provision of social and psychological assistance to ensure that those who need counselling are able to receive  it and provision  of  food, health care and education  for orphans,” he said during a special funeral service on February  9,  2009. 

Villagers refuted claims that most of the residents perished in the tragedy. “Residents from far and wide trooped to the scene and it is not true that all casualties were from here,” she adds.

The Government declared a week of national mourning with flags flying at half-mast. A committee was formed to raise funds to clear medical bills and offer humanitarian assistance to victims and those of the Nakumatt fire tragedy in Nairobi.

The committee raised cash and material donations amounting to Sh126 million.

A breakdown of how the funds were spent indicated that Sh48 million cleared medical bills, Sh15 million for humanitarian assistance for 300 victims while Sh2 million was used to build a mausoleum at the mass grave site. Some Sh60 million was to construct a special ward at the Nakuru Provincial General Hospital for those seriously injured.

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