Heated exchange Mukumu Girls principal had with Education PS Belio Kipsang

Education PS Belio Kipsang had an exchange with Mukumu Girls’ High School principal Frida Ndolo on April 5, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

She was quietly going about her work away from media scrutiny until the death of two students raised the nation’s eyebrows.

The demises led to the indefinite closure of the institution, prompting her to blame “toxic” media for “causing panic” among the learners.

Besides parents and guardians, attention from health and education ministries, leaders and the media has turned on her: Frida Ndolo, the principal of Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls’ High School.

On Wednesday, April 5, Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha and Basic Education Principal Secretary visited Mukumu Girls’ High School in Kakamega County to establish what might have caused contamination in food and water that the learners took.

The food contamination left two students dead and tens hospitalised.

“Why are you on the phone?” PS Kipsang told Ndolo, adding: “Don't you realise we are here on an important fact-finding mission, to establish what caused the deaths of our daughters?”

In response, Ndolo said: “I am calling the person who should be opening the food store.”

In a quick rejoinder, Kipsang said: “All along, you knew we would be visiting [your school]. So, why did you not plan early enough?”

Appearing nervous, Ndolo disconnected the call as the respective ministries’ officials looked at her. She, thereafter, remained silent throughout the session led by CS Nakhumicha and PS Kipsang.

The principal had earlier attracted backlash from Kenyans, including Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, after her April 3 notice on the closure of the school went viral.

Addressing parents in the letter, she said: “This is to notify you that following consultation with the Ministry of Education directors and TSC directors, it has been decided that the students break off to heal of the toxic environment already created by the media.”

Chrispinus Juma, a Facebook user, took issue with the blame directed at the media by Ndolo.

“Ndolo claims the media has created a toxic environment for learners, yet postmortem conducted on the two deceased girls indicated they died of gastritis or stomach inflammation. Was it not toxic food or water that killed the girls?” he posed.

Western Region Director of Education Jared Obiero said an investigation into management of the school was urgently needed, hence the decision to close it indefinitely.

“Last year (2022), a student of Mukumu Girls’ High School died. Recently, the school lost two more students in a case of suspected food poisoning. We cannot allow this to continue. The school will remain closed until the safety of our children is guaranteed,” he said.

In her address to journalists after a tour of the school on Wednesday, Health CS Nakhumicha said she was disappointed to see how dirty the school’s kitchen was.

“You (Ndolo) must ensure the kitchen is cleaned,” the minister told the school’s principal, adding that even the dining tables were unsightly.

As this happens, Ndolo is only three months away from retiring, as she will attain the retirement age of 60.

Meanwhile, food and water samples from Mukumu Girls’ High School were collected for analysis at KEMRI laboratories. The results are yet to be out.