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My last moments with a teenager who died from the Kisii bus crash, she hoped to walk again

By Paul Wafula | July 17th 2013

By Paul Wafula

[email protected]

Kenya: It is about 4.30pm on Friday when we are finally ushered into the special ward nursing victims of the Kisii students school bus accident. By now, the death toll from the horrific crash had risen to 20.

Twelve students died at the accident scene on the Kisii-Nyamache road last Wednesday night when the driver of a bus ferrying over 60 students and teachers from various schools in Marani division lost control and the bus rolled several times.

We are at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), Kenya’s biggest referral hospital, where we have been waiting for more than 30 minutes.

I am in the company of Ms Karen Onyiego. She is the mother of Vivian Onyiego,16, a victim of the bus crash. She is grateful her daughter is not among those who perished the accident.

“I’m lucky Vivian was one of those who were airlifted from Kisii courtesy of a presidential directive. I do not know what I would have done,” Karen tells me as we head towards the entrance, navigating our way through a labyrinth of anxious relatives.

High spirits

Inside the ward we finally meet Vivian. You cannot immediately tell her arm is broken, that she has fractured ribs or has a critical cervical injury. But even worse, she cannot feel her feet. She is tucked tightly in the bed with a light-blue cover. Her neck is supported by a brace.

About ten of us converge around her and introduce ourselves. Other small crowds gather at different beds in the ward. One can see the entire ward from the door. There are four nurses around a table to the right of the ward. The curtains are then drawn for privacy.

Besides my photographer and I, the rest are relatives and friends from Gesurura, a maize and banana-growing village in Marani district of Kisii County. Friends from Nairobi have also visited her.

Says Vivian in short husky sentences: “My mum was called on Tuesday evening and told to ask me to be at school by midday the following day.”

Vivian is an outstanding badminton player and a member of the school team at Etanda Secondary School.

The following morning seven players left for school in high spirits to participate in the annual Kisii County Secondary School Ball Games being held in Nyamache, Gucha district.

This was a welcome break from the teachers’ strike that had forced Vivian to stay at home. “We were seven students who played badminton from my school recalled to attend the games,” she says.

On Wednesday, she was ferried to the central picking point at Marani to wait for the bus. The students waited for hours. The bus finally arrived at 3pm.

“We were the last school to be picked and the bus was already full. We were about 88 of us. So we were forced to stand. I was standing next to the door,” Vivian narrates.

The bus was carrying luggage for the students who were to spend between two to three days at the sports tournament and it was ferrying students from at least six schools among them Keyoro, Tambach, Nyakeyo, Itibo, Engoto and Etanda secondary schools.

Vivian says that at Kisii the bus stopped at a petrol station to refuel. But according to her, almost in a premonition of what was to befall them, the bus driver of the Rioma Secondary School bus, which had been hired for the trip, almost knocked a public service vehicle.

And that was not all says Vivian: “He also brushed the side mirror of another car.”

But these minor incidents did not prepare the passengers for the danger that lurked ahead. In the middle of her narration the hospital serves her dinner, a plate of Ugali, cabbages and beef stew.

From her condition, it is clear she would not eat. “It is her second meal and she hasn’t been able to eat,” her mother tells me.

Instead she asks for water but says she would like to drink it after we are done with the interview. After a slight pause, she signals that she is ready to continue with her story.

Vivian cannot recall the exact time the bus left Kisii for Nyamache, the venue of the games but she says it was well past 4pm. During the trip, the driver had a disagreement with the students over playing loud music. But after Kisii, the driver was playing some music. Some students were excitedly singing along.

Loud music

“There were about four teachers in the bus, two were from my school. The driver was also playing music,” Vivian says. “The driver was speeding. I remember at one time during the trip one of the teachers asked the driver to slow down. Some students also shouted to him that he needed to slow down,” she adds.

Angela Manyara, 15, who was on the same bus, corroborated her story. Angela remembers gospel music by Christina Shusho playing some minutes before the accident.

“Before the bus crashed, there was this irritating smell of a tyre burning. When we passed Kiong’ongi area, after the hill, we started descending a steep slope and that was the last thing I saw before the bend. Next, the bus was rolling,” Angela recalls.

The speeding bus rolled downhill where a sharp bend waited in ambush. Students remember the squeal of tyres, the crash of metal and the nauseating wail of anguish and pain after impact. Moments later, they recall the rescue mission that saw them end up at Kisii’s Level Five hospital in pain.

Vivian’s mother’s phone rang at about 6pm. The anxious caller told her about the horrific accident. She was exasperated. She left immediately and boarded a matatu for the hospital.

She got to the hospital and began a frantic search for her daughter.

She recalls: “I searched for her everywhere in the hospital and I was almost giving up.” She was finally able to establish that Vivian had gone into a minor theatre.

So she sat outside the waiting room and waited. It was not until about 2am when Vivian was wheeled into the ward that she saw her.

Relief soon melted into despair. The hospital gave her the devastating news every parent dreads. “I was told she had broken her limbs and her spine and that she must get specialised treatment.”

Walk again

Still, despite the stunning news, she was grateful that the Government came in and arranged a medical evacuation to Nairobi. And that finally, was how Vivian had ended up at Kenyatta hospital.

As we conclude the interview, I learn that Vivian has been scheduled for an operation early the following day, (on July 13).

I thank her for telling her story to me and wish her all the best in the operation. Vivian looks into my eyes and whispers: “I want to walk again.”

I wish her a quick recovery and promise to call back her mother, Karen, the following day to find out how her operation went. As I leave, her colleague, Angela, requests me to get her a copy of the newspaper once the story is published.

I promise.

On the back of my mind, I am convinced that systems failed Vivian and Angela. The safeguards put in place by the Ministry of Education to protect school children during transportation and provide the best transit measures for them failed miserably.

The teachers should have ensured the bus was not over-loaded, I think, and that the driver behind the wheels was competent.

The Kisii accident is a case study of just how irresponsible school administrators, teachers and police are; endangering lives of innocent school children.

As promised on Sunday July 14 I called Karen to check on Vivian. She had gone in for surgery the day before. How was she feeling?

She did not make it.

Vivian had gone in for the early morning operation. Karen had waited for her to come out.

At about 4pm, she saw a nurse prepare the bed Vivian had occupied previously and another patient was placed on the bed.

Puzzled, she inquired about her daughter. It was only then that she learnt that Vivian had died in the operating theatre.

My heart completely broke. Another young beautiful flower had been extinguished on our roads.

Vivian Onyiego will be laid to rest on Friday in Marani, Kisii County.

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