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Children's daily brush with death to get to school

By Omelo Juliet | Jan 19th 2022 | 3 min read

A resident crossing Kumfunje bridge in Webuye, Bungoma County. Children pay Sh10 to use the bridge while adults pay Sh20.

In 1982, two locals came together to alleviate the suffering of residents following years of neglect by the government.

The two took matters into their hands and collected locally available materials to build a bridge across River Nzoia, to enable people to move between Webuye West and Lugari constituencies.

Forty years later, the makeshift bridge, built using wooden poles and wires, is still the one relied on by some residents of Bungoma and Kakamega counties.

George Karani, 70, from Lufwindiri village, Maraka ward in Webuye West, says he built the bridge in 1982 and named it ‘Kumufunje’ (wooden bridge)

The bridge that is 82 metres across River Nzoia connects Bungoma and Kakamega counties.

Mr Karani and Wilson Sirengo from Kabras in Lugari Constituency, Kakamega County, who died in 2010, were the brains behind the bridge.

It is made of wires and wooden poles on both sides and hangs precariously across the river. The floor of the bridge is made of dried wood branches.

It serves residents from the two counties who rely on the bridge to access the opposite sides.

Learners from Kakamega and Bungoma counties have a brush with death every day as they use the bridge to and from school.

Karani told The Standard that he and Sirengo had no idea the bridge would serve locals for 40 years despite the risks it poses to users.

They sourced wires from Nzoia Sugar company and also used locally available material.

Before it was built, several people had lost their lives trying to swim across the river.

Locals have been piling pressure on Bungoma and Kakamega county governments to build a modern bridge.

A man passes through Kumfunje Bridge in Webuye. 

“Leaders from Bungoma and Kakamega counties have visited this bridge before and discussed possibilities of having a new bridge put up but it appears the plans stalled,” said Karani.

Karani disclosed that people pay to use the bridge. The money goes towards its maintenance.

“Students pay Sh10 every day but other users pay Sh20. I routinely carry out maintenance to avert accidents.”

Every day, early in the morning, he goes across the bridge to check if it is in good shape and replaces weak posts and wires. “It is my responsibility to ensure that the bridge is in good shape. So every day I wake up at 5am to check if there are any loose wires and broken posts which I must replace before learners start going to school.”

There are six divers on standby to intervene in case anyone slips and falls into the river. “I pay them Sh200 every day,” says Karani.

“Since we constructed this bridge no deaths have occurred here, the divers help me in rescue missions, but accidents are rarely reported here.”

The divers also help people cross with their livestock at Sh500 per head. It is taboo for one to develop cold feet midway as they cross the bridge. “The scared ones are fined a sheep which is usually slaughtered at the river banks to appease the spirits of those who died in the river many years ago while swimming across.

Karani said they also receive tourists who pay up to Sh6,000 to use the bridge “The fee is higher because they only visit once,” said Karani.

Jeremiah Shem, 58, who uses the bridge frequenly, said it is high time the relevant authorities built a modern bridge. “It is risky crossing this bridge, our children’s safety cannot be guaranteed.

Lugari MP Ayub Savula had earlier said he would work together with his Webuye West counterpart Dan Wanyama to build the bridge.

However, yesterday, Savula told The Standard this would not be possible this financial year. “I am doing one bridge along River Kipkaren at a cost of Sh10 million but we have no plans to construct any other bridge along River Nzoia,” he said.

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