Kenyan school for homeless
children torched, teachers attacked, in postelection turmoil
By KATHARINE HOURELD
Feb. 4, 2008
SUGOI, Kenya - They survived life on the streets, drug use and
beatings before finding refuge at a children's home in western
Now children who struggled so hard to overcome their pasts fear
Kenya's postelection turmoil is threatening their future.
Over the weekend, their playmates turned on them, creeping out of
the surrounding coffee plantation smeared with clay and armed with
spears, machetes and bows and arrows. The attackers from the
surrounding village, who had just shared a game of soccer with
some of the children in the home, looted and burned the
Sugoi-Munsingen Children's Home and School. One child heard an
attacker mention President Mwai Kibaki.
The opposition accuses Kibaki of stealing Dec. 27 polls. Protests
quickly deteriorated into clashes in which more than 800 people
have died across the country. Much of the violence has pitted
other ethnic groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu people, long resented
for their perceived dominance of Kenyan business and politics.
Headmaster Samuel Rutto says the gangs who destroyed his school
are using politics as a cover while taking advantage of the chaos.
"This had nothing to do with the elections," Rutto said. "It is
just believed that (the school) belonged to the Kikuyus."
He said more than 100 attackers entered the school at around 9 p.m.
Saturday. They initially tried to stab him in the chest in front
of his horrified students, but the blade slid on his coat down his
side instead, he said.
The gang took almost everything _ the TV the older children had
been able to buy after laboring in the coffee plantation, students'
clothes, teachers' cell phones, even the spectacles from the
Sunday, his shoes ground pieces of chalk into the concrete floor.
A blizzard of ash fell from the walls of the library. Twisted
metal bunk beds and emptied strongboxes where children stored
their few possessions were all that remained of the dormitories. A
store of corn intended to feed the school next year was still in
flames, and an abandoned club acted as paperweight for charred
papers on the headmaster's desk.
Rutto's institution was run by the Presbyterian church, which has
a large Kikuyu population, he said. But it cared for street
children from all tribes, from all over the country.
"We have here Kalenjins, Luos, Kikuyus, Kisiis," he said. "But
here they are all children."
Seven-year-old Kevin Saisi is a Luo, the tribe of opposition
leader Raila Odinga. He and his 9-year-old brother were abandoned
by their parents and ended up on the streets before being picked
up by police and eventually sent to the school. There, they felt
Kevin bears a V-shaped scar on his forehead from a beating by his
uncle, from the time before he found a haven at Sugoi-Munsingen.
The attack on his school and home, he said, is "like I had another
"Even your friends at the last moment, they are going against you,"
said 18-year-old Christopher Murumba, who recognized some local
students under the white clay the attackers daubed on their faces.
They clubbed the teachers and whipped him and others with
"They said until Kibaki resigns, these things will happen,'"
The school does plan to rebuild, but not in the same location
because of security reasons. While plans are made, school
officials are searching for better short-term housing for students
who have been sleeping in a hall belonging to the Presbyterian
church in town since the attack.
The destruction of his beloved school is the latest chapter in
Murumba's troubled life. He was abandoned by his mother as a baby
and grew up on the streets, sniffing glue and drinking. He was
picked up by police and had spent two months in juvenile detention
by the time he was 10.
But as a member of the school's first class, he found teachers who
cared and a place to sleep without wondering who would kick him
He was hoping to graduate to secondary school this year and
dreamed of becoming a naval policeman. Now, he says, "I'm doubting
about my future."