News 2008


Kenyan school for homeless children torched, teachers attacked, in postelection turmoil


Associated Press

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 Kenya.

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 headmaster's face.

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 safe.

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 beating."

"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 electrical wire.

"They said until Kibaki resigns, these things will happen,'" Murumba said.

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 awake.

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."