On January 3, Nivah Odwori left her New Jersey home for a valuable cause — to help hundreds of Haitians recover from political unrest and a hurricane. She had called her mother in Samia to pass New Year greetings and inform her of the news that she was travelling to Haiti to continue with her calling — helping the poor.
She worked with UN Volunteers (UNV), offering humanitarian assistance to families in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and driving a programme on stabilising the country’s electoral system. That was to be the last time she ever talked to her family. Nivah became one of the more than 100,000 people who were killed when a massive earthquake struck Haiti.
“We were informed of the sad news on Friday,” said family spokesman Magero Gumo. Nivah, a sister-in-law of Regional Development minister Fred Gumo, was among 206 volunteers who were serving with the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti.
The group consisted of seven other Kenyans but information about their status has not been provided. UNV stated that 151 volunteers had been accounted for and “UNV is actively seeking confirmation of the others.”
Nivah was positively identified because of the job tag she was wearing at the time, said Mr Magero. In a statement, UNV said: “The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is deeply saddened by the death of UNV volunteer Ms Nivah Odwori, 36, of Kenya who died in the Haiti earthquake.”
At the time the Nation contacted the family, Mr Gumo was said to be in the US in an attempt to have the body flown home. But there are difficulties because the airport in Port-au-Prince is closed. “As we speak, the body is in Haiti but my father (minister Gumo) is overseeing the transfer to Miami from where it will be flown to Kenya,” said Mr Magero.
The family has been meeting in Nairobi to arrange the funeral. And as the Kenyan family awaits the arrival of the body, messages of condolences continue to pour in of a woman many described as “compassionate” and “social”.
Prior to her last appointment, she was a UNV volunteer District Electoral Adviser with the UN Mission in Nepal, and she also worked with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), including serving as an adviser to its delegation to the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in 2006.
UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri said: “Nivah was a compassionate and talented individual who had chosen to apply her skills to the cause of peace and development, as a volunteer. She was highly motivated and enthusiastic and this is a great loss to the mission, her family and her friends.”
In Nairobi, the family told of a woman who loved to help people in need. “She loved to work with people in hardship areas,” said Magero. Before leaving Kenya for Canada in 1997, Nivah was a volunteer with the Kenya Red Cross Society in Nairobi. “This was a beautiful girl, and she’s gone,” said Mr Lee Mesham, whose family Nivah lived with for 10 years until last July — first as a nanny, then as part of the family.
Nivah obtained a Masters degree in diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University in the US, where she completed a thesis on conflict resolution challenges in Sudan and India. Back home, the Kenya Red Cross Society is intensifying its efforst to mobilise funds to assist the quake victims.
The initiative launched last week has collected Sh312,114. The M-Pesa service donations had realised Sh297,114 and Sh15,000 in cheques by Thursday. Donations can be sent to KRCS through M-Pesa service number 508000.