The Moi Girls’ High School Nairobi principal spoke publicly for the first time on Thursday since the fire at the institution two weeks ago that killed nine girls.
Mrs Jael Mureithi relived the moments immediately after the fire in an emotional memorial service for the departed students, moving those in attendance to tears.
“This is one speech that no school administrator would ever wish to give,” said Mrs Mureithi, at the moving service held at the school. “It is one assembly that no teacher would want to attend. But we are here.”
The mass was attended by Form Four students who returned to school after a short break following the tragedy. Also present were Education PS Belio Kipsang, Deputy President’s wife Rachel Ruto, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, Nairobi Woman Rep Esther Passaris and Kibra MP Ken Okoth.
CRY FOR HELP
On September 2 the country woke up to the horror of a fire in one of the dormitories at the school in which eight girls were found dead.
A ninth succumbed to injuries sustained in the fire in hospital the following day. The pictures of the nine girls formed a shrine in the middle of the memorial grounds in the school field. Two girls are still in hospital with injuries.
Mrs Mureithi, who since the incident has stayed in the shadows and avoided the media, said teachers had moved with speed, some of them not fully clothed, to rescue the girls when they heard a cry for help from one of the security officers.
“We all rushed, not thinking of our nakedness. We tried to get as many girls out as we could. And our expectation had been that we had gotten all the girls out. It is only after the fire had died down that we discovered that we had lost some,” she said in a touching account that threw grief stricken parents and relatives attending the event into an emotional breakdown. Most could be seen shedding tears or being consoled by stronger relatives and friends who sat by their side.
The school’s head said the incident had brought great sadness to the school community. She said the incident had shaken the foundation of the school, and shattered the confidence and lives of the students left behind.
Board chairman Wesley Misoi said they had beefed up security at the institution the night before the incident happened.
“That Friday, we had tried to beef up security. There were security agencies and Lavington Security team were securing the school. Little did we know that inside the institution we might have an enemy,” he said, adding that the discovery of the bodies had broken them. “When looking at it — not in my capacity as a PS — but as a parent with children of the ages of these ones in high school, it is really tough that we have lost young ones. Young ones who would have made a difference in this country,” said Dr Kipsang.
The government has so far undertaken to pay the medical bills of those who have been hospitalised from the tragedy, as well the DNA identification process and mortuary services. It will also hand over Sh100,000 to the parents of the bereaved for burial ceremonies, said Dr Kipsang.
Mrs Ruto said: “As a mother, I stand here today to say that we will stand with you as the Lord enables us.”
Mr Okoth, the area MP, said it was important to learn from the tragedy the need to pay attention to children’s mental health and safety standards and precautions in schools.
“We have safety standards for schools, specifications for dormitories, evacuation ways, corridor sizes, door sizes, window rules about grilles. If the pain we feel now doesn’t make us set those standards and make sure they are implemented, then our girls will have died in vain,” he added. He called on all parents and schools boards to ensure the rules are followed.
He said some Sh40 million is required urgently for the reconstruction of the burnt dormitory. Towards this end, the leaders made personal donations and pledges of about Sh32 million. “The Kenyan people need to know that the school needs Sh8 million to build the dormitory quickly,” the MP added.
Mr Sonko said his administration would initiate fire and emergency drills in all the county schools and other public institutions to ensure better preparedness in the event of similar accidents.
Mr Sakaja said he would ensure schools within Nairobi County implement the safety code.