St Gabriel’s Boarding Primary School pupils who survived last weekend’s grisly road accident on Thursday narrated the dreadful experience that saw 10 of their colleagues lose their lives.
The pupils, who had been grouped as per their classes in the two buses during the trip to Mombasa, for ease of communication with their parents’ through their class teachers, said the deaths of their classmates could have been avoided.
The learners lauded the measures taken by the government to ensure their safety while on travel, including painting school buses with a distinct yellow colour, as sufficient to avoid such road accidents.
The pupils, who spoke during a joint Mass for their fallen colleagues at St Joseph's Junior Seminary in Mwingi town, said when schools open for third term next month, the deaths will hang over their preparations for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Examination.
“Ours like all other school buses were painted yellow. That should have been a clear signal to other road users, and especially, the driver of the truck that hit us that there were schoolchildren on board,” said Ian Mulaimu, the head prefect, who is in Class Eight.
He narrated how they endured the long kilometre journey from Mombasa on the fateful Saturday and how they were rescued from the wreckage, only two kilometres from their destination.
Nine out of the 10 pupils were all in Standard Eight and among the best performers in the school. They were enrolled for the KCPE exam in November this year. The bus that crashed was ferrying only Class Eight students.
The 14-year-old pupil moved the audience, who included Cabinet Secretaries Amina Mohammed (Education), and Monica Juma (Foreign Affairs), former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, among other leaders, as he described how his fallen colleagues were destined for big academic achievements.
“Our bus was ferrying pupils drawn from Classes eight and seven, I heard a screeching sound and the next thing I saw was rescue teams taking us out the bus, I was lucky to escape unhurt,” he said.
Another pupil Juliana Kimanzi who also survived the accident said the deaths had robbed the school and Kitui County promising future leaders who aspired to be doctors, lawyers, pilots and other highflying careers.
She said Andrea Kasyoka who perished alongside her younger brother was the school's choir leader; a cheerful and outgoing girl, who aspired to be a doctor.
Leaders who attended the mass concurred with the pupils that the deaths were a sad indictment of the state of affairs in the country especially the culture of flouting traffic rules.
Catholic Archbishop Anthony Muheria who presided over the mass said the accident was incomprehensible and it should have been avoided but added that the lives of the young heroes provided vital lesson to the country.
The archbishop told the bereaved families to take heart in understanding that there's life after death and urged Kenyans to pray for those who survived the accident and are still hospitalised.
Yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday mourned 10 pupils saying: “It is sad and unfortunate that we lost such precious lives whose dreams and visions were cut shot by human error. This tragedy could have been avoided had all the concerned parties adhered to the traffic laws.”
He asked teachers, parents and guardians to be keen on safety of children for they are the future leaders.
“It is better to be safe than to be sorry. It is better to be late by one day than to lose precious lives,” said Mr Kenyatta.
Ms Mohammed pledged Sh100,000 cash from the government to support burial of each of the ten pupils, and pledged tough policy implementation on safety in schools.
Mr Musyoka lamented that had the Kibwezi-Kitui highway been tarmacked, the ill-fated school bus would have arrived in Mwingi before sunset.
Mr Musyoka also urged the government to set standards for construction of buses in the country in order to guarantee safety even in times of accidents.
Governor Ngilu, however, cautioned the other leaders against apportioning blame for the grisly accident but instead seriously commit themselves to addressing the root causes of such tragedies nationally.
“Let us not apportion blame because parents gathered here today are so heartbroken and do not care who did or didn’t do what. Let us not go out of this place grumbling but let’s commit to address all the problems that may have caused this accident,” said Ms Ngilu.
She said her government will partner with the Catholic church to build memorial stone at the accident site bearing the names of the deceased in their remembrance.
There was no viewing of bodies because the caskets of the ten pupils were not brought to the venue of the mass.
Additional reporting by Boniface Mwaniki and Ouma Wanzala