By JOSEPH MURAYA, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 10-“I was just watching the news and there it was, St George’s Girls High School on fire, I panicked and I ran out… I started praying and shouting Jesus since my daughter is there,” a fear stricken Jane Muthoni told Capital News on Saturday night.
She had just arrived at St George’s Girls Secondary School, after the institution kitchen and food store mysteriously burnt down, a time when everyone is on a high alert over such incidents.
“I shouted at my husband to wake up, St George’s is on fire and our daughter is there…we drove here,” she said.
When Capital FM News caught up with her, she had isolated herself from the rest and seemed to be in deep thoughts.
“The Government should do something about this. If boarding schools are not safe, we should convert them to day schools. It is something we should think about,” she said, this time with an edgy voice.
“We need to know what is causing these fires. Too many children are being lost…as parents we don’t sleep. We keep wondering whether our students are safe. The Government has the capacity to know what is going on.”
Her experience was not different from that of hundreds of parents and relatives, who flocked the school, in a bid to enquire about the welfare of their children.
While some received calls from friends about the fire incident, others like Muthoni saw it as breaking news on television, something that left them worried and confused while some dashed out of the house and immediately drove to the school.
According to students who spoke to Capital News, it is those who were in the dormitory, which is opposite the kitchen block that saw the fire.
“We saw something sparkling in the kitchen and then a huge fire broke out,” one of the students who did not want to be identified said.
“We started screaming while others rushed to the Dining Hall where some of our colleagues were locked in for entertainment,” she narrated of what she termed as a devastating ordeal.
“Those who were in for the entrainment session had not seen the fire. At least some of us were here (inside the dormitory),” she said.
Another student- name withheld- was in the lower dining hall when the fire broke out.
“My friend thought our colleagues had seen a wild dog,” she recounted.
But as they continued running, unaware of the reason, “we saw huge smoke coming out from the kitchen. I panicked.”
For one of the parents, only identified as Judy, she found more than ten missed calls from her friend.
The mother of three, now worried, sought to know the exact daughter since all the three children are girls.
Then one in St Georges Girls Secondary School, she was told, before the bombshell was dropped. “It is on fire. Check the news.”
“I was shocked. I did not know what to do…I gathered courage and drove here. I am glad that the girls are all safe,” she said.
Following the Moi Girls High School arson attack and a series of other similar cases, the Government now says there will be heightened surveillance in all boarding primary and secondary schools, more so during the examination period.
Damning details have already emerged on how a WhatsApp group was used to hatch a plot to torch Moi Girls High school—in what is blamed on a notorious Form One student arraigned in court.
A preliminary investigations report seen by Capital News gives shocking insights of the planning that started on August 31, 2 days after students reported back to school from holidays, but it did not materialize immediately because the environment was not favourable.
Detectives privy to the ongoing investigation say highly flammable substances like sanitizers, cleaning detergents and perfumes were used to fan the flames ignited on the morning of Saturday, August 3rd—sending the entire school on panic mode as many had to jump from higher floors while their colleagues who were unlucky burnt to death.
Investigations have also revealed that the student was opposed to her continued stay at the school, in what is seen as one of the factors that led to the disastrous action that cost innocent lives.
But Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang says a lot has been done to curb the menace, but point out that there is a need for legislation of more legal measures as recommended by a task force that looked into the causes of fire in schools.
“We need some legislative work in order to ensure that all these schools are safe; in how we constitute our board of managements, the way in which communities relate with our schools, the way in which we relate with our sponsors…so that we can all be in harmony and ensure that the standards are maintained.”
He said the ministry will be working closely with their counterparts in the interior ministry, to ensure the trend is reversed.
So far, he says the Government has appointed County Directors of Education and ensured there are adequate numbers of vehicles for field officers, supervising institutions of learning.
He was speaking on Saturday last night at St Georges Girls High School in Nairobi.
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko also visited the school, where he assured that all city public schools safety measures will be enhanced, to ensure students are safe in case of an emergency.
Nairobi County will also help the school establish a temporary kitchen block and provide foodstuffs.