Putting Smiles on the Faces of Garissa Attack Survivors

March 14, 2015

A good day starts in the morning, says an Italian proverb. Amref Health Africa staff put this saying into practice yesterday morning when they visited survivors of the Garissa University College terror attack at the Kenyatta National Referral Hospital in Nairobi.

Interim CEO Dr Lennie Kyomuhangi-Igbodipe presented gifts and a cheque of Sh287,000 raised by employees of the organisation to students undergoing treatment at the hospital, where they were taken after evacuation from Garissa by the Amref Flying Doctors. She was accompanied by Dr Bettina Vadera, CEO of Amref Flying Doctors, and Dr Meshack Ndirangu,  Country Director for AMREF Kenya.

Over the course of two days following the attack, Amref Flying Doctors evacuated 26 of the injured people, 18 of whom were students and the rest police officers and soldiers from the Kenya Defense Forces.

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Most of the students were doing well, and some had already been discharged. One of those still in hospital was Everlyne Jepkemoi, who suffered a broken leg and bullet wounds in her hand after the terrorists shot her several times. She was among a group of Christian Union members who were praying when the attack happened.

“We were about to wind up the morning devotion at 5.50am when the attackers came in. Some of my friends managed to escape through the window but I slipped and fell. I found myself trapped by a chair and my face was bleeding. The attackers caught up with me and shot me in the right hand and several times in the left leg, breaking my bones. Within no time, I was covered in my own blood and that of my colleagues. I could hear my phone ringing but I could not pick it because I had no strength. The next time I opened my eyes, I checked the watch and saw it was 9.12am. Then I heard someone open the door. I pretended to be dead, praying to God for help. It turned out to be the police and members of the Kenya Defence Forces."

A native of Narok County in the Rift Valley Region, Evelyn was a second-year student pursuing a Bachelor in Business Management at the Garissa University College. She expressed her joy at the visit from the Amref Health Africa team.

I really appreciate your coming to see me. This was beyond my expectations!

In another ward, Ben Mwiti hobbled around on crutches, a nurse by his side. He was shot in both legs and cannot sit down. A first year student pursuing Education in Biology and Mathematics, Ben comes from Meru in the Eastern Region.

"I hope God will help me to walk normally again, but will I certainly not go back to Garissa," he said.

Anderson Owalla was shot in the chest, hand and leg but he can afford a smile through bruised lips and is optimistic that despite all that he has been through, he has a bright future ahead. According to Benedict Nzioka, the nurse in-charge of the ward where he was recovering, Anderson has made good progress.

"When they brought him in he could not even speak. He was very traumatised," said Nzioka. "For most of the students here, recovery is not as much about the physical pain as it is about the trauma and emotional torture," he added.

Dr Lennie encouraged the students to continue with their university education once they had recovered from their injuries. “Finishing your education is the best way to show those who tried to hurt you that they have not won. They can injure you, but they cannot destroy your spirit. As the staff of Amref Health Africa, we will continue to pray for you and to support you on your journey to recovery,” she said.

Dr Vadera stressed the need for prompt communication to stakeholders by the National Disaster Management Authority when disasters and emergencies occurred to ensure speedy response. She also called for financial support from the authority for the operations of emergency stakeholders whenever such incidents occurred.

"Amref Flying Doctors spent Ksh4 million to cater for the evacuations of the students, funds which we had to take from the surpluses arising from our Maisha Medical Cover subscriptions. This is money that is usually used by Amref Health Africa for our work in health development such as water projects in remote areas or health activities for women and children, and it may not always be available. We therefore appeal to the National Disaster Management Authority for support when need arises,” said Dr Vadera.

Dr Lennie assured the Kenya Government of Amref Health Africa’s continued commitment and support to improving health care for all Kenyans. She promised that Amref Health Africa would send a team of counsellors to support Kenyatta National Hospital in helping the students deal with the trauma of what they had been through.

Dr Thomas Mutie, who is in-charge of Medical Services Division at the hospital, said all the students brought to the hospital had received surgical treatment and most had been discharged, with only nine still admitted.  He thanked Amref Health Africa staff for their humanitarian gesture in supporting the injured students and appreciated the long-standing cooperation between the organisation and the Kenyatta National Referral Hospital.