DANGEROUS CURRENTS, SEX

Pupils swim to school after bridge swept away

Taller learners carry their books and uniforms — and those of younger pupils — then return to assist small fry.

In Summary
  • They have to get up earlier in the morning and leave school earlier to make the crossings.
  • Headteacher Wilberforce Wabuti said six of the affected pupils are KCPE candidates this year.He fears early pregnancies because boys and girls mingle.
An older pupil carries a younger one across the riverin Mumias East and holds her uniform and books above her head on January 20.
HANG ON TIGHT: An older pupil carries a younger one across the riverin Mumias East and holds her uniform and books above her head on January 20.
Image: HILTON OTENYO

Some pupils will do anything to get an education.

Every day they have to swim or walk across River Lusumu to get to Petros Primary School in Mumias East in Kakamega county. They cross again on their way home.

The temporary wooden footbridge they used was swept away by floods in December when schools were closed. Parents and villagers plan to build another as the government hasn't helped.

Village elder Ernest Wabuti said two children were swept away late last year.

Everybody strips naked. The older taller pupils can walk across — and hold their uniforms and books and those of young pupils over their heads.

Then they return to help the small fry. Some smaller children swim across.

Parents and teachers are worried that strong currents could wash students away.

They also fear the children might have sex because naked or near-naked boys and girls mingle on the shore and in the water.

Pupils of Petros Primary School swim across River Lusumu on January 21 to get to school. Temorary wooden footbridge swept away in December.
SCHOOL CROSSING: Pupils of Petros Primary School swim across River Lusumu on January 21 to get to school. Temorary wooden footbridge swept away in December.
Image: HILTON OTENYO

"We are forced to walk across the river naked with our uniforms and books held up in the air. Then we return to assist the younger ones who cannot swim," one pupil said.

She said they are always late because they have to cross the river. They have to leave school early for the crossing.

Our biggest fear is death of little students swept away...and we fear pregnancy when naked boys and girls mingle.
Headteacher Wilberforce Wabuti

If their clothes get wet, they have to dry them on stones and bushes before reporting to school.

School headteacher Wilberforce Wabuti said six of the affected students are expected to sit their KCPE exams in November.

"Our biggest fear is the death of the pupils in the event they are swept away because they are small and light," he said.

"We also fear pregnancies because the big boys assist the young girls to and from and therefore mingle freely while naked." 

Wabuti appealed to the national and county governments to work together to find a permanent solution.

Why do you allow your child to swim to school when there are other schools where they come from? Of what use will education be to your children when they die crossing the river?
MP Ben Washiali

Reached for comment on Tuesday, National Assembly Chief Whip Ben Washiali said he "read politics in the matter".

He asked why pupils must go to Petros School when there are others on the side of the river where they live.

"As a parent, why do you allow your child to swim to school when there are other schools where they come from? Of what use will education be to your child when they die crossing the rivers?" Washiali asked.

He said that it was his NG-CDF that constructed the temporary footbridge that was washed away. He said he would visit the deputy area commissioner on Wednesday to discuss a way forward.

"The permanent solution is for children from either side of the river to attend schools on their side so they don't have to cross the river," Washiali said.

The collapse of the wooden bridge has also cut off the village and made it harder to access health services.

"In an emergency, one will die because we have to use the longest route to the dispensary across the river," village elder Wabuti said.

(Edited by V. Graham)

Girl pupils of Petros Primary School in Mumias East put on their clothes ofter swimming or walking across he River Lusumu on Monday January 20.
TRICKY CROSSING: Girl pupils of Petros Primary School in Mumias East put on their clothes ofter swimming or walking across he River Lusumu on Monday January 20.
Image: HILTON OTENYO

(Edited by V. Graham)