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January 21, 2018

Garissa church attack survivors cry for aid six years down the line

An inside view of the AIC church in Garissa that was attacked with gunfire and  grenades on July 1, 2012
An inside view of the AIC church in Garissa that was attacked with gunfire and grenades on July 1, 2012

“I am almost selling my house and anybody interested should contact me. Having undergone 11 main surgeries and an unknown number of surgeries remaining, I need more than Sh200,000 for tissue grafting in my leg alone. I don’t know what the other operations will cost.”

So says Gladys Munyambu, a middle-aged woman from Wikitoo village in Musuani location, Mwingi West constituency. Her life turned upside down on July 1, 2012, when al Shabaab terrorists attacked AIC church in Garissa. It was one of two churches raided in an attack that left 15 people dead and more than 66 injured.

That day, Gladys woke up as usual and prepared her family for church. They all went and her husband took his position of ushering in the worshippers at around 10am. Immediately they settled, they heard something falling at the rooftop. They ignored it, thinking it was the Somali children who used to throw stones at the church’s roofs when playing.

“The deafening sound persisted, and what happened within 45 minutes was shocking. Until now the memories of that day haunt me; I’m always scared by the sound of any falling object, including a tea spoon,” Gladys said.

She saw two masked men enter the church and start spraying them with bullets and hurling grenades at them. She witnessed one of her friends who died together with her child being shot, but luckily the other kid survived.

Gladys was seated near the window. It is while trying to escape that she was shot in the leg and thrown by a grenade that forced her to land outside the church, but she doesn’t know where she passed through.

She became unconscious until she woke up at Garissa General Hospital’s emergency room. Her children were shouting at her, “Mummy, mummy, wake up, please!” She saw them and her husband beside them and at least knew they were safe.

MIRACULOUS ESCAPE

Her husband escaped death miraculously since he was at the church compound and hid behind a tree when he saw the militants entering the church. Unfortunately, they saw him and threw a grenade at him, but it was held up by a leave and fortunately failed to explode. They saw that didn’t get him and started firing at him but still missed him. He threw himself on the ground for fear of being shot, and they thought they had killed him but none of the bullets hit him.

Gladys thanks God that she is alive to see her children, but is aggrieved that the government has not helped them since that time. They languish in poverty due to expensive medical bills.

“I was shot in the foot and my toes fell on the ground. The other part was held by hanging flesh as I bled and vomited profusely due to toxics from the grenade. Doctors said if I didn’t vomit, the toxic could have speeded my death, leave alone the injuries. The medics in Garissa did skin grafting instead of tissue grafting,” she added.

She lay in that hospital for three months and two weeks and was later referred to Kijabe Mission Hospital. Doctors in Kijabe said she was supposed to undergo tissue grafting but not skin. She has since undergone 11 main surgeries and there are several others remaining. There are bullet and grenade pellets still stuck in her leg. Medics have told her they are in her nerves, and that is why she has to undergo all those operations.

Gladys tells us that going to Kijabe alone without any treatment costs her Sh60,000. Consultation fee alone is Sh5,000. Then you have to see another doctor who will assess you for Sh10,000, then he sends you to another doctor who will deal with you and he can charge more than Sh30,000.

When you spend a night, it goes for Sh1,000 per head, and no sharing bed, in case you were accompanied by somebody else. Gladys says it’s hectic and stressful. She bought a foot-supporting device for Sh20,000 in 2012, but it’s wearing off and she is sure it must be costing more than Sh30,000 now.

“The government should support us and compensate us since we have spent up to the last coin. It was not our mistake and the government should chip in quickly. We are now looking upon God for a miracle. Anyone willing to help me and the other survivors should help us. My husband is a casual laborer and I’m just a housewife. Before then, we used to work together but my condition can’t allow me,” she added.

SECURITY DOGS POISONED

Penninah Kituku is a mother of two and survivor of the Garissa attack from Musuani village in the same location. She says it seems the attack was premeditated. Three weeks before the attack, the pastor told them there will be no receiving of phone calls in church, which is okay. One week later, a Somali man claimed that the church dogs had eaten his goats. The next week, the more than 10 dogs were poisoned and they all died.

The dogs used to give security to the church plus two other policemen. It was a calculated move since the terrorists knew they would enter unnoticed, as there would be no dog to bark at them. The next week, al Shabaab attacked.

“On the fateful day, I saw two masked men enter the church and start shooting at us,” Penninah says. “They had already snatched guns from our policemen and killed them. There were loud bangs all over the roof and the church after the grenade blast.”

She lost consciousness after heavy objects fell on her, peeling part of her leg’s flesh. She came to at Garissa General Hospital’s emergency room and found so many people screaming in pain and others looking for their loved ones.

Penninah stayed at the hospital for three months and two weeks. She has since been attending clinics at Garissa but she was referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital for surgery to remove the grenade pellets in her legs.

“I’m in much pain and I have lived with it since 2012. I need Sh200,000 for the surgery. I have two children in form three and four and they school at the mercy of God. I can’t walk for long or do any heavy activity. The legs do paralyse sometimes, and ache a lot. I hate my life when I recall my past. I used to do business at Ngamia mall in Garissa and supported my children well. Being single, this is a burden to my parents,” she says.

Penninah questions why the government has taken so long to compensate them or even foot their hospital bills for quick treatment. “I was with my cousin and he lost his life as his sister lost her leg,” she says.

PAIN AND LOSS

In Wikitoo village, Musuani location, the family of Joel Musyoka has got only a grave to show for their loved dad and husband. Naomi says her father died in the church attack and left behind a two-month-old child alongside four other children.

She adds, “By then I was in class eight. My mother has struggled a lot for me to complete form four. The other kid is in form two and the rest in primary. It’s so tough for our mother to pay fees for us, so I was on and off classes. The same is happening to my brother in form two. The government should help us since we are [partial] orphans and my mother is a casual laborer.”

Their mother and attack survivor Josephine, who didn’t want to talk much, said nothing can replace that pain and loss.

Joel’s mother Rhoda and attack survivor Gladys are lost in thoughts at the mention of the attack. Rhoda says when she received the news, she almost ran mad, adding that it was a great loss since Joel left her with children and his wife to take care of.

Her daughter Gladys survived but has undergone a lot of pain and expenses in treatment, which has made her poorer. “We have sold everything. Only the house is remaining, and we are ready to sell it,” Rhoda says.

The survivors and the bereaved now can only cling on to hope that they will one day be compensated for their loss.

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