Today’s Star-Ledger reports that a fundraising organization at Red Bank Catholic has lost direct contact with a small school in the vast Kenyan slum of Kibera amid the internecine carnage that has gripped Nairobi for the past six weeks.
Through an Associated Press reporter, members of the Maryknoll Society at RBC have learned that the crude nursery school they’ve been supporting for the past four years is still intact. But the last email received from lay missionary Vikki Smith “was a lengthy and horrifying description of the riots and their casualties stories of mass graves, the rape of women and children and the burning of families in their homes,” the Ledger’s Maryann Spoto reports.
More from the article:
With no word from the missionaries in a week, members of Red Bank Catholic’s Maryknoll Club were getting a stark lesson in global unrest, wondering if their sister school had been lost to the violence.
“They’re not like nameless kids,” said senior Kathryn Martin, 18, of Eatontown. “We know them. We have to help them out.”
As of yesterday, the Red Bank students had no idea whether the nursery school in Africa’s second-largest slum still stood or the fate of the children, aged 3 to 5. The school is affiliated with Christ the King Parish in Nairobi.
“Prior to this, the e-mails and photos were filled with hope,” said Mary Logan, adviser to the Maryknoll Club. “Now what I’m getting is all that hope is in jeopardy. It’s our job to keep that hope alive.”
Quoting from Smith’s last email:
“People were displaced, all worldly goods destroyed except for what they had on their backs, hacked to death in front of family members, limbs severed (saw photos of children), shot with poisoned arrows (a famous marathon runner died from arrow wounds), children orphaned, starved, beat, and de filed, simply because of their tribe and often by their neighbors whom they have lived and worked with for as many as 30 years,” Smith wrote.
Reporters in the Nairobi bureau of the Associated Press said Wednesday that the situation in Kibera remained shaky.
“There is still violence,” said Elizabeth Kennedy, an AP reporter and New Jersey native.
But through sources within the slum, the reporters were able to ascertain that the St. Bakhita nursery school had survived — even if it remained closed and the children’s families were holed up in their shacks, too terrified to walk the streets.
“The church and nursery are still intact,” Jakonia Onyango, a local official of the Orange Democratic Movement, the opposition party contesting the presidential election, told the Associated Press. “The youths attacked a home 10 feet away and did not touch the church.”
Smith, who lives in an apart ment in Nairobi but works in Ki bera overseeing two nursery schools and an elementary school affiliated with Christ the King Parish, reported that the entire neighborhood around St. Bakhita went up in flames, but miraculously the little nursery school was left standing.
Even if the school survived, little else will be left for the children or their families, said Maryknoll Club member Cat Baker.
“It’s so frustrating because all the work is destroyed,” said Baker, 18, a senior from Eatontown. “All their kids, there goes their hope for an education. It’s all gone now, in a way, unless we can raise money to bring it back.”
The club has raised about $10,000 for relief efforts in Kenya over the past four years, but in light of the devastation, the students are ratcheting up their fundraising. They’re holding an ice- cream sundae sale at lunchtime on Valentine’s Day and are spreading the word about the plight of their nursery school children to anyone who will listen.
“It’s like a family thing,” said Maryknoll Club member Glenn Corregano, 18, from Red Bank. “Like this is happening to one of my family members.”