The Nation (Nairobi)

6 August 2010

Kenya: Forgotten Children of the Bomb Blast

Nairobi — Yvonne Mutinda will need to buy some roses for her father on Saturday. It is his day, she says, a day she completely dedicates to the man she calls the best father a young girl can ever have.

If she was to write a note to go with the flowers, it would be: 'Daddy, I wish you were here to see me grow up, see me through college.'

Her father, Daniel Mutinda, was among the 252 people who died in the August 7, 1998 bomb blast. His name is inscribed at the bottom of the third column on the memorial stone, outside what used to be the Nairobi US embassy, now turned Bomb Blast Museum.

He was working inside the ill-fated Ufundi Cooperative building when the explosion occurred.

Yvonne, his third-born daughter, was innocently playing with friends outside the family house in Jamhuri estate, about half an hour away from the explosion when he died.

She was six years old then, she is now 18.

Tears flow freely as Yvonne speaks of the man who she only knew for six years. She is angry, she says, angry with the people who killed her father, angry with him for dying before she could know him better.

Like many children of the 1998 bomb blast victims, Yvonne has not received any form of professional counselling to help her through her loss. Like many children who lose relatives at such tender ages, Yvonne is still struggling to come to terms with her loss.

"I am very angry. Sometimes I feel like everyone forgot about us," she says.

A few days after the bomb blast, the then American secretary of state, Madeleine Albright visited the scene of the blast that took Yvonne's father away. Then, the little girl got her short moment of fame, innocently clutching onto the hand of the top American diplomat.

What she thought to be her moment glory has since blurred, and the harsh reality dawned: that he father is gone, and no one has sat her down to explain why he had to die.

Less than a kilometre away, another child of the bomb blast is still coming into terms with the events of august 7, 1998. Samuel Karanja was five years old when the 1998 blast killed his father, Charles Mugo Karanja.

Like Yvonne, he, too, has not been counselled 12 years after the blast that took away the life of his father.

The first-born in a family of two, Samuel says the events that happened when he was joining nursery school have forced him to grow up in a hurry.

His little sister, Rachel, 14, needs a father figure, he says. With his father gone, this Form Two student has to step into shoes too big for him.Samuel says the only person who tried to counsel him is his mother, Wanjiru Mugo, now a widow.

The same tale is told by yet another child of the bomb blast, 21-year-old Zachary Rungu, who lost his father, Peter Rungu, and a sister, Ruth Mukami, in the blast. Zachary was nine years old then.

"Nobody bothered about us, it seems our voices were lost in the clamour for compensation and all," says the first year Bachelor of Commerce student at Kenyatta University.

One of the first volunteers after the blast, Anthony Gitahi, a retired psychiatric social worker who coordinated outreach services for relatives and friends of the blast victims, says Yvonne and her colleagues have every right to feel forgotten.

"The only children who benefited from counselling were those that were slightly older, and in school. Nobody took care of the very young ones," concedes Mr Gitahi, himself a trained counsellor.

As a result, he says, whereas adults affected by the blast are well on their way to recovery, the nightmare is just beginning for those that were too young, too naïve to grasp the full impact of the 1998 bomb blast.

Others may forgive and forget, but for these children of the bomb blast, reality is just beginning to sink in.

"I know I am supposed to forgive and forget, but I am just beginning to remember," says Yvonne.

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