Janesville53.6°

Kenyan violence hits locally-funded school

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Mike Heine
January 31, 2008
— “All of us are real scared.”

Those were the words Saturday from Vitalice Kahendah, director of Hopewell High School in Nakuru, Kenya.


Through e-mail, Kahendah has been updating Wisconsin friends about the tribal violence that has erupted in his city and country since a protested Dec. 27 election.


Wrestling the World, a philanthropic organization that started in Whitewater, “adopted” Hopewell High School and has been working to improve it since 2006. The group raised money to build five new brick-and-mortar classrooms, improve an on-site well and start a small farm so the students could have food for lunch.


Hopewell is a free school and educates many of Kenya’s poorest children.


Since the election, Nakuru had been relatively peaceful and about half of the school’s 700 students reported for classes.


After Friday, however, things took a turn for the worse.


“Nakuru finally erupted yesterday and distinguished itself as the worst case of the post-election violence, which necessitated the deployment of the army into the streets ... something unprecedented in the history of Kenya,” Kahendah said in a Saturday e-mail to Wrestling the World members. The e-mail was shared with The Janesville Gazette.


Most students were sent home, and Kahendah has been busy trying to protect his remaining students while setting up refugee tent camps across town with UNICEF and the Red Cross.


“Town was crazy with tear gas and gunshots renting the air,” Kahendah wrote.


On Friday, he escorted 80 students to a youth hostel and hired four armed vigilantes to guard the building.


Later that night, Kahendah, a member of a minority tribe, was kicked out of his apartment. His landlords were threatened by men from an opposing tribe “who are renowned for beheading their victims. They gave me until noon today to pack up my belongings.”


On Saturday, Kahendah headed to the hostel and saw the greatest horror of his life.


A soccer coach he knew was “suspected of being a traitor ... (he) had been dragged from his house this morning, hacked to death and lynched. He was just there, dead and burning!”


Things are starting to calm down, Kahendah said in a Tuesday e-mail. Businesses are opening, and he hopes to have the school opened again next week.


Hopewell itself is being run as a refugee camp with 400 displaced people taking shelter in the classrooms Wrestling the World helped fund.


“That is humbling, knowing that the classrooms were basically there for safety,” said Wrestling the World co-founder Phill Klamm of Whitewater.


The school has one of the city’s few freshwater wells and likely won’t be a target for violence, Klamm said.


“(Kahendah’s) words were along the lines that Hopewell should be safe. People won’t want to die from thirst,” Klamm said, noting that buildings can be replaced, but people and friends cannot.


Wrestling the World still is supporting Hopewell monetarily. It sent $1,250, which will feed a lot of hungry people, Klamm said.


“We’d love to be there now,” Klamm said. “If it was safe, I would go if there was something I could do. They don’t need any more people there right now. They just need our support.”


To help
Wrestling the World is continuing to fund projects at Hopewell High School. To learn more or to make a donation, visit www.wrestlingtheworld.org.

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