Runyanya Lightning Strike Survivors Soldier on A Year Later

4633 Views Bweyale, Uganda

In short
A year after a lightning strike that claimed 19 young lives at Runyanya Primary School, a follow up report indicates the school and community are still coming to terms with the tragedy. Survivors have returned to the school.

A year ago, all eyes were on Runyanya Church of Uganda Primary School in Kiryandongo district as a shocked nation absorbed the news that 19 pupils of that school had been killed by a lightning strike.

A year later, the effects of that Friday, July 29, 2011 lightning strike are still noticeable everywhere in Runyanya Primary School. The P6, P.3, P.2 and P1 classroom block that was struck by lightning still stands. Like a charred reminder of that tragedy. But with a lightning conductor.

It is when it rains that the effects of that lightning strike are most visible. A teacher at the school, Florence Ayikoro confesses that the children scream and run out of the blocks without lightning conductors. Searching for safety.

The Primary Seven teacher has a pupil she has to look out for when lightning streaks across the sky with rumblings of thunder. Rain, lightning, thunder torment one of the survivors of that tragedy. Ayikoro says Reuben Okiru collapses every time it there is lightning and thunder or sudden blasting noises. Okiru’s trauma is so bad that if a door bangs shut, he collapses.

Okiru is not the only survivor who has braved returning to Runyanya Primary School. Juliet Mpairwe is in Primary Six. Along with Okiru, she was one of the pupils who had to travel all the way to Mulago Hospital in Kampala for treatment after the lightning strike. She is not fully healed but she is determined to study and complete her education.

There are many challenges Mpairwe has to overcome. Her eye sight suffered terribly during the lightning strike and she routinely experiences eye pain. When it begins raining, Mpairwe cannot see at all.

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Charles Kirimanywa, a primary seven class teacher, actually wonders why that P6, P.3, P.2 and P1 classroom block cannot be torn down. Kirimanywa does not just want to forget what happened on that Friday. He believes the school is tempting fate because that school block has already been struck 3 times. Is the school waiting for more lightning strikes for the lesson to finally sink in?

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More than installing lightning conductors on that block, the P.7 block and the administration block have changed at the school.

Runyanya Primary School has a new headmaster, for example. Justus Ojok is the new head teacher. Former headmaster, Alfred Marongo was transferred.

The school teachers say they received instructions on how to better protect pupils during rainstorms from the district education office. Survivors of that ordeal are some of the most effective “instructors.”

Okiru warns fellow pupils against playing in the rain during rainstorms. He adds his voice to the instructions of teachers who urge pupils to avoid making unnecessary noise during rainstorms, to seek shelter in classrooms instead of under trees and to put on shoes.

A teacher adds a bit sadly that not many Runyanya Primary school pupils can afford to wear shoes.

But the teachers and community are doing their best.

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Runyanya Primary school, a universal primary school located three kilometers away from Kiryandongo, town was struck by lightning on the afternoon of July 29, 2011, killing 19 pupils and leaving over 50 others hospitalized.