Classes resumed at Garissa University. Nine months ago, Somalia-based terror group Al-Shabab took more than 700 students hostage. They let the Muslims leave and singled out Christians. The attackers killed 148 people and wounded about 80 others. The buildings have been repaired and repainted, but the legacy of the bloody attack still lingers.
Nationwide efforts to improve school security
So far, about 200 students have returned to attend classes. Garissa has made improvements to their security. The dorm which the attackers stormed has been renamed and renovated. The university’s administration also increased security measures on the campus. The Kenyan government is encouraging universities all across the country to train students on how to respond if they ever experience a terror attack. Despite these security measures, many of the students who survived the attack still do not feel safe.
Students are hesitant to return
Most of the survivors were moved to other universities in Kenya for the rest of the school year, and are now hesitant to return. Student Risper Nyang’au was doing her early morning prayers when the terrorists threw a grenade into the room and began firing; she suffered bullet wounds to her leg. She cannot imagine going back to the university.
“Those rooms they’re in –there’s so many people’s blood there,” she said. “How will you study? You will think, this is where my fellow students died.”
She had to walk on crutches for several months and still has a limp. And during her Christmas vacation, she traveled to Nairobi to testify in the trial of five men accused of assisting in the attack. Nyang’au is still haunted by the massacre:
“You think it will happen again. You hear even the bang of the door and you feel bad.”
Despite receiving money from the government and the university, she is still having trouble paying medical bills tuition fees at her new university.
“If they were concerned about us they would have taken time. Those of us who lived. We still have not healed,” she said.
The only university in the region
However, Garissa University is the only institution of higher learning in the region. Had it not reopened, students would have no universities in their surroundings.
“If we closed the school then Al-Shabaab would have won because they would have shut down a center of higher learning,” said Garissa University College Principal Ahmed Warfa. “They would have been happy.”
He said he will always remember the students killed under his watch, but:
“It’s very important that this university remains a beacon of hope. This is a lifeline for the northern people.”
Waigayi, a resident of Garissa who studies business management, agreed:
“If some of the students say they can’t come back there it is as if they are giving into the terrorists. But if we return and join together, then at the end of the day we will have won the war.”