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City mum loses daughter, 11, in school dormitory fire

Shiro wanted to buy a home for her mother when she grew up. She also wanted to be a bridesmaid in her sister’s wedding. She won’t.

On Sunday, the 11-year-old Fiona Wanjiru Mwaura became yet another statistic of the sloppy school boarding system where dormitories continue to be death traps for children.

On March 2, Shiro’s mother Hellen Wambui Karanja received the phone call every parent dreads.

The call was from GSU Primary School in Nairobi where her daughter Fiona was a new pupil.

The caller on the other end was brief. A fire had broken out the previous night at around 11 pm while the pupils were asleep.

They rescued most pupils unscathed but her daughter had inhaled carbon monoxide.


Ms Karanja was told her daughter was unconscious at Nairobi West Hospital and was asked to go there immediately.

Half an hour later, Ms Karanja arrived at the hospital, where the family was told to deposit Sh400,000. They got Sh100,000 and Fiona was placed on a life support machine.

Fiona would lie unconscious in the hospital’s ICU, with occasional fluttering of her eyes. On Sunday night, almost 44 days later, Fiona died at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Ms Karanja had taken to Facebook demanding that school dormitories be equipped with fire extinguishers and fire alarms.

“When I visited the dormitory where Fiona was sleeping on the night of the fire, I was shocked to see that the room had been repainted and all evidence of a fire removed,” she wrote.

“I also noticed that there are no fire alarms in the dormitory.”

The school headmaster had told her the school was “not responsible” for the hospital bills.


Two days after Shiro died, we found the mother and her eldest daughter, 21-year-old Janet Wairimu, at the cashier’s office at Kenyatta National Hospital Mortuary.

The two women seemed calm and collected, but immediately broke down when we asked them about the kind of girl Fiona was.

“Shiro was a dreamer,” her big sister offered. “We don’t have a home of our own. Shiro promised mum that she would buy her a house.

“Shiro always told me that she would be a bridesmaid at my wedding.”

A day after Fiona was admitted to Nairobi West Hospital, the school’s administration told Ms Karanja that her daughter’s case was “purely an accident” and that the school would do everything it could to help the family foot the burgeoning hospital bills.

“After two weeks, the bill amounted to Sh1.3 million. The headmaster said that the school’s board would meet to ask parents and students to help contribute towards the bill. Nothing has happened so far,” says a distraught mother.


Fiona had joined GSU Primary School on January 23. She was a Standard Six pupil. She believed boarding school would make her more “responsible”. Sadly, it was not to be.

“They said the fire came from a different room where they had stacked some mattresses. They told me investigations are ongoing, but after repainting, the evidence is all gone,” says Ms Karanja.

The doctors said that Fiona inhaled so much carbon monoxide there was little oxygen in her brain. An MRI scan showed her brain cells had been affected.

The lungs were also infected but were stable. As for the affected brain cells, doctors told the family that since she was still a child they would develop afresh.

“They said that the only cure for the brain damage was time. In fact they suggested that we move her to a rehabilitation centre and look for a neurologist,” she told the Nation.


After more than a month at the Nairobi West Hospital ICU, which costs Sh100,000 a day, Ms Karanja transferred her daughter to Kenyatta National Hospital on April 15.

The bill had clocked Sh3 million and the single mother could not afford to keep her daughter at the expensive intensive care unit of the hospital.

“Two days later, a doctor told us Fiona was not looking too well. We went to hospital very early on Sunday morning. She was vomiting and crying a lot. She died that night,” Fiona’s mother said.

It has been a long and dreary journey for the single mother, who took an indefinite leave from her job as a teaching assistant in a special-needs school in South B.

She would arrive at the hospital every day at 8am to check on her little girl, after which she would wait under a tree outside for the lunchtime visitation hours.

Then she would come in at noon and wait again for the 5pm visit.

“I have still yet to realise that it was not a dream. My baby is gone.”