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Visa Oshwal’s public spirit

You saw them when terrorists struck Westgate Shopping Mall two weeks ago.

Armed with pistols and in bullet proof jackets, they evacuated the frightened and injured from the gory scene, carrying them to ambulances.

Outside, they coordinated traffic using radios just like the police.

They also arranged how the bodies of their relatives would be removed from the gory scene. Surprisingly, most of them used pick-up trucks. Not ambulances.

In Parklands Estate where most them reside, armed men manned gates just in case, scrutinising every visitor.

They are the Visa Oshwal community and the citizens you saw in action are part of the over 700 young, able-bodied volunteers.

The community, explains its chairman, Rashmi Shah, is, like most Asian communities in Kenya, organised  according to the region they came from in India.

In Nairobi, most of it is  to be found around Westlands and Parklands.

They were among the first to respond to the attack, evacuating the injured to the nearby Oshwal Centre as well as feeding them, providing them with first aid, telephones and counselling.

“Most of those who responded live around the area. We were also lucky because about 700 of our members were at the Centre preparing for a religious event for the following day,” said Shah.

He wasn’t willing to comment on the guns  but police sources  told NairobiNews  that being business people of no mean achievement, a considerable number of the Oshwals hold licensed firearms.

There are about 7,000 Visa Oshwal community members  in the city with the Centre being their religious and cultural citadel.

According to Mr Shah, the quick help did not however just materialise; most of their members are volunteers  ready for eventualities.

Their neighbourhood watch keeps the area relatively secure from burglars, muggers and carjackers.

Shah was reluctant to discuss this, citing the community’s  safety. For the same reason, he refused to have his picture taken for this story.

Also, he explained, he didn’t want to be seen as taking credit for a communal effort.

A group of over 200 Oshwals was deployed to man a 24-hour kitchen that fed the security men and volunteers at the Centre as the initial crisis degenerated to a hostage situation.

This would continue for four days with over 400 working in shifts.

“We made a committee decision to  support  the victims as long as we had to,” says Mr Shah.

It was impressive that such a small community marshalled such an army of volunteers and emergency support.

The closely-knit community runs four schools, a college, has two temples and a hospital.