Kenya unrest - couple back home

SHAUN LOWTHORPE A Norfolk couple back home after being caught up in the recent violence in Kenya admitted they had mixed feelings about leaving their adopted family as the unrest continued.


A Norfolk couple back home after being caught up in the recent violence in Kenya admitted they had mixed feelings about leaving their adopted family as the unrest continued.

Pastors Michelle Smith and her husband Rod arrived back in Norfolk in the early hours of Saturday. They had been forced to stay in Kenya after flights out of the country were grounded last week.

The couple, from Upper Stoke Holy Cross, near Norwich, attend Wellspring Church in Poringland and are founders of the UK registered charity Healing Streams Kenya, which helps orphans and poor people in Kenya.

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They had been visiting their five adoptive children and various orphanages and churches when the violence flared in Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city, and the scene of some of the worst violence to follow the disputed presidential election.

More than 300 people have been killed after violence was triggered by claims of vote rigging in the December 27 presidential election. Mr Odinga has accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging his re-election in the closely-fought poll.

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“It was obvious that the whole process was flawed,” Mr Smith said. “You could feel the tension everywhere. It was only on the Sunday that people went wild.

“We were warned that the elections were sometimes difficult so we put back our trip to December. And we wanted to spend our first Christmas with our children for the first time.”

But the visit turned into a nightmare as violence flared around them forcing them to stay indoors.

“We were grateful that the wind was blowing the other way because all the smoke and tear gas was blowing the other way from us,” he added.

“We both spoke at church about what happened and our minds keeping wandering back to Kenya. It was quite hard, people wanted to know everything.”

Mrs Smith said it was difficult to come to terms with how quickly the country slid into unrest.

“We were surprised by the level of violence and the way that people who were our neighbours, were the next day killing each other,” she said. “From our window we could here gunshots and we saw people looting.”

Yesterday the couple had heard from one of their adopted daughters who had been threatened with rape by a gang surrounding the vehicle she was travelling in.

“She had her hand cut by one of them and she was very frightened,” Mrs Smith said. “Knowing our family is still in danger is quite hard. We're feeling a bit numb. Last night we heard the farmers shooting rabbits across the fields and woke up wondering where we were. Half of us are still there.”

Now the pair are determined to try and help their children and the community in Kisumu get back on their feet. Mr Smith said he planned to transfer money to Kenya to help buy food and other goods and the pair were still hoping to return at the end of February as part of a wedding blessing ceremony for Mrs Smith's brother, who is marrying a Kenyan woman he met while there.

“There's only one supermarket open and the cost of food has more than doubled,” Mrs Smith said. “We want to help them become self-sufficient.

“The working population of Kisumu is only 20pc and there are very few jobs for Kenyans. Families are struggling to survive anyway, but since all the hotels and shops have been burnt down, people are struggling to survive on a daily basis.”

For more information about Healing Streams contact 01508 494211.

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