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Heroic boarding master relives how he saved 190 boys

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA

It is midday last Wednesday an uncharacteristic silence envelopes St Charles Lwanga Seminary and Secondary School near Skyline in Chimanaimani.

The place looks deserted and there does not seem to be any sign of life.

It is  impossible to ignore the devastation that was wrought by Cyclone Idai at this Catholic-run institution, with some buildings reduced to rubble.

A week ago, two students and a staff member died on the spot after they were buried under mud and rocks.

For three days, the boys remained stuck as it was impossible to get aid to where they were.

In the Form 1 classroom, there are still blood stains on the desks where the deceased boys’ bodies were placed before villagers came to take them away.

The destroyed dormitory tells its own story, as coat-hangers, shoes, neck-ties and clothes lie scattered all over.

It is at this school that Charles Magureyi (68) works as the boarding master.

Magureyi is an unsung hero, who played a crucial role of taking care of the traumatised boys while two of them and a security guard were lying dead in a classroom.

Magureyi narrated how he laboured in the dark and rainy night to make sure that the 190 boys were safe.

“It was terrible. I had just done my routine check to make sure that the boys were safe in the dormitories,” he said.  

“At around 9.45pm, I heard a loud bang, like a dynamite, at the Form 1 dormitory and I rushed to check.

“There was rubble and the boys were screaming.

“I realised that two of the boys were buried in the mud and that it was already too late to rescue them.  

“With the help of Father Abraham Nemaisa, we evacuated the other boys to safety.

“We then returned to retrieve the trapped ones.

“We managed to retrieve one that night.”

The boarding master recalled how they searched for the security guard’s body.

“The security guard would always be at the gate, but on this day there were heavy winds.

“We have gumtrees near the gate and some time back one of the trees fell.

“So the security guard had taken shelter from the heavy winds in the kitchen.

“Unfortunately he was buried in the mud.

“We could not locate him.

“But the dog at the school kept on milling and shifting around a mound of mud.

“We later discovered blood flowing from the mud and that is when we dug up his body,” Magureyi said.

The teaching staff offered counselling services to the traumatised boys.

“After the disaster, I discovered that 14 of the boys had sustained injuries and urgently needed help,” Magureyi said.

“The authorities at Skyline told us that they were not coming to the school and that we had to leave on our own.

“After three days, we gathered enough courage and decided to take the risk by travelling to safety with the boys.

“Some villagers arrived and we made stretcher beds known as uchanja, to carry the bodies of the deceased boys.

“We had two groups, the first one was of the boys and some teaching staff, while the second one had the villagers ferrying the bodies.

“I took my own blankets to cover the bodies.

“We travelled at night, up the mountain, there was no road but we finally made it to safety.

“We had no choice, as we had been promised help but none was forthcoming.

“I read on social media that we had walked for 15km, that’s not it, we only walked about 4km to safety.

“The good thing is that God enabled me and others to take care of the boys. It’s unfortunate we could not save the two boys,” he said.

The school will not be re-opened soon, as it still remains inaccessible due to the destroyed Wengezi-Chimanimani road and it is clear that the school won’t open for at least this term.

Father Nemaisa, who is in charge of the school, said the boys could transfer to other schools so they do not lose out on learning time.

“The problem is the road,” he said.

“As it stands, we are stuck here and isolated.

“We can only speak of resuming operations once the road is rehabilitated. For now, we wait to see what will happen.”

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