A grandmother’s grief: painful death of joy

With a tenderness that can only come from a mother, Esther Wangui smiled as she watched her twin granddaughters, 10, hold each other’s hands as they walked to school on the morning of January 26 this year inside the Solio settlement scheme of Laikipia County.

My poor baby could not even stand on her feet. I tried talking to her but she could not respond and had trouble breathing- Esther Wangui, Joy Wangari’s grandmother

As the two girls receded from her view, running playfully after each other, Wangui’s mind wandered into the circumstances that had made her a mother at 76.

The twins had lost their mother when they were barely two months old, and she says she had never felt a greater need to protect a creature like she felt for the two orphaned infants. Her granddaughters. Her heart beat for them. She loved them devotedly and generously.

Even though overwhelmed by the constant running after them, she was grateful to God that fate had placed them in her care.

Fate, also, had conspired to rob her of one of these girls, named Joy Wangari, today.

A few minutes past 2pm, she received a call from Joy’s teacher at Mukandamia Primary School asking her to rush to school immediately. As she prepared to leave, Joy’s sister came running home, nearly out of breath. She told her grandmother that she had been sent to fetch her because Joy had fallen sick and could not speak.

She rushed to the school, about 500 metres away, and she says she will never forget the sight of her little granddaughter that greeted her at the gate.

“My poor baby could not even stand on her feet,” she says. “I tried talking to her but she could not respond and had trouble breathing.”

Shocked to the core and confused, she asked the teachers what had happened, but none was willing to talk to her. “For 30 minutes they could not tell me what had happened to my baby, who had left home healthy and jovial.”


Heartbroken, Wangui lifted her granddaughter onto her back and headed back home. It was almost 4pm in the evening when they got home, and Wangui says heart sank when she saw how fast little Joy’s health deteriorated yet the nearest hospital was almost 30 kilometres, 10 of which she had to cover on foot.

She decided to observe the girl overnight and gave her some painkillers to ease the pain.

When, after what seemed like an eternity, Joy walk up, she narrated to her grandmother what had happened to her. A teacher at the school had asked her to read a paragraph in class, and when she fumbled through the letters, he had dragged her out of the classroom and beat her.

“She told me that when the teacher was done, he took her back to the classroom and ordered two boys who sat next to her to ‘teach’ her to read,” Wangui says.

Tears welling in her eyes, Wangui continues: “Joy could not read, and the two boys attacked her, one kicking her severally in the back and the other in her lower abdomen.”

The following day she went looking for the boys in their homes, and they confessed that they had beaten up their little classmate. She wondered how terrified Joy must have been, lying down as the boys kicked her after being savagely beaten by the teacher.

Back home, Joys’s condition was worsening. At 10, her frame was too weak to handle the beating. She had suffered internal injuries and infection was setting in. The painkiller she had taken the previous night had worn off, and now she could barely speak.

Wangui ferried her ailing child to Naromoru Sub-County Hospital, but with the ongoing doctors’ strike, all they could get were more painkillers and instructions to get an X-ray and bring the imaging results the following week.


With every passing minute, Joy’s condition worsened. Her breathing had become laboured and distant. Her lower abdomen was swelling by the minute and she was in tears.

The next day, she started bleeding from the nose and mouth and stopped eating. She could not even cry now, the wails reduced by her frailty to mere moans.

Wangui begged for money from neighbours and relatives and, with the help of local leaders, raised enough to take the girl to Mary Immaculate Hospital, a mission facility in Mweiga, Nyeri County.

It was too late.

“She died in my arms… the doctor told me she was no more,” she says, clinging to the blood-stained school uniform Joy last wore.

Police are investigating the matter, while Joy’s tiny body lies at the Mary Immaculate Hospital mortuary.

Courtesy of the Nation Paper.

Mike Mwenda

I’m passionate about understanding humanity and the environment we live in. I want our generation to be known for something incredible. I graduated in journalism and public relations, I have a blog where I document and write about environmental issues affecting the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). I have had the privilege of visiting Scotland, Italy and South Africa. Because traveling to me is adventurous; especially making new friends. In addition to writing about arts, environment and culture, I also advocate for women’s rights and empowerment in the Southern part of Africa.

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