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Friday, August 6, 1999 Published at 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK

World: Africa

Picking up the pieces

Few in Kenya knew about counselling before the bomb

By East Africa correspondent Cathy Jenkins

Joel Nzioka's office is so small that it's impossible to open the door without banging his desk. Tucked in the corner behind it, he checks quickly through a pile of receipts.

Joel is a petty cashier with the Ufundi Cooperative Society. When the bomb aimed at the American embassy tore his old office apart, he had just marked 13 years' service with the company.

He was the only person on the fourth floor of the block to survive the attack.

[ image: Joel Nzioka:
Joel Nzioka: "The ones who died were my friends"
The bomb killed 40 of his colleagues, more than half of the Ufundi staff. Afterwards, those who survived moved into cramped office quarters a little distance from the old block, and slowly began business again.

But the survivors are a long way from forgetting their ordeal.

"The ones who died were my friends," Joel Nzioka says. "I had known them all for years."

Counselling comfort

Over the past year, Joel and his co-workers have been able to talk through their experience with counsellors from Operation Recovery, a group set up immediately after the attack to help the traumatised survivors.

Rose Kasina, who has coordinated the counselling, says that the Ufundi workers often talk of seeing their dead colleagues.

They sometimes feel they're being criticised at work because they may lose concentration; they ask why they had to be there, why they survived and their colleagues died.

[ image: Survivors are haunted by memories of the bomb]
Survivors are haunted by memories of the bomb
Before the bomb, counselling was something that few people in Kenya knew about, and even if they did, it carried a stigma with it.

All the Ufundi workers say they want to continue with the counselling, because it's helped to have someone neutral to talk to.

In general, Rose Kasina says, survivors may feel their families don't understand them. Some are having marriage difficulties; others are finding it impossible to have sexual relations.

An unseen daughter

Last November 26-year-old Catherine Bwire gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Jean.

Catherine has never seen her. The bomb blast left her totally blind.

One year on, Catherine's suffering has not stopped. She feels confined to her tiny home, frightened that everyone will run away and leave her not knowing where she is.

She was a secretary, but now feels she will not work again. Sometimes she almost loses hope.

The organisations which are working to help the survivors say that only a very few have come to terms with what happened.

A new start

[ image: Penina Muhoho has turned disaster into an opportunity]
Penina Muhoho has turned disaster into an opportunity
Penina Muhoho has perhaps come through better than most. A vegetable seller in one of Nairobi's poorer areas, the Kangemi estate, she was only by chance in the city centre, passing through on a bus, when the bomb went off.

She too lost her sight. Unable to sell vegetables any longer, she has come up with a new business venture.

With some of her own savings, together with a donation from a Red Cross Fund, she is going to build some modest huts to rent.

This, she says, will help her to support some of her nine children and her grandchildren.

On the day she receives the cheque, sitting in her own tiny wooden hut, she beams with pleasure, writes her signature with a flourish and gives the donor of the cheque a hearty handshake.

"I've never had a business plan before," she says. "The idea, of course, came from me. I couldn't sell vegetables any more because no one would buy from me. They'd ask why they should buy my things when I can't see them myself."

A social worker who regularly visits Penina is helping her to get to know the layout of the lanes immediately around her home. They set off, the social worker a few feet behind.

Penina walks slowly, guiding herself with her stick, avoiding the puddles of mud and sewage which run down the centre of the road.

In the sprawling Nairobi slum where Penina lives, it is hard enough in the best of times to survive. The bomb attack touched all sectors of Kenyan society, including the very poorest.

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