For those who live in the Nairobi’s Westlands neighborhood, the small, unassuming concrete building that is the home of the Oshwal Religious Center is simply a quiet place for Hindu worshipers. But on Sept 21, when Kenya shoppers at the Westgate Mall, just 600 yards away from the center, were under siege by al-Qaida-linked militants, the Hindu religious center helped groups of first responders and others monitoring the situation find refuge.
Immediately, members of the center and other volunteers began to bring in boxes of food, including bottled water, buttered bread, cakes and cookies to make sure no one was hungry. Hot tea was served throughout the following nights to soldiers, police, journalists, and others who had come to observe the situation in the mall.
Comforting words and actions were in endless supply for those coming to the center after witnessing the horrors of men, women, and children being murdered and seeing their corpses left behind. Many had withstood the gunfire and explosions. Police officer, Eric Mwangi, said, “This was a place where you got served without questions. We were always comfortable here.”
The Oshwal Religious Center also became a center of unity for many Kenyans. Over five years has gone by since the Kikuyu tribe and the Luo tribe began killing each other over a questionable election. In the wake of what is now considered Kenya’s worst attack by terrorists since the U.S Embassy bombing by al-Qaida in 1998, the two tribes came together to provide a united front. In this attack there were 67 people killed and 200 wounded, with 70 still missing. But, as a security guard at the center, Philemon Kipkurui, said, “Here we all came together as Kenyans and took care of each other.”
As the Kenya mall first responders and others in the Hindu religious center help others in the wake of the attack find refuge, President Uhuru Kenyatta praised all Kenyans for their help, describing the people’s response to the attack as, “Nothing short of wonderful.” He acknowledged the many who had stood in lines to give blood and others who donated food, clothing and supplies to the survivors of the attack. Other Kenyans observed they had never seen such a “grand scale” of giving before.
The four-day attack on the Westgate Mall was by al-Shabab terrorists. The 67 victims of the attack were horrendously tortured and mutilated, with throats slashed, fingers amputated and eyes gouged. A forensic doctor who examined the victims said that all of them had ben mutilated. Investigators also found five of the 15 terrorists, who committed the attack, burned beyond recognition in an attempt to protect their identities.
Al-Shabab is calling for Kenyan troops to be withdrawn from southern Somalia or it will attack Kenya again. For now, life at the Oshwal Religious Center has returned to normal. The military trucks are gone and the food is no longer being served. Nearby, members of the police and the military maintain a secure perimeter around the mall. For those first responders, following the attack on the Kenya mall, the Hindu religious center will be a symbol where, whatever the circumstance, a person can find refuge from the atrocities of the world.
By: Lisa Nance