The Forgotten Miner: For Months Few Remembered Tom Okwach
Tom Okwach (inset) was trapped when a mining shaft collapsed in Abimbo, Bondo sub-county of Siaya on December 2, 2021.
For more than seven months, Joyce Ocholla lived through every parent’s worst nightmare.
On December 2, 2021, Tom Okwach and seven other miners were trapped when a mining shaft collapsed in Abimbo, Bondo sub-county of Siaya.
Six miners were rescued and Okwach was not among them.
The loss of a son has been too much for the family to bear as the search enters its third month.
Every moment Ocholla thought of her son, tears streaming down her cheeks.
With only a handful of rescuers remaining at the site, the distraught mother said she would not leave the mine until her son was found.
Every day she hoped that Okwach would be found so the family would be whole again, but her optimism faded.
Okwach had only been in the mining business for eight months.
His father, Martin Sikuku, said when Okwach called home two days before the mining accident, he promised to send money to the family.
They were, however, shocked when a friend called two days later and said he was among those trapped in the mine.
“All we want is to find our son. If he is dead, our wish is to have him buried on family land and not remain buried in the mine,” Ocholla said.
For seven months, the family was torn between continuing to find Okwach and shutting down thanks to a cultural practice of burying a banana trunk.
According to Luo tradition, a banana trunk is buried in the lace of a relative who is feared to be dead but whose body cannot be found.
“A lot of people have told us to consider burying a banana trunk in place of our missing son. But for me, it’s not an easy thing. I think I’m closer to having my son. Okwach’s mother once said.
Mzee Odida Buoga, a member of the Council of Luo Elders, said it was not yet time for a fake burial.
“There are cases where the family concludes that their relatives cannot be found. This is when a banana trunk is buried,” Mzee Buoga explained.
He added that some rituals will be conducted at the “killer” gold mine after the search operation is completed.
At one point, the excavators assisting in the rescue operation were withdrawn, prompting the family to accuse the government of negligence.
According to Joseph Omondi, Siaya County’s general manager in charge of governance, said they were looking for other equipment to help with the search while Okwach’s sister, Janet Atieno, said they couldn’t. not pay the costs of tracing their relatives.
Okwach’s wife, Jackline Okwach, appealed for help, saying she wished she had seen her husband alive or dead.
“It will give us peace as a family. It hasn’t been easy,” Jackline said.
Later, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a local NGO took over operations to recover Okwach’s body.
According to Kennedy Odede, the organization’s chief executive, the community asked for their help after local leaders failed to help.
When the organization took over, Okwach was thought to be about 15 feet underground.
Rescuers estimated it would take at least four days to complete the recovery mission.
The government halted the rescue operation on December 12 after the mine walls collapsed due to heavy downpour.
Okwach’s brother, Stephen Alila, said the biggest challenge was the collapse of the walls, which made the search operation difficult.
At one point Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda told the family to sue the state for the court to give direction on the next course of action.
“It will be much easier to get things done if a directive comes from the courts. Of course anyone else can sue the government but it is important that it comes from the family,” the MP said.