NFGL student holds candlelight vigil for tragedy in Kenya

Mark Thiong’o is a Kenyan student studying at Lund with a scholarship from the Swedish Institute. He was shocked last Thursday morning when he woke to learn that 147 of his fellow countrymen had been murdered. Now he tells SI News about a candlelight vigil to mourn the lives lost – and to create discourse on greater issues.

NFGL student holds candlelight vigil for tragedy in Kenya

Tell me more about yourself. What is your background?

My name is Mark Thiong’o, and I am a citizen of Kenya. I came to Sweden last year in August and through the SI scholarship from the Swedish government office. I have been extremely honored to be able to go and get a university degree, despite coming from a very tough background. So, for me, university is very important, and the opportunity to get this education was a life-changing one.

You have organized a candlelight vigil, taking place this evening, April 8th, in Lund. Why?

Seeing the 147 students who were murdered in killed blood on Thursday morning really resonates with me. It happened back in my home, in Kenya, and I really feel for those parents who sent out their kids to get a degree.

 I couldn’t help but reflect on how at that point I was sleeping in a dorm then as well, but I never had a worry about an intruder coming in and threatening my life.

It could have easily been me or any of my friends in that university block that morning. It’s my duty to stand by my countrymen when something like this happens.

When did you get the idea for the vigil?

I woke up on Thursday morning, and Kenya is about one hour ahead. So I woke up started getting a lot of texts from people about what had happened. My brother told me.

My initial reaction was, ‘we need to do something, we need to raise awareness.’ And it was a tough time because this was Easter weekend and everyone was out. But it’s important because, with the ways news cycles go, it’s unfair if no one recognizes that people gave up their lives for this.

We wanted there to be community discussion, so we figured we would hold the vigil on the one week anniversary after everyone was back from their break. It’s important to mourn at this time.

What do you hope to achieve with the event?

I, along with a number of other students here in Sweden on this scholarship, we are tasked with being ambassadors for our countries, and we must collectively come together. There has to be discourse on this issue. The issue of terrorism has been too often connected just to certain countries, but it is a global concern.

It’s not just a security issue. We are also seeing the futures of young Kenyans being stifled by fundamentalism and extremism. People fear going back to school and going to public areas. It gets to a point when we have to stand up to the aggressors.

We hope to pay respect to not just 147 people, but also create awareness that borders are just geographical. We are becoming a global village, and there are problems in the world and that creates problems everywhere.

So we hope to also get people more engaged in this conversation. It’s not just a fight for Kenya but a fight for everyone, really.

What has the response been like so far?

The response has been overwhelming. I had a conversation with a few people about it and everyone was on the same page. A lot of people wanted to do something but didn’t have a venue and a way of communicating. I had friends coming up and talking to me about it, and every time I have reached out to people, the school administration, the local church, local government offices; they have all offered a lot of support. We have about 100 people who have confirmed they will show up tonight, and I am sure over time it will grow.

What is the key message you wish to get out to the world?

Any way we can get discourse happening about this is a win, not just for the Kenyan situation, but for how important it is that we discuss the dark underbelly of some of the political things that are happening in the world. We need to get the discussion happening and get people engaged in the issue.

It’s sad. Too often we are just okay with seeing such tragic numbers. We see something with Germanwings, and it’s so sad, but it’s the way lives are represented on paper and in news – like any other number. It’s really so sad if we lose our humanity and don’t take the time to get in touch and really deal with the issue.

The event is designed as a way of mourning the 147 students we lost as well as to create discourse on the issue.

We have opened up the event to the entire community and we hope that you can show your support as well.

A Candlelight Vigil will be held at 20:00 at Sandgatan 2, Lund, Sweden, on April 8th. Read more and join the Facebook event here.  Use the hashtag #147NotJustANumber.