September 30, 2013 1:57:54 am
As a jihadist commando sowed death and horror inside Westgate mall last week,Nairobis Jains became the silent heroes of the days-long emergency effort. The Jain community whose small Indian religion upholds non-violence as a sacred principle opened their doors at the onset of the attack on September 21 claimed by Somalias al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group.
As the crackle of gunshots filled the air,the Oshwal religious centre just 100 metres away was a haven where survivors,relatives,security forces and journalists were sheltered,treated,counselled and fed. We have a lot of space and numerous parking places, said Bhupendra Shah,a senior member of the Visa Oshwal community.
On the Saturday the raid was launched,I made a round,I saw soldiers and policemen standing,who where hungry and thirsty. We sent emails to request help,and donations started to arrive on Sunday morning, said Shah.
Within hours the Jains mobilised like an army and tapped into their formidable economic power. Families brought gallons of juice freshly squeezed at home,a sporting club donated eight vans packed with food,an industrial bakery and a top retail chain gave tonnes of bread and water bottles.
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On the second and third days of the siege,Oshwal volunteers served around 15,000 meals inside their religious centre. Thrice a day,the red vests of the Red Cross,the green ones of the St John ambulance service,the camouflage gear of the elite forces battling the mall attackers,mingled in the queue.
Police officers bristling with assault rifles and journalists with cameras also got in line for a plate of food,taking a short break as the siege dragged on. Serving this exhausted crowd on the front line of one of the worst attacks in Kenyas history were 400 Jain volunteers working in shifts to welcome their visitors.
The Oshwal centre also provided space to the teams offering psychological counselling to traumatised survivors and bereaved families,or helping people to report a missing person. The Jains have only 12,000 members in Nairobi,which has a large population of Indian descent.
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