Three schoolchildren from Tanzania who were injured in a horrific bus crash that killed 29 of their classmates, two teachers and a bus driver arrived Monday afternoon in Sioux City, Iowa, where a heartland Christian ministry volunteered to finance their treatment and recovery.
Franklin Graham’s humanitarian Christian group Samaritan’s Purse, which arranged the transportation of three children, ages 10-12, from Tanzania to Sioux City, confirmed to WND that one student arrived about midday on Monday and the other two later Monday afternoon.
They had been scheduled to arrive late Sunday, but after being transported from Tanzania to Charlotte, North Carolina, in the DC-8 operated by Samaritan’s Purse, they were switched to a smaller air ambulance that developed mechanical problems and returned to Charlotte.
They then finished their trip in two separate air ambulances Monday, the organization said.
Samaritan’s Purse responded after STEMM, the Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries, promised to help the three children, who were suffering from a wide range of broken bones and other injuries.
Steve Meyer, board chairman for STEMM, told WND Friday, when the DC-8 was dispatched from North Carolina, that his group got involved because members were among the first people to arrive at the scene of the horrific crash.
They scrambled down the steep, scrub-brush-covered slope to the mangled bus and pulled many of the bodies of the victims from the wreckage. They found three students, although badly injured, still breathing then frantically summoned help to get them to the hospital.
They then committed to moving the students to Sioux City, where volunteers were waiting to provide treatment, rehabilitation and more.
The Iowans also set up housing, food and clothing for the students’ mothers, who accompanied their children on flights from Tanzania to Libya, then to Charlotte, North Carolina, and finally to Sioux City, Iowa.
Samaritan’s Purse provided WND access to video of one of the transfers of the children, whose flight to help involved multiple legs.
Meyer, on Monday, told WND it appeared that “all of Tanzania showed up at the airport” for the students’ departure. When the mechanical complications developed Sunday after they already had reached the U.S., the students were taken to a Charlotte hospital for an overnight stay.
Meyer said the extraordinary effort was being made for the three children because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Al Jazeera reported May 6 the crash killed the bus driver, two teachers and 29 students – 12 boys and 17 girls – from the Lucky Vincent school in Arusha.
The bus veered off a steep road in rainy conditions near the town of Karatu and plunged into a river, Al Jazeera said.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli said it was a “national tragedy.”
A team from STEMM, which runs an orphanage and school, and teaches farming skills, health, safety and more in the region, already was in the country, among other things, marking the ministry’s 20th anniversary. They were planning a day off, doing some sight-seeing and were traveling on the same road as the crash, just minutes behind.
In “God’s providence,” they were in the third vehicle to come upon the accident. After triage efforts and moving the three survivors to a local hospital, Meyer said, team members felt the burden to move the children to the best care they could find.
They spent 24 hours contacting federal officials, without arriving at a solution.
Eventually they were faced with a decision: whether or not to take on a liability of $280,000 for a round-the-world air ambulance trip.
Then, Meyer told WND, Graham suddenly was on the phone.
“How can I help you?” Meyer said Graham asked.
Samaritan’s Purse made arrangements for transport, while STEMM canvassed its own community. They obtained assurances of hospital care, nurses volunteering for extra duty, families from the community arranging food, clothing, housing and more for the students’ mothers, who also were traveling.
“It was just amazing,” Meyer said.
“When I heard about the tragic bus accident in Tanzania and the three children who survived, I knew Samaritan’s Purse had to do everything we could to help. We sent our DC-8 aircraft to bring these injured children back to America for trauma care,” Graham said. “We are so grateful for Mercy Medical Center Sioux City providing the medical care they need. I believe God has a plan for these children and we are praying for their recovery. I am also thankful for members of Dr. Steven Meyer’s team who, like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, stopped to help when they came upon this horrific wreck.”
Meyer recounted sharing the plans with the children’s parents.
The father of the 12-year-old, a devout Muslim, simply asked, “Why? Why? Why?”
“Well, the God we serve reached out to Samaritans, Gentiles and it didn’t matter. That’s what we do,” he told WND he responded.
The injuries are not minor: legs fractured, a head injury, nerve injuries, a fractured jaw, spine fractures, broken shoulder, broken legs and elbow dislocations.
Meyer also said it was a miracle that Tanzanian officials are allowing the children to leave, since they routinely reject outside aid.
And he said his own personal challenge came when he went to the memorial service and saw 32 caskets lined up.
But how can any ministry take on the obligation of hospitalization, care and rehab for such badly injured people?
“If nothing else, it’s an example of what our philosophy always has been – we believe God’s arms are never too short,” Meyer said.
STEMM already had put 10,000 children in school in the region, arranged for 1,000 medical operations over the years, and delivered instruction on farming and building bridges, roads and wells, he said.
“Every day we forget about the what, and think about the why,” he explained. “We really do believe God works in all things.”
He said restoring the children to health will create “a living legacy for decades of what people do when they’re faithful.”
See news video of the scene: