Jain Oshwal Center in Nairobi, Kenya
The Jain Oshwal Community Center in Nairobi, Kenya, was the site of volunteer relief efforts after the Westgate Mall attacks

When a jihadist commando threatened people inside Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya last week, the Jain community in the area turned out to be the heroes of the days-long relief attempt.

The Jain society is a small community in India and support non-violence on the basis of their holy values. They offered shelter to the people when Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab group attacked beginning on September 21.

The Visa Oshwal religious centre that was just 100 meters away from the mall, turned into a place of protection for several survivors, security forces, relatives and journalists. The centre sheltered, protected and fed the refugees in the crisis situation. The Jain community helped the survivors like an army. Families collected and provided freshly squeezed juice in large quanities. A local sporting club donated eight vans full of food, while an industrial bakery and a retail chain offered bread and water bottles to refugees.

There are 12,000 Jains in Nairobi, a city with a population of four million. Many Jains are from India, including the CEOs of Nakumatt, an East African retail conglomerate, and other major corporations.

Oshwal volunteers served about 15,000 meals inside their religious centre on the second day of the attack. The centre represents the structural designs of a Hindu temple, encircled by sprawling grounds.

Police officers with heavy rifles and reporters along with their cameras were also in the queue for food during their short breaks, while the siege rambled on. About 400 Jain volunteers worked in shifts to serve the victims and survivors of one of the most horrible attacks in the history of Kenya.

To help the wounded people and reduce the burden of overloaded hospitals, a first aid centre was initiated in an underground parking garage in the city. The Oshwal religious centre in also offered room for teams to provide psychological counseling to shocked survivors of attack.

The attack has resulted in about 67 deaths, including children. Many were wounded. 61 are still missing.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions, with roots in ancient India. The religion is motivated with the same morality of patience that persuaded Mahatma Gandhi. Most of the Jain followers are vegetarians and even refuse to eat roots and tubers to avoid killing insects.

While walking, Jain monks clean the floor in front of themselves and cover up their mouths to avoid even the smallest chance of stepping on or swallowing tiny creatures. The Jain community has approximately five million followers globally.

Kenyan government services were noticeably absent from the crisis management held at the Oshwal.

“When you live in Kenya, (help from the government) is the last thing you ask. You have to rely on yourself,” said Bhupendra Shah, a longtime member of the Oshwal community.

After a week of violence, several people gathered at the Oshwal centre and prayed for the victims of the carnage.

As another Jain said, “the important thing is that all Kenyans came together as one, as Kenyans, people from all origins, all communities came to help.”


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