Greetings from Kenya!
By Cassidy Regan on 12/14/2011 @ 09:00 AM
After months of international conference calls, research, and Washington-based advocacy, I’m beyond grateful to have the opportunity to spend time in the beautiful country about which I've been lucky enough to learn. I arrived in Nairobi on November 28th, and the two weeks since – during which I’ve been able to speak with facilitators and participants from three different violence prevention and peacebuilding programs – have been enlightening and empowering. The workshops are organized by groups part of our Quaker collaboration to prevent deadly conflict in Kenya (which includes the African Great Lakes Initiative, Friends Church Peace Team, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and the Quaker United Nations Office), and, though I've seen just a small fraction of their work, the impact these efforts have had seems immeasurable.
While each of those I’ve met over the past fourteen days shared stories that demonstrate the power of non-violent action, community empowerment, and grassroots peacebuilding, my most meaningful experience so far occurred just two days ago. After traveling via three different matatus (public vans packed full of passengers) and two hours of motorcycle taxi, I arrived at a small town a couple of kilometers from the peak of Mt. Elgon. The mountain is strikingly beautiful, known both for its fertile land and for its long, brutal history of associated displacement and violence. As Kenya’s national elections set for late 2012 approach, tension among those frustrated with unaddressed grievances and current lack of land reform is only growing.
In response to a request from those living in one of Mt. Elgon’s communities, Friends Church Peace Team began a series of four Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops. The program, which was developed in Rwanda and Burundi, focuses on helping communities in the aftermath of extreme violence to address and heal from trauma – as individuals, families, communities. During my brief visit to Mt. Elgon, I spoke with seven participants and one facilitator about how the program has affected them.
Within minutes of opening our meeting, a man described a neighbor with whom he’d had a longstanding conflict over the boundaries of their property. Though the two live side by side, they each refused to speak to the other. After participating in a HROC workshop, this man decided to begin a conversation about what he'd learned; since then, he says, the two have begun to act as “good neighbors.” The interaction was by no means a resolution, by no means an end to the concerns that divided them. It was, however, a step away from hate, a step toward healing, and, without a doubt, a step in support of peace.
His story was not the only one. Others spoke of spreading the message to their partners, their children, their religious communities. One suggested that the group raise funds to build a peace house or center, in order to teach others how to heal from the violence that has ravaged their region. By the end of the afternoon, a number of concerns about a return to conflict were raised – but each expressed a commitment never to take part again.
A single program – a myriad of programs – cannot eradicate the roots of deadly conflict within a community, nor can it heal all its members of the losses and injustices they’ve survived. But in Mt. Elgon, a single program has both begun the process of building peace and facilitated a concrete commitment to preventing violence renewed. Were Kenya, the United States, the entire globe, to invest more in these kinds of efforts – rather than, as is far too often supported, further funding the use of violence – the power to heal and rebuild could be found in people and communities worldwide. In just a few short hours, those in Mt. Elgon provided me with proof that peacebuilding can be more than an idea for which we advocate. When used by those communities seeking tools of peace in the wake of none but war, programs like HROC demonstrate just how real the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict can be.