Thursday, March 27, 2008

March 27, Report 37, A good story is wonderful! David Zarembka

Dear All,

A good story is wonderful.

Chapter 1: Perhaps you remember that my email of February 24 concerned the two sons, Anthony and Nivan, of a distant relative of Gladys, who bring us our daily milk. They are Luhya. One evening after Nivan had brought the milk to our house about 6:00 PM, he and Anthony and another friend were walking in town when a Kikuyu youth attacked Nivan with a machete. He put up his arm to keep the blow from hitting him in the head and one of his arm bones was broken and the other bone badly cut. We saw Nivan and Anthony in the hospital and then went with them to the police station. Here we were told it was a case of a fight over a girl. I asked then if this was a case of ethnic hatred or ethnic love.

Before we left for the United States we talked with the two youth about doing an inter-ethnic AVP workshop here. They organized their friends, came to talk to us, and we arranged for an AVP workshop to occur while we were away. Getry Agizah, the AVP Coordinator, and two other local Lugari District facilitators conducted the workshop, which went very well with 23 youth of various ethnicities (but no Kikuyu).

Chapter 2: When we returned, we asked to meet with the organizing committee for the workshop. Monday evening they came to our house for a discussion. I first asked them what they learned from the workshop and their responses included the use of I-messages, transforming power, and one young woman said, "Even thugs have good in them." So they had learned the lessons well. I then asked them to give an example of when they had used something they learned from the workshop.

The first young woman said that when her sister came into her room all angry and upset, instead of arguing with her, she used I-messages which calmed down her sister. The second was a young man who said that a neighbor's cows had come to eat his napier grass (grown to feed the cows during the dry season). Instead of going over to argue with him about the incident, he used I-messages which he felt had better effect in keeping this from happening again. The third, also a male, gave two examples. Two youth had been fighting for a long time and he brought them together and used transforming power to get them to resolve their hostilities. His second example was a young man with a grave problem--he had "strong homosexual tendencies." So he talked with him, advised him to be positive (another AVP principle). He said that they now talk frequently. Moreover he said that before the workshop, he would have avoided this youth as being "bad and sinful." Nivan was the fourth and talked about resolving a long-standing dispute between two youth over 5 shillings (7 US cents). The last, a female, had great difficulties with her mother who was working her very hard, but always criticizing and yelling at her. So she used I-messages with her mother and this calmed down the situation and began to repair the relationship with her mother.

Note that all the males' testimony (except one) were resolving arguments between two macho males, while the two young women's issues were family concerns. I speculate that the young women are using the I-messages as a method to assert themselves without antagonizing the other person. It is amazing that one three-day workshop could be this effective. The examples recounted here are sufficient to justify having held the workshop and there were 18 more participants and even these five young people may have used the skills learned at other times than these examples which they shared with us.

Next we talked about what they had done since the workshop. They have been meeting twice a week and have developed a play on ethnic differences which they are going to perform on April 10. They also wanted more basic workshops because they had to turn down others who wanted to come to this workshop --they had to actually send home potential participants to keep the workshop at a tenable size. [ Note the ideal number of participants is 20.] A second AVP workshop will take place soon. They told us that they wanted to visit the IDP camp (of Kikuyu) in Turbo. I said, "Let's go tomorrow" as Gladys, Getry, and I already had plans to visit the camp to see how they had been doing since we left for the US.

So yesterday afternoon about 2:00 PM we headed off to the IDP camp. All five of the youth showed up. At the camp we found that there are still 4,000 people. Their chairman, George Njoroge, told me that they had settled in. The school (which has almost 700 students plus another 200 in nursery school) was going nicely although a teacher had just died (I did not ask what he died of). The Red Cross was bringing maize (corn), beans, and now flour for porridge for the children. Since the rainy season had begun, there was no more dust. On the other hand the people in the camp (from all over Lugari District) were unable to go back to their plots of land to cultivate and plant. Njoroge gave us a list of the things which he considered most important--the list really hadn't changed much except that there was now no need for flour for porridge.

We walked through the camp, surrounded by a horde of children, many of the young ones wanting to hold my hand (most young children are afraid of an Mzungu and shy away). The women, in particular, came to greet Gladys warmly. At one point we gathered together, the chairman made a short introductory speech, all eight of us greeted them, there was a song and prayer of thanks. Two camp leaders, Gladys, Getry, and myself then went into our "office"--the back of the pick-up truck where we then discussed the idea of doing an AVP workshop (which we explained) with the youth. Njoroge responded most positively to this suggestion as he said it would be a step towards getting people to be accepted back into their home community. The workshop was arranged for the following week. He promised to recruit youth from each of the ten locations (small administrative units) in Lugari District, half male/half female, find a room and chairs, and two women to cook lunch. Our prior visits to the IDP camp (the first steps in peacebuilding) made these arrangements very easy as the camp leaders were very willing to help with arrangements.

But a good story (real or fiction) needs a surprise ending. While Nivan was walking around the camp, he met the parents of the youth who had slashed him. The parents apologized profusely about their son's behavior (he is no longer around). They asked Nivan if he would forgive their son. Nivan replied that he had already forgiven him since his wound (a large scar on his arm which will never go away) was now healed and he wanted to get on with his life.


David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams

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