Monday, October 6, 2008

From: David Zarembka
Saturday, September 13, 2008
AGLI - Report from Kenya - HROC on Mt. Elgon

Dear All,

A Sad Note: Linda Heacock, who came to Kenya as an AVP facilitator with AGLI in 2005, 2006, and again in 2007, died peacefully last night at her home in Ashland, VA. Her cancer was discovered when Linda became ill while here in Kenya last September. She had been battling with lymphoma since that time. Gladys, Florence Ntakarutimana, and I visited Linda in July on our way to the Friends United Meeting Triennial and at that time the chemotherapy was not working as well as it should have. Her passing will be a great loss to AVP here in Kenya and all for those she helped train and to the Friends Peace Teams for whom she was a representative. As they say in Swahili, "Pole sana", a word that has no equivalent in English, but means "I sympathize very much with your sorrow." -- Dave Z

Theoneste Bizimana from Rwanda and Florence Ntakarutimana from Burundi came to Kenya last week to lead apprentice workshops with the HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Community) participants who finished a two week training in June. Getry Agizah arranged for the workshops to be held high up on Mt. Elgon where for the last two years there has been armed conflict in which about 600 people have been killed. In May or June of this year the Kenyan army moved into the area and killed the leaders of the rebel group--the Sabaot Land Defense Force. The army is also accused of torturing and killing many other men from the area. The conflict began between two clans of the Sabaot ethnic group--the Soy and Ndorobo -- over land allocation on the mountain which was done by the Government in the 1970's. Soon all other ethnic groups in the region became targets; including a Luhya sub-tribe called the Bugusu who live on Mt. Elgon right below the Sabaots (who are part of the Kalenjin ethnic group).

We learned that one of the participants from the initial HROC workshop in June 2007 has been killed. Theoneste reported that people are still being killed although this information is not reported in the newspapers. In the community where Theoneste was facilitating the workshop one person had been killed the previous week. Theoneste also noted that land distribution was so unequal--in some cases one person owned an entire hillside while others had only small plots--that it would lead to continued violence on the mountain. This is an important observation for all of Kenya.

Florence took three apprentices with her and held two workshops in Chwele Yearly Meeting. These were arranged by Joseph Mumai, the Chairman of Kenya Friends Church Peace Teams. Participants in the first workshop were mostly leaders of Chwele Yearly Meeting. We prefer to have participants in HROC groups as diverse as possible but in this case it was probably fine since this was the first workshop the new apprentices had ever led. Moreover, the apprentices were young and the participants were older. The apprentices worried whether the elders would follow their instructions. In fact, the result was positive and the workshop went well. In the second workshop there was a much greater mix of ethnic groups--Sabaot, Luhya, Teso, Kikuyu, and others. The group was also mixed in age since on Mt. Elgon we are not targeting only youth, but also leaders in the community. This workshop also went well. Florence commented that it had the same effect as in Burundi where hostile people, who would not sit next to each or talk together at the beginning, were making friendships by the end.

Theoneste and five other apprentices went to another part of the mountain for their workshops. The first was held at a place called Kalaha and the second at Kitwamba. Since both are high up on the mountain, it was cold. The team slept in tents at the IDP camps at both places. (I doubt that the media even knows that there are still lots of IDP's in places like this.) Since the conflict is really not over, the participants were at first reluctant--some not arriving until late. All the various sides were represented and the results were the same as those described by Florence of her workshops. People were quite appreciative because this was the first time anyone came to visit this conflict area high up the mountain, and actually stayed there overnight. At the end of the workshops people were so enthusiastic that they said when the community celebration of the workshops is held they will bring a cow to be slaughtered and eaten at the celebration!

Florence's two workshops were conducted mostly in English--Nancy Shippen from New England Yearly Meeting attended the first one. She commented that while the participants came to learn how to help others, they discovered how relevant the workshop was or their own personal lives. Theoneste's workshops were mostly in Swahili. However, in the second workshop three of the Kikuyu women did not know Swahili. Teso people speak a Nilotic language, while the Luhya and Kikuyu speak a Bantu language (Swahili is also a Bantu language), and the Sabaot speak a Kalenjin language. These three languages are completely different: more different than English is from Hindi (which are both Indo-European languages). So this is going to make reconciliation rather different than in Rwanda and Burundi where everyone speaks the same language.

Naturally the people all want more workshops for more people. Theoneste and Florence indicated that the apprentices were progressing well. Florence is staying in Kenya to lead one more HROC workshop for the apprentices following the weeklong AVP International Gathering which starts tomorrow. Zawadi Nikuze from North Kivu, Congo, will stay to conduct two more workshops. Florence and Theoneste think that the apprentice HROC facilitators will then be able to lead workshops on their own. In January, after they have facilitated a number of workshops on their own, we hope to have the second one-week training for the new facilitators.

I am hoping that we will continue to focus the HROC work on Mt Elgon.


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


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