Monday, October 6, 2008

Sept 27 '08 - Peacemaking in the midst of conflict

From: David Zarembka
Sent: Saturday, September 27, 2008 7:15 AM
Subject: AGLI--Report from Kenya--"Peacemaking in the Midst of Conflict"--Sept 27, 2008

Dear All,

A Brazilian English-language magazine/website, Comunidad Segura English, asked me to write a summary of our peacemaking in Kenya in 500 words!!! So it's short, but I hope it makes a point or two.


Peacemaking in the Midst of Conflict

When violence broke out in Kenya following the disputed Dec 27, 2007 election, Quaker peacemakers moved into action while the violence continued around us. Within the first week we visited Kikuyus in displaced camps and learned that they needed more than the maize and beans the Red Cross was providing. Our local school sheltered 2,400 Kikuyu: resources were extremely limited. One hundred blankets could not cover 2,400 people; they were given to the children and elderly. A Burundian proverb says, "A real friend comes in a time of need," and, truly, our presence was met with gratitude from the beginning.

By February the internally displaced people were moved to a police station ten kilometers away; school was being re-opened. It was more difficult for us to visit, but we continued to go weekly. In time we brought forty counselors whom we had trained for the purpose of holding a listening session with the internally displaced people. We were the first (and I think only) people to listen non-judgmentally to their stories, difficulties, and concerns.

Next we turned to communities where people had been forced out. Again, we conducted listening sessions which was much more difficult since the villagers who had promoted violence were often very hostile. We listened with patience, not reacting to even absurd or prejudiced statements. Sometimes we were accused of being government spies. In the end the people were most thankful: no one else had ever come to hear their side of the story.

By June the Kenyan Government was requiring that internally displaced people return to their home communities, even if no peace or reconciliation had been attempted. In some cases we accompanied the internally displaced as they returned. Once, when we were not present, the returnees were met with violence and had to return to the camp. The local government official called us in to help and the second attempt was much more positive; the community decided they should welcome their neighbors back.

In order to involve the youth who had done much of the violence and damage we organized a bicycle race for young men who hire out their bicycles as taxis. We brought the two communities back together by organizing three-day Alternatives to Violence workshops which taught affirmation of self and others, communication skills, cooperation, and non-violent conflict resolution methods to members from the various ethnic groups. We continue these workshops in various villages hoping that when the next election or another crisis occurs, local people can respond without violence.

Have we been successful? We will not know until the next crisis erupts. We have learned that we need to interject ourselves into violent communities as soon as possible and work with all sides as neutrally as possible to bring about peace, reconciliation, and healing.

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


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