Friends, I must share with you something so exciting and wonderful.
As a volunteer with the Africa Ministries Office here in Kenya, I have been participating in the meetings of a network of several Quaker peace organizations, including Africa Great Lakes Initiative, Friends Church Peace Teams, and Friends World Committee for Consultation. This past January all the Friends peace groups in East Africa came together to distribute humanitarian relief to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had been attacked and driven from their homes in the post-election civil violence in Kenya. Now, in the second phase of the relief efforts, Friends are addressing the issue of the resettlement of the IDPs and the tension that exists between the IDPs and the communities they were driven away from. The policy of the government has been to try "enforced peace," sending IDPs home with protection, but everyone knows that, over time, this will not work.
The way Friends have approached this is impressive. In the spirit of seeing that of God in everyone, Friends have determined that they will first simply listen to all sides in the initial stages and will not use labels with political overtones, like "the perpetrators" or "the victims" and especially wanted to avoid using the names of the involved tribes. They opted instead for the terms "returning community" and "receiving community." Dave Zarembka, Director of AGLI, conducted three days of counselor training for the teams who will be doing this in the first two target communities, Turbo and Lugari. We talked about the Alternatives to Violence Project, active listening, and the principles of group work. Then the whole group worked on a plan of action before doing some serious role playing. They wanted to anticipate all possible difficult moments in the upcoming meetings.
The trained counselors were divided into two teams who, in the following week, met with the local government District Officers to explain their mission. The two DOs were more than happy to receive assistance and immediately cooperated by organizing the first two meetings with the village elders, chiefs, and other leaders of the receiving communities, while another team met again with people in the IDP camps. The teams of counselors have since reported that it was tense at times but all the meetings actually went very well and they said they were glad to have been prepared, especially with the role playing. As anticipated, the villagers were suspicious at first and were uncertain that the Quakers were actually neutral and could be trusted. However, with great faith in the Peace Testimony, much prayer, and trust in God’s guidance, Friends were able to be accepted. The counselors were able to maintain a position of listening with open minds and actually created some trust. This was better than expected for a trial run at something never before attempted in Kenya.
Friends would like us to continue to hold them in the Light and pray that their efforts at peacemaking are successful and I am happy to pass along this message. It has been such a privilege to see so many Kenyans leaving their homes, families, and jobs to travel so far by foot, bicycle, and minibus just to help bring peace to their country. Quakerism is alive and well in Kenya.