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#249 –AVP Introduction in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya — Oct 10, 2013

 Program:  Alternative to Violence Training

Venue: Kakuma Friends Church Refugee Camp

Dates: August 4, 2013- August 20, 2013

Facilitators: Peter Serete, Eunice Okwemba and Bernard Onjala

Kakuma is a small town located in the desert in northwestern Kenya. Historically it is believed to be where anthropologists hypothesize the human race began. The Kenyan government picked the area for use as a refugee camp. Today Kakuma has 120,000 refugees. The largest group at Kakuma are Sudanese who are fleeing the civil war in Sudan between the Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional African religions predominate. Other groups include Somalis displaced by conflict among clan warlords, as well as Ethiopians and Eritreans driven from their homes by struggles over independence, ideology and border conflicts. There are also Ugandans trying to protect their sons from abduction as child soldiers and their daughters as sex slaves by the Lord’s Resistance Army, an apocalyptic movement based on bizarre interpretations of Christianity and African traditions. Congolese and Burundians have been driven to Kakuma by genocide, ethnic conflict and ongoing civil and interstate war linked with exploitation of natural resources.

The reality that “a refugee is also human” teaches us to see the realities of conflict with greater sensitivity to the full range of human suffering from war. Thus, these refugees can teach us about our duty to find Alternatives to Violence. It is for these reasons that AGLI is introducing Alternatives to Violence (AVP) in the camp. “As a church we have faced religious intolerance with support from Friends United Meeting and now the AVP program which has brought about dedication to peace. With refugees from all sides of the conflicts represented in the training it shows that peace is achievable if the relevant actors can find the will and safe space to talk about peacebuilding through finding alternative ways to violence” Ettiene Paul, Friends church pastor and a student at friends theological college Kaimosi.

 Starting with two basic AVP workshops with 20 participants each we reached 40 participants then proceeded to one advanced AVP workshop including the 20 best participants of the basic workshops. Next we conducted training for facilitators for 15 of the participants who have finished the advanced workshop, followed by three apprentice AVP workshops with 5 new facilitators in each, mentored by a lead facilitators; thus reaching 60 participants.

Kakuma report

Participants in an AVP workshop session, sitting in a circle, demonstrate the

philosophy that the facilitators and participants are all learners and all teachers.

Kakuma

AVP is a multi- cultural volunteer organization dedicated to reducing interpersonal violence in the society. The basic training presents conflict management skills that can enable individuals to build successful interpersonal interactions, gain insight into them and find new and positive approaches to their lives. “There are cases of women from different nationalities fighting every morning when fetching water that is rationed for one hour and  interpersonal conflict that is experienced once in two weeks when refugees collect their food rations. This has brought animosity, anger and revenge among different nationalities. This training indeed has transformed me as a woman and all women that have learnt alternatives ways to violence should be role models for real change to be experienced in this camp.” Debora Hamani from Congo

The AVP program offers experiential workshops that empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, community building, cooperation and trust. When we recognize the goodness of the human spirit in all of us, we strengthen our confidence in that spirit. “We’ve gone to a lot of peacebuilding trainings in the camp but the uniqueness of AVP and how it recognizes the good in everyone, give us new insight on our negative judgment and perception of labeling others as more violent and forgetting to see the violence in us. I have learnt to be safe and peaceful here because violence displaced me from my home country.” Ecibe W’ecibe Tshi-Tshi from Congo

When an exercise reveals aspects of cooperation in solving a group problem, participants realize how important it is to put their differences and prejudice aside and the building a new society exercise showed how the attitudes and choices made by one society can affect the well-being of another society, and how this applies to individuals as members of families, groups, communities and nations. “We are all refugees. We came to Kenya from our countries because of many problem.,Creating new problems here will hurt us more. We need each other and our tolerance. Cooperation from this broken square exercise means we can make this camp a haven as we pray for peace in our mother countries” Timas  Ibrahim Hamdan from Sudan

Participants listening and sharing their problems in small groups

 

 Just listening to a traumatized person enlarges understanding of the problems of others and how to give help in solving them. Participants and facilitators had to experience what their own problem looks like seen through the eye of others and share with the group to experience the wisdom of the group aiding with each person’s problem. “Participants shared how different this training was from other peacebuilding trainings they  have done, in the safety and confidentiality of my group, participants opened  up and I was surprised how  this training was sensitive in handling the group needs, and as facilitator I feel trauma trainings should also be incorporated.” Eunice Okwemba.

When you seek to solve a problem rather than attack a person, you focus on the behaviour and the feeling that this behavior arouses. Using “I” messages to express feelings that surround a problem can be a means of transforming a conflict situation by arousing empathy in the other party. “A lot of violence experienced in this camp arises just because of small miscommunication which then erupts to bigger conflict. Yesterday after I learnt about the “I” message, I met my neighbor who is Sudanese. We had had a fight over water after she attacked my daughter, and I had sworn never to forgive or talk to her. By just expressing how I felt using “I” messages and the desire to forgive, she apologized and to me that was like a miracle. We all need this training” Julita Msafiri. Participants hearing a conflict I resolved nonviolently made the group aware that this is something that we already do, proving beyond any reasonable doubt that we have the power to transform.

            During the brainstorm of what are the root causes of violence, participants shared many challenges facing the international community today but few, in their mind, were more pressing than those of finding humanitarian solutions to their problems. They talked of regional conflicts, of economic and social crises, of political instability, of abuses of human rights, of racism, religious intolerance, inequalities between rich and poor, hunger, over-population, and under-development. Each and every one of these impediments to humanity’s pursuit of well-being is also among the root causes of refugee problems. And one thing that was not mentioned, and was evident, was the pain in the eyes of the refugees. “After running from home, I went to Nairobi then was transferred to Kakuma Refugee Camp.  On arrival life was not that easy, despite very harsh living conditions and the trauma of what I went through, it has never been easy to deal with my emotional pain in this camp for 3 years, because my perpetrators are still alive. It’s only in this training that I was given a safe space to share my story. Little did I know by sharing my story and participants being there for me, I felt to have started my journey of healing. It is in AVP that I leant how the methodology used in this training was extremely important in resolving a conflict or avoiding a conflict that might come about from a misunderstanding.” Abraham Dulacha Kule from Ethiopia.

I have carried that heavy heart with me since war started in my country. I was young, when it started,                     and am now in a Refugee Camp in Kenya with scars of that war; my heart  has broken totally,

 Friends Church Kakuma has played a very important role and is being a pillar of peace working in the refugee camp – invited by all nationalities in the camp. While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common courage; the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.

 

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A newly trained facilitator, Henry Munyaka, preparing

the agenda of day two in the apprentice workshop

 

Recommendations and challenges

“The challenge of ending Refugee camps in the Horn of Africa is inseparable from the challenge of establishing and maintaining peace through trainings like AVP, HROC and mediation. The desire of Friends Church Peace Teams is to continue with these trainings. We believe that when war’s end, farmers return to their fields; children return to school; violence against women declines; trade and economic activity resume; medical and other services become more accessible, and the international focus changes from relief to development and self-sufficiency, we will have already started the journey to transformation.” Peter Serete, AVP Lead facilitator

            Our next step will be to send back one or two of our experienced facilitators to mentor the fourteen newly trained facilitators in Kakuma as they conduct 8 basic workshops – I suggested that they do some of these with the Somali and Ethiopian communities. Then we will assess what the next step might be. It is clear to me that these refugees need the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program which would be another major undertaking. Then they also need transformative mediation and transformative dialogue (where communities in conflict discuss their problems together). So there is a lot ahead of us. Regardless of the extraordinarily bumpy ride and heat, our three facilitators are all willing to go back to the Kakuma refugee camp. Plans are already underway for workshops with the Ethiopian refugee community starting on November 25.

           

 

#248 – PeaceWays-AGLI — AGLI Creativity: Poems, pictures, sayings, stories, and more — October 2, 2013

Update on No “Cake Walk” for Kenya in Somalia: As you may note from my posting last Friday that was requested by Foreign Policy in Focus of the Institute of Policy Studies, it was sent out on their wire service as a progressive alternative to the mainstream media and the right-wing think tanks. As a result my article was picked up by about 15 publications. Some like Znet, Alternative News, and Truth-Out are part of the US alternative press. But it was picked up by European Union Examiner, Eurasia Review, and News Now in England. But what was most surprising to me was that it was published in Wardheer news which is an English language online newspaper for Somali and even more surprising by Warcusub Media, which is a Somali language newspaper, although they did not translate the article from English. When I wrote the article, I didn’t even think about a Somali audience so I am not sure how Somali will take it. Since al-Shabaab is media savvy, I would assume that they have read it also.

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African Village

44 inch by 47 inch quilt by Barbara Myers

 Back in the 1920s to 1950s, my grandmother made piles of quilts with her church guild ladies and sent them to Africa. That always seemed odd to me when I was a child, as I believed it was too hot in Africa for a quilt. I think now that they just wanted to quilt and their families’ beds were already piled high.

As a work camper in Kenya in 2007, I couldn’t stop looking at the colorful dresses and head wraps the women wore. I relished the bright colors and how the designs didn’t have to match.  As a quilter, I delight in fabric, and I had to keep myself from snipping swatches from ladies’ clothing when they weren’t looking. Instead, I bought small bits of fabrics from vendors up and down the market stalls in Kakamega and Nairobi, then collected more when I got home. I designed and sewed this quilt, African Village, from my memories of the traditional houses and the bright stars at night. 

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Please email me at dave@aglifpt.org if you would like a pdf copy of the latest issue of PeaceWays-AGLI—AGLI Creativity: Poems, pictures, savings, stories, and more. Here is my editorial comment and table of contents. Please enjoy.

             Editorial Comment:

             In PeaceWays, we always try to do something different. This issue is on creativity so we have six poems, a quilt, pictures of Burundian women and Kenyan food, stories on a work camp celebration in Burundi and family life in Kenya, proverbs from Burundi and Swahili, cute Swahili words and phrases, and skits from Burundian youth.

            Poetry recitals at events is a traditional custom in East and Central Africa and it has a stylized method of presentation which varies from country to country. Likewise on various occasions, youth get together to develop and perform skits illustrating the theme of the gathering. Both of these activities have been more or less suppressed in the United States by the dominance of TV and associated media – people have mostly become consumers rather than producers of local entertainment.

            My attempt in this different PeaceWays-AGLI is to give some flavor of the life and cultures of the region. I hope you enjoy the issue.

 Table of Contents:

African Village, by Barbara Myers                                          

Burundian Women, by David Zarembka                                            

A Week on Mt Elgon, by Joe Ossmann                                                          

Mountain, by Peter Serete                                                      

The Land Beyond Roads, by Anna Schonwald                                   

We All Want Peace and Harmony, by Zawadi Nikuze                                               

Live Again, by Getry Agizah                                                  

Work Camp Celebration, by Florence Ntakarutimana            

Cute Swahili Words and Sayings, by David Zarembka                       

Witnesed for Peace, by Eugene Obayi                                               

Proverbs, by David Zarembka and Florence Ntakarutimana 

Sangabandi skits, by various authors                                       

Family Life, by David Zarembka                                                                                                                   

Kenyan Cuisine, by Kathy Ossmann              

 

 

#247 — Roots of Westgate: No “Cake Walk” for Kenya in Somalia — September 27 2013

The Institute of Policy Studies, a progressive think-tank in Washington, DC where my daughter Joy is the associate director, asked me to submit an article on the Westgate Mall attack and they published it today in their Foreign Policy in Focus (fpif.org/)

Roots of Westgate: No “Cake Walk” for Kenya in Somalia

When Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011, it overturned a 48-year-old policy of not involving itself in the armed conflicts of its neighbors—and now innocent Kenyans are paying the price.

By David Zarembka..

When Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011, it overturned a wise, 48-year-old policy of not involving itself in the armed conflicts of its neighbors—and Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia have all had times of conflict. In the best cases—as with South Sudan’s secession from Sudan—Kenya, as a neutral country, was able to broker a peace agreement between the warring parties. As a belligerent in Somalia it will have no such possibility. The invasion of Somalia came quite unexpectedly. It was not much discussed in the media, and even the U.S. State Department and military advisers in Kenya seemed to have been surprised by it.

It seems that Kenyan officials, like official Washington when the United States invaded Iraq, thought that the invasion would be a “cake walk,” confidently announcing that the disputed port of Kismayo would be taken within a month. They assumed that since their army was better armed and organized, they would easily defeat the ragtag al-Shabaab.

This was delusional. The invasion of Somalia happened at the height of the rainy season so, as with Napoleon and Hitler’s invasions of Russia, Kenya’s big armaments, tanks, and trucks soon became submerged in mud. It took Kenyan troops almost a year to take Kismayo.

More significantly, Kenya, like the United States, does not seem to understand asymmetrical warfare. War in the eastern part of Africa is not like the U.S. Civil War or World War I, where gigantic armies lined up, attacked, and shot at each other. The Kenyan military, employing what is called in Washington the “Powell doctrine” of overwhelming force, “conquered” Kismayo in this old-fashioned way, leaving overwhelmed al-Shabaab fighters to evaporate into the local population. But this victory was incomplete, as terrified shoppers discovered recently in Nairobi.

Kenya should have realized something like this was coming.

Al-Shabaab had attacked soft targets in the past. In July 2010, in retaliation for Ugandan troops joining the Africa Union mission in Somalia, al-Shabaab bombed two Kampala restaurants where people were watching the World Cup, killing 74 people. Al-Shabaab had similarly threatened to attack soft targets in Kenya after the invasion, even indicating that the target might be one of the upscale malls where wealthy Kenyans and expatriates frequented.

Over the last two years, there have been a number of terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab and its supporters in Kenya. Many were simple attacks, where a person on a motorcycle would throw a grenade at a bus stop or someplace else where people were gathered—a common tactic in this region. In a number of instances, attackers crossing the Somali border in northeastern Kenya targeted government posts and vehicles, or sometimes aid workers. But these attacks landed far from thickly populated southern Kenya, and so remained out of mind for the majority of Kenyans.

Compared to the previous attacks in Kenya, the Westgate Mall attack was well organized, thoroughly planned, and well resourced. The Kenyan newspapers claim that this is the dying gasp of a defeated enemy pleading for relevance, but I would think that this is another delusion. As long as Kenya keeps its military in Somalia, al-Shabaab will remain in the shadows, ready to attack now and then when the opportunity arises.

This dynamic is driven in part by financing from the United States and its allies, since the African Union forces in Somalia are paid for mostly by the United States, United Kingdom, France, and other EU countries. If they didn’t pay, there would be no foreign armies in Somalia. In Burundi and Uganda, soldiers are reportedly paid around $100 per month (if their commanders don’t embezzle their pay), while as part of the AU forces they are paid $1000 per month (and much more likely to get it). So there is great competition among the soldiers back home to be appointed to go to Somalia.

Since the attack, Kenyan authorities have yet to acknowledge that the vast majority of the region’s Muslims condemn the violence as much as anyone else. Likewise, no one is cautioning that the 2 million Kenyan Somalis and the almost 1 million Somali refugees in Kenyon are also totally innocent of this crime. There is a real danger—as experienced by Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern descent in the United States after 9/11—that the Kenyan government will use this attack to curtail civil liberties, commit ethnic and religious profiling, and challenge anyone who opposes state policies as unpatriotic, potentially leading again to a repressive autocracy reminiscent of the Moi years.

What is the solution? Talking. This is what ends every war and conflict. This is already occurring in Somalia and in North Kivu in the eastern Congo. But the antagonists are not going to engage in dialogue until they are pushed by others, particularly the international community. The United States in particular has the leverage to drive negotiations, since it controls the purse strings.

The U.S. government, along with its hawkish allies at the United Nations, seems averse to this approach. But in the absence of a negotiated settlement, innocent Kenyans and their neighbors in the region will continue to reap the deadly harvest of an asymmetric war.

#246 — Terrorist Attack on Westgate Mall — September 22, 2013

             As I expect you have heard, there was a terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi yesterday beginning shortly after noon. Almost 24 hours later the siege is still continuing. About ten al-Shabaab heavily armed fighters (including one woman) stormed the upscale shopping center used by wealthy Kenyans and expatriates. At this time the death toll is 39 (as I was checking the news reports as I was editing this post, I see that the death toll is now 59) with at least 175 more wounded. Over a thousand people escaped even as others are probably still hiding in the building and perhaps 35 are still being held as hostages.

                        The dead include Juan Ortiz from Peru who was formerly the Director of Change Agents for Peace, International (CAPI), a Nairobi based NGO supported by the Norwegian Quakers and AGLI’s sister organization in our peace work in the region. His thirteen year old son was shot in the leg and is in the hospital. A member of Lumakanda Friends Church told Gladys that her nephew was used as a shield by one of the terrorists, who was somehow shot and wounded so her nephew escaped alive. The terrorist was captured and taken to the hospital but later died. The nephew’s friend with whom he had gone to the mall was killed.  Ruth and Donald Thomas, long time Quakers who live nearby, had gone there in the morning to do some shopping, had coffee at the café, and left less than two hours before the assault began. Our son, Douglas Shikuunzi, was planning to go the mall in the afternoon, but when he heard about the assault, when home instead. As in all massacres like this, some perish and others survive – as the Kenyans would say, “According to the will of God.” The space between life and death is so narrow.

             The anchor store for the four-story, 80 outlet mall was Nakumatt, the largest supermarket chain in the country. Gladys and I had sometimes shopped there before Nakumatt opened their new stores in Eldoret and Kakamega. When Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011, al-Shabaab had indicated that they would initiate revenge attacks in Kenya and have been doing so with small grenade attacks in Nairobi and elsewhere and more sustained attacks in northeastern Kenya near the Dadaab refugee camp, filled with over 500,000 refugees from the two decades of chaos in Somalia. Al-shabaab specifically threatened to attack a mall in Westlands, called a “leafy suburb” by Kenyans because the people are rich enough to have big yards with lots of trees.

             Security was tightened up when Kenya invaded Somalia. The guards — one male for the men and one female for the women — at the supermarkets had wand detectors and they quickly ran these over the bodies of the people entering the supermarket. I felt it was only a formality since I had no idea what they would do if they found a gun or bomb on someone entering – they are unarmed. In some supermarkets, guards at the parting lot gate would use a mirror to look for bombs under the vehicle. Again I had no idea what they would do if they found one and it is clear that anyone who had a bomb in the vehicle would just crash the gate and drive to the entrance and set off the bomb. It seems some of the dead were these security guards. Of course there is no way to defend consumer businesses against a well-armed group of ten or so fighters intent on creating chaos and killing people.

             According to reports, the attackers asked people who were lying on the floor if they were Muslims or not. They told the Muslims to stand up and leave – in some cases they asked the Muslims to say a Muslim prayer to prove that they were in fact Muslims. Some of those who escaped indicated that they thought that at least some of the attackers were Somali. Because of former attacks inside Kenya, the large group of perhaps two million Kenyan Somali have been targeted by the Kenyan security forces and discriminated against by the general public. Somali people are known for their success in business — there are some Somali merchants in the neighboring town of Turbo near where we live.

             Clearly this attack at Westgate Mall was blowback from the Kenyan invasion of Somalia. High government officials quickly claim that this will not deter them from their course of action in Somalia, but while al-Shabaab is “outgunned” in Somalia, they can pick off soft targets like the mall whenever they are organized well enough to do so. So the battle will continue, both in Somalia and Kenya (and also Uganda where al-Shabaab killed over 200 people three years ago as they watched the finals of the World Cup soccer match).

             But since I have see this happen myself in the United States after 9/11, will the Kenyan government use this attack to curtail civil liberties, challenge anyone who opposes them as unpatriotic, and lead again to a repressive regime as occurred during the Moi years?

#245 — Twiga (Giraffe) Youth Dialogue — September 21, 2013

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Note 1: For my fall speaking tour of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, I still have open days – Oct 21 to 25 and Oct 28 to Nov 2. I’d like to fill up some of these openings. If interested, please contact me at dave@aglifpt.org.

Note 2: Join the HROC Basic training in Baltimore, MD from November 17 to 19, 2103.

The HROC three-day basic training presents a group based experiential model of healing that focuses on recognizing and understanding extreme trauma and its effects on the individual, family and community. Based equally on trauma theory and in-the-field application, the HROC training engages participants in a process that is both instructive and personally enlightening. Participants gain tools to help themselves and others through the process of grieving, loss, and the transformation of hurt into healing. If interested contact Amy Rakusin at arrax@me.com or Adrian Bishop at aadrianfpt@gmail.com for details.

Note 3: My daughter, Joy, is Associate Director of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, DC, a progressive think-tank that counteracts the well-established conservative ones. She is in charge of the 50th Anniversary of IPS. For more information, see their website at www.ips-dc.org/50th.

From October 11th-13th, 2013, the Institute for Policy Studies will host a special weekend of events in Washington, DC honoring activists and activism and envisioning a plan for a bold, progressive future. Amy Goodman, Harry Belafonte, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and many others will all be there as we open a dialogue for activists to envision “The Next 50 Years.”

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I am sending you this report on a youth dialogue in Kenya to illustrate how the various programs AGLI supports can come together for a significant experience for all the participants – 148 youth in this case, although many more were turned away. David Zarembka.

TWIGA YOUTH DIALOGUE
By Getry Agizah, Coordinator, Friends Church Peace Teams

When I did Civic Education with the County Councilors of Transzoia County, Kenya, they asked what other programs FCPT does. I told them what we do and one councilor took my contact information. Later he called me to ask if we can accept to sponsor a youth forum for three days to talk about conflict, peace and rights followed by a dialogue and have them raise issues that affect their community. I went to discuss the idea with him and shared that we don’t have funds and so we couldn’t handle that and assured him that we can bring facilitators and take care of their travel. He said the Government is still working on the budgets from the county and money has not been released yet. He approached the Free Pentecostal Fellowship in Kenya (FPFK), Kitale branch, for support and they agreed to fund the workshop meals. After the 2008 post election violence, we had conducted some Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshops for FPFK’s youth street program. The county office for youth was responsible to do the mobilization.

During the first two days of the workshop we mostly used exercises from the AVP Manuals and from Guidelines to Mediation. We used the trees of violence and non-violence, empathy, transforming power, elements and principles, forgiveness, “who am I?,” affirmation exercise, listening exercise and the Bill of Rights as it is in the new Kenyan Constitution. Then on the third day we embarked on the dialogue and way forward. My co-facilitators were Erastus Chesondi, Erick Simiyu and Emily Sikoya.

DATED 28th – 30th AUGUST 2013 IN ENTEBESS

CONCLUSION

This was a great process — first the background of understanding conflict and peace, then knowing ones rights, and finally having a whole day to dialogue with each other. The group was active and vibrant. Real issues came up during dialogue. People raised their voices at a certain time but calmed down after expressing what they felt. The forum was frank and genuine. Some of the issues touched the area chief and his office. We experienced courage and boldness of expression as the discussion took place leading to agreement. This brought up some open apologies from the administration and even from the participants who happened to have uttered words, which according to the group, were not true. Transforming power was real and seen in the sessions.

PRELIMINARIES

We started well. First the crowd was big and the organizers gave the mobilizers time together with the area senior assistant chief to control and reduce the number to the 148 youth for which we had planned. The organizer talked of the Mabanga Peace Accord, and gave the specific objectives. In general it set a great climate setting that we all felt accommodated. The agenda was typed and acted as a guide. Due to shortage of time and the size of the group, we could not have an in-build introduction and thus, it was not easy for the facilitators to remember the participants and even participants remembering each other.

We were in Chepchoina Location, with participants from the three of its sub-locations. Their home areas are covered with challenges and people were free to share them. Ignorance is rampant and leaders take that to their advantage and manipulate the citizens. The area is surrounded by the Agricultural Development Corporation farm, and the Kenya Seed farm. I had believed that, when we have big companies in an area, the people benefit and the town grows. But for this community, that is not true. Most people explained that these farms are the major causes of child labor, school dropouts, insecurity, minimal wages etc. Also the farms are taking the community vigilantes into their employ and leaving the community in dilemma when it comes to protecting civilians.

ACTIVITY DESCRIPTION

This is a youth forum and the attendees were mostly young Kenyans from Chepchoina. We had six people who were above the age bracket of youth who represented elders, two area assistant chiefs, and one chief. It took three days. On day 1, we learned about conflict — what is conflict, causes of conflict, elements of conflict, and effects of conflict. Then we introduced peace and ended the day. Day 2, we did more on peace and reconciliation and its roots, forgiveness and importance. Then we did the bill of rights as given in the constitution. Day 3, we focused on the dialogue. This was a very fair and open space for the people to share what they think and know according to their issues.
The facilitation process was participatory, giving the participants time to break into small groups and have group interactions. Most of the topics were explored in groups. Then energizers (Light and Livelies) picked up the energy level. Participants were involved in activities that at their age made them feel respected. In the third day, participants were in deep dialogue on issues they had raised in various discussions. They started by sharing in twos and then discussed their thoughts in groups and presented their finding in the larger group. Each day, we did a recap to make sure we were reading from the same page with the participants before starting a new day. We had the participants in groups and shared their expectation on the workshop. They came up with the expectations below and, as we ended the day, some were answered and a few had not been answered.
1. Gain ideas on how to change our attitudes towards our peers.
2. To receive handouts and certificates.
3. Learn about the rights of youths.
4. Learn to maintain a good relationship with each other.
5. Discuss about the giant corruption.
6. Learn about the connection of peace and rights.
7. To have time to interact with each other.
8. Learn how to restore peace.
9. Share personal experiences.
10. Get skills on how to live peacefully.
11. Understand our role after the workshop.
12. How to cooperate with matters of the society.
13. Get manuals and booklets.
14. Be role models in the community.

We did have one-on-one sharing with a few participants noting their testimony in private — it was more of opening up and need for a safe space. One participant shared, “I have not been in good terms with my mother, but from now I’m going to share everything I have learnt especially about anger.”

IMMEDIATE RESULTS:

Participants 148, Administration 7, Facilitators 3, Organizers 2.
a) I have learnt the effect of conflict and have decided to change the bad attitudes I have been carrying in me, one participant commented.

b) After the dialogue, I have realized that as your chief, I did not know a lot of the issues you have raised. I am going to form a vetting committee, so that the people who are taking bribes in my office should go home and we get others. Keep helping my office to serve you better. This was said by the chief after the youth raise the issue of being asked for money to obtain their identification cards.

c) My life is going to change for the better, said another participant, I have been careless with my life to the extent of having many affairs with different women, I am going to be tested and I have vowed to stop that. In fact one of the ladies I was to meet called me and I did not want to talk to her.

d) During the dialogue, one participant talked on how when they go to the chiefs office they are asked to pay money to get their identification cards, and yet they all know that this process is free. One village elder stood up in defense, protecting the office of the chief and accepted that they only ask money for lunch and it is not corruption. Participants were not happy with this until they insisted that he should withdraw his statement. Having all the pressure he had no option but to apologize and take back what he said. This proved that people were genuine and had learnt a lot in two days; that they did give their society first priority more that which tribe they come from.

e) The dialogue again brought up successful responses from the chief. Having heard what the participants were saying, he promised to do his best to look into their concerns and also asked the participants to work with him in making the community a better place. If I knew this day I would be sitting on a hot seat like this, I would have come in the evening to close the session and avoid attending this dialogue.

f) As a major focus of the community is education, a lady stood up and shared with the group that she is on a committee that is looking at education and the country has been serious about children going to school. She promised to follow up teachers who are coming to school drunk, as one participant shared, and she said that things will start working next year. The participants echoed with one voice that next year is too far; let’s heat the iron while it is still hot.

OBSERVATIONS/ ANALYSIS

The workshop was very successful; we did group participation and did a lot of exercises, some of which are not in the manual. We tried to have a flow of the activities in the workshop. Giving participants time to share amongst themselves built bonds that could not go unrecognized.

Having understood dialogue as a forum, in which people talk about issues affecting them, time and space is needed to explore and accept the direction of the discussion. We did the 3rd day to build more on the dialogue and we are happy on how it went.
There is need for the community to learn the skills of non-violent social change to enable them to have choices that are more humane and care for the opponents. Some of this was like empowering them to have a peaceful demonstration in case they think a structure in an institution is not working well. Some of these big mistakes just need numbers of people with the same voices to reach resolution.

CHALLENGES

1. The numbers of participants was too big to deal with and it is not easy for facilitators to keep track of who came each day and who missed.
2. Representation of some ethnic groups was not well considered; e.g. having only one Pokot, and one Turkana.
3. Having the presence of administration, village elders, church leaders, increased the number of participants who were above the targeted age bracket and it was really hard for the young people to freely bring up issues.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Need to develop a manual for the ordinary citizen; we did have many exercises from different manuals. Addition exercises should be added to enable the facilitators to choose what works for each group.
2. The seating arrangement for the dialogue was interesting to the participants — they encouraged this should be done again
3. There was a lot of energy from the youth that can be taken back by the organizers and the FCPT office to visit and guide them.
4. There is high need for follow-up so that the community can feel the presence of the office and appreciate the effort we all have invested in the community.
5. Some of the participants had no education background and thus communicating with them meant we talked more Kiswahili than English

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Many people were sent back home because of the large number. One recommendation is, if the FCPT office can do more forums like this, to reach many youths and even mixed ages of people in this location.
2. More days to be added in the session so that we can go deeper and heal our wounds from trauma.
3. The criteria of getting participants should be based on tribal representation so that the number of participants from each tribe is equal.
4. Is it is possible for the FCPT office not to pay the transport but give food and do more workshops? commented the area chief.
5. If the FCPT office can empower the group and give them a one day forum to keep talking about issues in order to help parents and administration and the whole community practice conflict transformation.
6. Pick a few individuals who can be key dialogue facilitators to join the women-in-advocacy and have representation.
7. Have a camera to measure and document our success.

Now Mt Elgon observed this community dialogue and requested to do the same in the six divisions in Mt Elgon.

#244 — Invitation to Support — September 14, 2013

Recently I have been touring the region, observing the programs AGLI partners with and discussing issues with the staff. On the one hand, I am pleased with how much the AGLI programs have and are accomplishing with limited resources. On the other hand, I look at the needs that our programs could be addressing if only we had more resources. AGLI is frugal in that it supports only two or three staff in each country that organize and account for the projects. But there are many facilitators for each of the programs – Alternatives to Violence (AVP), Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC), transformative mediation, and Turning the Tide (in Kenya) — available to conduct many more workshops if funds are available. When this occurred, for example, after the post election violence in Kenya in 2008, the program was able to conduct 6, 8, or even 10 three-day workshops in a week. The capacity is there.
As a result AGLI has launched an additional method of supporting AGLI’s program, inviting meetings, churches, organizations, or individuals to support a specific project. Each of the five AGLI programs – HROC-Burundi, HROC-Rwanda, HROC-North Kivu, Peace Building-Kenya, and the Friends Women’s Association — has developed one or more proposals for small scale projects from $2,000 to $8,000 each. So far we have received support for the following:
1. Bethesda Meeting has supported a HROC project for primary school teachers in Burundi.

2. An individual has contributed the funds needed to introduce AVP in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

3. Rosalie Dance, a member of the AGLI Working Group, has solicited donations from women during Baltimore Yearly Meeting to support a Rape Survivors Support project in Burundi.

4. The new British charity, Africa Great Lakes Peace Trust, has donated funds for seven HROC workshops in war-torn Goma in North Kivu, Congo.

We are asking meetings, churches, organizations, and individuals to consider selecting a project for funding. If the total for the project is more than can be raised, AGLI is willing to accept a half, a third, or a quarter of the amount needed for the project. Supporting these projects might be an excellent way for a meeting, church, or organization to hold a fund raising campaign. Naturally AGLI will be sending the donor reports on the project as it is implemented.

Here is a list of pending projects looking for support.

1. HROC-Rwanda, $4,000: Working with 50 women from Kibuye, who have completed the basic HROC workshop, to develop a nutritional program in growing and eating vegetables along with a goat project for milk and fertilizer.

2. HROC-Burundi, $3,576: Preparing 54 Burundian youth (13 to 24 years of age) for the 2015 election, citizen reporting, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission including basic AVP and HROC workshops.

3. Friends Women’s Association, Burundi, $4,560: Awareness/Outreach Program for Family Planning for 207 women of childbearing age in nine communities of Kamenge, a Bujumbura slum.

4. Kakuma Friends Church, $3,000: Eight apprentice AVP workshops in Kakuma Refugee Camp including the Somali and Ethiopian communities in the camp to allow the fourteen newly trained AVP facilitators to become experienced facilitators.

5. HROC-Rwanda, $3538: Training of fifteen additional HROC facilitators/healing companions from two communities, Kibuye and Musanze.

6. Friends Church Peace Teams, Kenya, $3,968: Conducting six AVP workshops, four HROC workshops and one Turning the Tide training on Mt Elgon for 220 participants in additional areas of conflict on the mountain.

7. Mediation-Rwanda, Burundi, and North/South Kivu, $2500: Refresher meetings for trained mediators to share and enhance mediation skills.

8. HROC-Uganda, ~$8,000: Introduction of HROC with three already-trained apprentice facilitators in Gulu, northern Uganda, in area devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

There are also a number of building projects, which on the whole will be more expensive than a meeting or church can raise funds for, but it is possible to select one particular aspect of the total plan for support. Here are the building projects currently under consideration:

1. HROC-North Kivu, Congo: Development of women’s center on plot already purchased in Goma.

2. United for Peace and Community Development, Kenya: Building of peace house on Mt Elgon.

3. Friends Women’s Association, Burundi: Renovation and improvements to Kamenge Clinic.

If you are interested in getting your meeting, church, or organization to support one of these projects, please contact me at dave@aglifpt.org for the detailed proposal.

Thanks so much for your consideration of this invitation to support one AGLI’s projects.

#243 — Kakuma Refugee Camp — September 6, 2013

I have just returned from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya near the South Sudan and Uganda borders. “Kakuma” is supposed to mean “nowhere” in Swahili and it did seem like we were no longer in Kenya. When facilitator Peter Serete called me from Kakuma, he asked, “How is Kenya?” as if he were not longer in Kenya. The ride was essentially 16 hours from Kitale over what I call a “formerly paved road” so it was an extremely bumpy ride and we had a blow-out on the way back after the bus hit a major pothole. The local Turkana people, in the area around Kakuma, raise goats, some sheep, camels, and donkeys – they eat all of them. There is no grass so there are not cows. Interestingly enough there is a torn bush that can grow into a small tree which is always green even when there is no rain. I noticed that dew drops came off the iron roofing sheets in the morning so I suspect that this bush is somehow able to absorb moisture from the air. When it does rain, it pours, causing flooding. I was told that the refugees prefer the dry weather (they are not able to grow any crops) because there is more sickness, particularly among children, when it rains. There is also so much mud that people have to walk barefoot because they are unable to pull their shoes out of the muck. Sometimes it doesn’t rain for a year or two. The average daily high is 104 degree Fahrenheit, but it is dry heat and cools down quickly in the evening when the sun sets – St. Louis and DC can be much more humid and hotter so they didn’t understand why I wasn’t particularly bothered by the heat.

Housing is made from adobe bricks which the refugee has to make himself – about 2,000 of them are needed for one of these small houses. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), who runs the camp with the help of numerous NGOs, then gives them the iron sheets for the roof. There is also a nice hospital and some schools, staffed by local refugees at a low wage. The local Turkana are resentful of the refugees taking up their land and invading their space. They feel, with justice, that the refugees are receiving things that they themselves do not – they can see the big water tanks, for example.

There must be frequent conflict because any Turkana found in the camps after 6:00 PM is arrested. There are over 123,000 refugees in the camp which began in 1992. The biggest country represented is Somalia, followed closely by Sudan, but significant numbers from Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but there are also some from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and elsewhere. Africa has more genetic diversity than all the rest of the world and it is obvious as you notice the very distinctively different ethnic groups in the camp. Moreover refugees from the same country may be coming from different tribes. Even though the camp is in a semi-arid region, water is not a problem. The large NGOs in camp have developed major water supplies with boreholes and large tanks. Pipes run from these tanks to many watering taps, but nonetheless many conflicts occur at the watering taps – something I cannot explain since there is more than sufficient water. There are also conflicts between the Muslims and Christians since most of the Somali, Sudanese, and Ethiopians are Muslim. Three months ago two different tribes from Sudan (who are fighting each other back in the Sudan, generating these refugees) got into a conflict which ended with the seven women, youth, and children dead. It is for these reasons that AGLI is introducing Alternatives to Violence (AVP) in the camp.

There is also a conflict between the “real” refugees and those whom I would call “opportunistic” refugees. Each year about one thousand refugees are given asylum in another country – the United States, Australia, England, and so on. These opportunistic refugees come to the camp, not because they have had traumatic experiences, but because they want to be sent to one of these receiving countries. Clearly the real refugees resent these pretenders and probably have no difficulty figuring out who they are. These seems to be a long shot as less than 1% are given asylum in any one year, but I guess the heat, hardship, and isolation of the camp (refuges are not allowed to leave the camp without permission) is like any lottery – some feel that they are going to be much luckier than the real chance they have.

Rations are given out every two weeks, but are not sufficient so people need to augment this with other activities. There are many thriving businesses in the camp – one that particularly struck me was that the Somali, who are energetic business people, were supplying electricity to those who could afford to buy it. A ration is called a “size.” Size one is a single person; size two, two people; size five, five people; and so on. As soon as a child reaches two months he or she is added on to the size of the family, meaning that they will receive more rations. One can easily, then, understand why the birth rate in the camp is high.

We are working through the local Quaker church which was started five years ago by Pastor Etienne Paul, a Quaker pastor from South Kivu, Congo. It now has almost 350 members of many different nationalities although the Congolese predominate. We did this “the AGLI way.” The facilitators (and me for the night that I was there) slept on mattresses placed on the floor of the church’s back rooms, the ladies of the church cooked the food for us and for the participants during the workshops, and were wonderful hosts – the chief cook, Elizabeth, cried when the facilitators left because she had catered to them for the three weeks they were there. Naturally at the closing celebration where I handed out certificates to the 96 people who had completed one or more of the AVP workshops, the church choir continued to entertain us with song after song with dance steps in that wonderful, Congolese lively beat.

Our three most experienced AVP facilitators, Peter Serete, Eunice Okwemba, and Bernard Onjala, conducted two basic three-day workshops, followed by an advanced, and a training for facilitators. These new facilitators then were apprentices in one of three apprentice basic workshops. Few Somali or Ethiopian refugees attended these workshops because, as Muslims, they did not want to enter into a Christian church. Nonetheless the Somali leader of Camp II where the church is (out of the six camps) came to me personally and asked for AVP trainings for the Somali community. Likewise I received a written request from the leaders of the Ethiopian community to bring the project to them.

Our next step will be to send back one or two of our experience facilitators to mentor the fourteen newly trained facilitators as they conduct 8 basic workshops – I suggested that they do some of these with the Somali and Ethiopian communities. Then we will assess what the next step might be. It is clear to me that these refugees need the Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) program which would be another major undertaking. Then they also need transformative mediation and transformative dialogue (where communities in conflict discuss their problems together). So there is a lot ahead of us. Regardless of the bumpy ride and heat, our three facilitators are all willing to go back to the Kakuma refugee camp.

#242 — Abortion in Kenya –August 30, 2013

This past week a report was released on abortion in Kenya. It reported an amazingly high number of estimated abortions — 465,000. Compare this with the US, which has a population eight times that of Kenya, and had 784,507 abortions in 2009. I really have no idea how the researchers arrived at this estimate since abortion is illegal in Kenya except to save the life of the mother. There are only a few legal abortions in the country so the vast majority — frequently done by extremely crude methods — are illegal. For the last ten years there have been around 1.3 million births per year so the percentage of pregnancies that terminated in abortion is about 35.7%. This is more than twice as high as in the United States (16.4%).

One obvious reason for this high rate of abortion is that family planning methods are not always available. Two-thirds of those receiving abortions are married and did not properly use family planning methods. Part of the reason for this is that, since around 1990, resources have been going to contain and fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sometimes at the expense of family planning – both financially and in awareness. Moreover education and information about family planning is scarce. Recently a TV commercial on the use of condoms was pulled from the airwaves after objections from the religious community.

But what is really shocking is that 25.8% of the abortions are botched so that 120,000 women are treated for this in hospitals and clinics per year. It is possible that the actual number of abortions is much higher as this would then account for the large number of women needing care after a botched abortion. Moreover over 2,000 of these women (more than 1.7% of those admitted to hospitals and clinics) die from botched abortions, making this one of the leading causes of maternal death in the country. A high percentage of these botched abortions and deaths involve women under 20 years of age. These 2,000 deaths per year are greater than the number of people killed in the 2008 post-election violence.

There have been calls to legalize abortion – particularly in the cases of rape, incest, and child defilement (the Daily Nation today had a report of a 14 year old girl who had triplets). The religious community is vehemently opposed to this. Moreover, as one writer to the Daily Nation noted, Kenyan hospitals and clinics are already under-staffed, under-funded without adequate beds and medicine, and therefore unable to cope with an additional influx of about half a million abortions per year.

This leads to a philosophical question. The high number of abortions means that more than 2% of all females and perhaps 5% of the women of child bearing age have an abortion in any one year. Clearly over their child bearing years, a high percentage of the women have had one or more abortions. Should a country, then, outlaw something that is so prevalent and deadly? Those who are most opposed to abortion are those most opposed to family planning and sex education, particularly for youth. I would think that both sides could unite on family planning goals which would lead to fewer abortions, complications from abortions, and maternal deaths. I don’t know if this will happen.

#241 – Mutaho, Burundi, Workcamp — August 25, 2013

 burindiNote: On August 23, Blair Forlaw posted an article on Huffington Post entitled “Children’s Libraries Seek a Sustainable Peace in Rwanda.”  These libraries are supported by AGLI. This was posted under the “Good News” section. Blair Forlaw was a member of St Louis Meeting with Gladys and me, but she moved to DC and is now a member of Friends Meeting of Washington. Her husband, a doctor, has been posted to Rwanda for a year to work on training of doctors and health workers so Blair will be going back and forth from DC to Rwanda and is volunteering at the Children’s Peace Library in Kigali. Her article can be found at  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blair-forlaw/childrens-libraries-seek-_b_3803460.html.

If you would like to donate children’s books to these libraries, please contact me at dave@aglifpt.org. But do note that it cost about $3 each to mail the books to Rwanda. So in addition to the donation of the books, there will be a need for fundraising to send them to Rwanda. Ask me for details.

*****

This summer’s work-camp has been one of our most successful ones to date. This is mostly because, in addition to the usual work-camp construction, Adrien and Florence used the work-camp for peace building and reconciliation.

There were only two American work-campers — Wanda Carter and Judy Scheckel. People commented that this was the first time that wazungu (foreigners) had slept the night in Mutaho since 1934 when the missionaries first came. The conditions at the work-camp were basic — no electricity and a pit latrine — and both accommodated to this with no complaining. There were ten Burundian work-campers who came each day and went home. This was the first step in reconciliation at the work-camp because five of them were Tutsi from the internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp and five were Hutu from the surrounding village. There was also gender balance. The organization sponsoring the work-camp, Rema (“be comforted”) is a group of widows mostly from Mutaho Friends Church which donated the plot for the buildings. Three of these women usually joined the work-camp each day as their part of the labor contribution.

The task was to build the foundation for 8 guests rooms and the washroom and construct the first two guest rooms. These are next to the already completed Rema social hall. By the end of the work-camp the foundation had been laid — reinforced from the original idea so that a second story could later be built on top of the first 8 rooms — and the two guest rooms built above the lintel. By the time I saw it four weeks later, the two rooms had been roofed, but the windows and doors were still missing. When Gladys and I meet with 8 members of the Rema group, they had put a lot of grass on the floor so that we could meet in the newly constructed room.

The work-camp began with a three-day basic HROC workshop for youth — this included 10 Tutsi, 8 Hutu, and 2 Twa (the small, marginalized group). From what I can tell, the Americans did not attend this workshop.

Four afternoons during the work-camp, teraryarenga (meaning “gathering together”) occurred, including the usual drumming and singing by the Mutaho choir to attack an audience. On each of the four days one of the major HROC programs presented their activity to the whole community including the local government officials. The first was the Rema group itself, the second was the bio-sand water filter program, the third was the Peace and Democracy groups that monitor the election process and local civic peace, and the last was by the women from the goats’ project. In addition to the drumming and singing each group presented dances, role plays, and testimonies. Judy counted 85 adults and 115 children at one of these events.

The work-camp ended with a community celebration with over 300 people attending. Those attending included not only the local administrators but also Moses Chasieh, the AFSC director in Burundi — the AFSC contributed to the expenses of the work-camp, particularly the HROC workshop, the 4 gatherings, the celebration, and some for construction materials. When I met with Moses, he told me that he was impressed and excited by the celebration and the activities being done in Mutaho.

In the previous year, the vice-president of Burundi, who comes from Mutaho, had tried to organize an inter-ethnic Tutsi/Hutu soccer game, but failed. HROC didn’t fail as there were two integrated teams from the Tutsi IDP camp and Hutu from the community. “This game was historic for Mutaho,” the commune (local government unit) administrator said during his remarks.

When Gladys and I visited the construction site a few weeks later and had a meeting with the Rema women, Pastor Sarah, the forever joyful hugging 65-year-old first female pastor of Burundi Yearly Meeting and the leader of the group, was called away by the local administrator because she was being honored by them for the work that she was doing on behalf of the community. It seems that the local government plans include 6 guest houses for Mutaho and this is the third one being constructed. But the guest house has a long way to go since I estimate that it will cost about $15,000 to complete the first 8 guest rooms and bathroom. When I visit Mutaho next time, I hope to sleep there rather than the nearby Catholic monastery.

We will be planning another work-camp in Mutaho next year from June 28 to August 2, 2014. I hope that we will have more than two international work-campers for this unusual experience.

#240 — Trip to Rwanda and Burundi– August 22, 1013

          Here are five observations from Gladys’ and my recent two week visit to Rwanda and Burundi:

Peacemaking is tough: When I was in Gisenyi, Rwanda, talking with the people we work with in Goma in North Kivu, Congo (it is too difficult for me to get a visa now to enter North Kivu as I have to get it in the US where I don’t stay), they told me that on the next day, August 13, there was going to be a general strike for peace in Goma with parades and demonstrations indicating that the people were tired of all the fighting. I remember in 2002 when AGLI’s AVP facilitators who were in Bujumbura, Burundi, participated in a similar action with the Friends church and others. Here is Zawadi’s report on the strike:

Oh my goodness, you heard about it? It was planned that the peace activists would do a demonstration but it did not take place. The government issued a warning to those who would get involved. Shopkeepers got scared and closed their shops in fear of looting. But in the afternoon a MONUSCO [the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo] car hit a pedestrian who died instantly and the local population in retaliation mixed with anger beat up a MONUSCO soldier almost killing him. Some say he later succumbed to the injuries but we cannot confirm that. Now the situation is calm.

Housing above Gisenyi: As I drove down the steep hill into the town of Gisenyi, Rwanda, on the border of Lake Kivu, I noticed a town where there were many new houses with shinny corrugated iron sheets. I had been told when I had seen them a few years before that the Rwandan government had moved people off the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains so that they would not be killed by landslides and gave them a plot in the town, and funds to build a new house. They were like the houses favored by the elite in the region with very steep roofs which I estimate take twice as many iron sheets as a regular roof would – iron sheets are one of the most expensive items in building a house. As they were when I first saw them a few years ago, most did not have doors or windows and were empty. The peasant farmers with their allotment had built much bigger houses than the funds that they received and so they were monuments to the African custom of dreaming bigger than the reality of the funds available. The countryside in the region is filled with partially completed houses. I sometimes say that if every house in the region which had been started were completed, then the population would be well housed.

Tale of tress in two countries: As I traveled the steep climb out of Bujumbura to the top of the mountains of the Rift Valley, I noticed that men were laboriously digging out the stumps of the ancient large tress which had long before been felled for firewood. The stumps were being used to fire bricks as there was a lot of building going on in Bujumbura and the surrounding communities. As a result there was hardly a tree thicker than four inches since all had already been cut down — even small trees were being cut to make poles for roofing. Eucalyptus trees grow about ten feet per year in this region even as they suck the moisture out of the ground. It wasn’t until I was about forty miles from Bujumbura that I began to notice more mature trees.

          Rwanda around Kigali had the same problem. About five years ago, the Rwandan government banned the making and burning of bricks. People were required to build with cement blocks which are much more expensive. The result, though, is that now there are many trees in the area around Kigali that are six inches in thickness and in future years will grow much bigger. Whenever roads are rehabilitated, one to three rows of trees are planted alongside the road so that, where they have become six inches in thickness, there is a pleasant wooded roadway.

A success story – Kibimba Hospital: I first visited Kibimba Hospital, owned by Burundi Yearly Meeting, in 2000 or 2001 when the civil war was still hot. The hospital was a disaster as one would expect in the war torn countryside where active fighting was taking place. There was no doctor – at one time there was a Congolese doctor, but, after one month at the hospital, he vanished. I remember seeing the incubators for the premature babies. There were four of them, all broken with only an electric light bulb to warm them; there was also a fifth one which was no more than a carton with a blanket at the bottom, another light bulb, and a top with some holes in it. The staff was doing the best it could with its limited resources, little medicine. I remember that one the AGLI work camp teams from the US took four 70 pound boxes of medicines, donated by one of those NGOs that specializes in this activity, to the hospital. I had been somewhat concerned when I saw that lots of this “medicine” was no more than vitamin pills. But the next time I visited the hospital I was told that the vitamins were extremely useful. The area around the hospital had a malaria epidemic and where normally they would have about 4,000 cases of malaria in a year, they were suddenly swamped with 46,000 cases in a few months. When patients came with severe cases of malaria, if they were given the vitamin pills along with the malaria medicine, they recovered much more quickly. So I was wrong – the vitamin pills were useful.

          Now the hospital has metamorphosed. There are five doctors and thirty nurses. The number of beds has expanded from sixty to two hundred and the beds were full. The premature room was heated with eight functioning incubators – and the hospital had a back-up generator if the electricity from the grid failed – each with a premature baby and a woman taking care of the really tiny babies. What a difference! All the buildings – and there were many newly built ones – were tiled with ceramic tiles on the floor which made the hospital look bright and clearn and, as Gladys noted, makes cleaning the floor easy. In addition there were ceramic tile “benches” along all the walls where patients could sit and tiles up to five feet on the walls. I asked about family planning and was shown the falling planning office where all methods of family planning were available at the choice of the woman. Since the mostly Catholic hospitals in the region would not dispense family planning methods, this was facility was quite busy with 150 or so women coming in each month.

          How did this happen? Dr. Elisee Buhenda was born in the hospital a few years after it had been opened in 1952. He was a doctor there from 1990 to 1993, but had to flee when the civil war broke out. He went to Ivory Coast where he had done his medical training and worked there until 2006. The peace treaty in Burundi was signed in 2005 and so he returned to the hospital. In a previous visit in 2007 or 2008, I was told that he had to fight off interference by the leaders of Burundi Yearly Meeting in order to develop the hospital. He has been supported by Mid-American Yearly Meeting in the US, an evangelical Friends yearly meeting who had done much of the missionary work in the past in Burundi. Friends of Kibimba Hospital (kibimba.blogspot.com) is the organization founded to support the hospital. Their mission statement includes, “Our desire is to make available both medical and spiritual healing for the community by improving staffing, facilities and equipment at the hospital.”

I like their passage from the bible, Mathew 9:35, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

Work camp community celebration: From June 24 to July 18, AGLI and HROC-Burundi held a work camp in Mutaho, Burundi, with Rema, (meaning “to be comforted”), a women’s group at Mutaho Friends Church led by Pastor Sarah Gakobwa. Rema had already built a social hall so the task of the work camp was to build the first two of eight rooms so that people could spend the night at the facility – I hope in the future when I visit Mutaho, I can stay there rather than the Catholic monastery five miles down the road. The work camp had ten Burundian youth – five Hutu and five Tutsi – and two international work campers from the US plus a number of the women who would come each day to help. The work camp began with a basic HROC workshop and the four main projects in Mutaho – Rema itself, the bio-sand water filter coop, the Peace and Democracy Group, and the women who received goats — each gave a presentation on their work, again attended by the local administration. The people of Mutaho are saying, “God had remembered Mutaho and sent us ‘wazungu’ [foreigners]. The last wazungu who slept in Mutaho were the missionaries in 1934. Isn’t this amazing.”

 At the end of the work camp a community celebration was organized that included the local government officials and the AFSC Burundi director (the AFSC had helped with financing part of the work camp). A historic soccer match was held which brought two teams of mixed Hutu and Tutsi players on each side – something that had unsuccessfully been tried by the country’s vice president.

I met with the Rema women on Saturday, August 17. At the same time the local commune (the smallest governmental level in Burundi) leaders were having a gathering nearby to recognize all the recent accomplishments in the recent past – the 2015 election campaign is already beginning. Pastor Sarah was then called away to the gathering to be honored by the government officials because of the work she had been doing in the community. According to the government plans there were six guest houses planned for Mutaho and the Rema guest house was the third. AGLI, HROC-Burundi, and Rema are planning another work camp for next summer.