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.
Participants in an AVP workshop session, sitting in a circle, demonstrate the
philosophy that the facilitators and participants are all learners and all teachers.
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.
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.