Monthly Archives: August 2013

#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

If you would like to donate children’s books to these libraries, please contact me at 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 ( 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.

#239 — Family Life — August 2, 2013

            When school was out last November, Kevin, a son of Gladys’ sister, Mary, who had just finished his exams at the end of secondary school, visited us for a few days. He came for a purpose – he was escorting his two younger sisters, Imelda, 15, and Imali, 12, on the 10 mile motorcycle ride from their house to ours. Mary, quite prudently, would not let her daughters travel alone on the back of a motorcycle because of the threat of enticement or rape. The two sisters frequently come to our house during school vacations. They do not ask or tell us that they are coming — they just show up. We do not know why they come except that they want to. Perhaps it is the daily newspaper they can read, or the TV that they are allowed to watch at night, or perhaps it is the weeks long slumber party at our house as many school age relatives hang out at our house. They are not much of problem because they all pitch in with the household chores, which with no labor saving devices are many, but then many hands make short work.

            They are not the only ones who showed up. Our grandsons, Eugene, 11, and Danny, 9, live with us so their aunt, Gloria, 10, the youngest daughter of Gladys’ sister, Josephine, who lives about two miles away, also comes. She brings along her 7 year old nephew, Devan, who is the oldest son of Josephine’s oldest son, Johnston, who is a police officer. Then Eunice’s (another sister) children are here – Lorene, 17, who has also just sat for her exams, and Patrick, 21, who has been living with us for the last couple of years. We are not the lenient grandparents as the guests have to behave or we will send them away, which we have done on occasion. They are allowed only a few hours of cartoons on the weekend. There is rarely any conflict because the older kids look after the younger ones and everyone is having a fun vacation.

            This is all usual for us. What was unusual last year is that Imelda and Imali brought along – again with us not even knowing – Ninayo, their two year old niece. Image that, a two year old coming with her teenaged aunts to visit for six weeks with her great aunt and uncle. Where was the mother? Unfortunately the mother is, what they call here, “slow” and is incapable of taking care of the child by herself. So everyone else, from her grandmother to her aunts and uncles, take responsibility for her. Naturally when she first arrived, she was quite shy, particularly, with me as a white person, but by the time she left we were great buddies. The other kids all take care of her too and the only time Gladys really had to intercede in her care was when she got a fever and Gladys took her to the clinic.

            If you have not been counting, this totals nine child relatives.

            The first big occasion to take place during that vacation was the marriage of Gladys’ sister, Josephine. Marriages here in Kenya are quite expensive and so far only one of our many nieces and nephews has had a wedding. Rather most of the family weddings we attend are with older people in attendance with their children and grand-children. The usual reason for this late wedding is that the bride or groom wants to have an official position in church and, in all denominations that I know of, in order to hold a responsible position, one needs to be officially married in the church. Josephine is studying to become a pastor and, when she finishes her studies, will be assigned to one of the village meetings of Lumakanda Friends Church. Thus, she needed to have a church wedding. This occurred on a Saturday in the middle of December. Lumakanda Friends Church was filled to capacity. Gladys and I sat on the left side of the church reserved for the bride’s family. Eugene, Danny, and Devan were given the task of holding the candles at the beginning of the wedding procession and the girls were in the dancing group behind the boys. Eugene and Danny must have made a good impression because since then they have done the same thing in two other weddings which weren’t even at the Quaker church. The actual wedding was much like you would expect in the US – exchange of vows, putting on the rings, a sermon on a good marriage, and, here, lots of singing. At the end everyone gives a small present. Then everyone gets to eat. Although the cakes are many and big, everyone only gets a small piece since there are so many people. 

On January 2, Gladys and I moved into our new house. It is only about two blocks from the old one and its main advantage is that the old house had no space for a garden while the new house sits on half an acre – so we had a barn built and have a milk cow plus space for lots of gardening. Someday I’ll give you a report on this. Let me just say that all those children were a great help in carrying the smaller items from the old house to the new one. Even little Ninayo would carry some little small cup.

            On January 4, we had a house warming with about 70 people in attendance. There were the usual prayers and speeches – the most memorable one was by Glady’s 90-year-old father, David Okwemba, who became quite loquacious about Gladys as a child and young girl. They had put a ribbon in front of the door and we cut the ribbon – everyone who could squeezed into the living room and the pastor blessed the new house. Then everyone ate.

            The kids were all still sleeping in the old house and the school vacation was near its end. So the next evening at dusk they all brought down their mattresses and clothes and said that they had to sleep in the new house before they went back to school.

            This is family life here in rural Kenya.

#238 — Aid or Trade? Neither — July 26, 2013

            President Obama’s recent trip to three countries in Africa brought up much discussion on the issue of “aid versus trade” as the method for Africa to develop. He took over 100 US investors on his trip with the expectation that they would find new opportunities for US corporations in Africa.

            My conclusion on this aid versus trade question is “Neither.” I will explain below.

            The biggest argument against aid is that in the last 50 years it has contributed almost nothing to the development of Africa. Kenya, for example, is worse off now than it was in 1966 when I first arrived and this is ten years after digging out from the bottom in 2002 when President Moi was ousted.

            A few years ago, the grants to Kenya to supply drugs to HIV+ individuals was stopped due to the usual Kenyan problem that too much of the aid had been embezzled and didn’t reach the intended recipients. The government quickly proposed that a tax on cell phone airtime and airline tickets would cover the costs of the missing grants. This caused an immediate uproar – “Why should Kenyans pay for something that was being give free to them by the international community?” I, on the other hand, would ask, “Why should the international community support a program that Kenyans can and should do themselves?”

            In my book, A Peace of Africa, chapter 13 analyzes how the aid organizations garner the lion share of the aid funds that are allocate to them. Just last Monday, Gladys and I were invited to lunch at the “green zone” in Eldoret where all the US graduate students are required to live together at great expense so that they are segregated from the Kenyan people with whom they are supposed to work.

            I could give many more examples, but the point is clear – aid is not likely to develop Africa. This, by the way, is a common conclusion here in Africa.

            Therefore some – including Obama and the hundred businesspeople with him — are promoting the concept that trade will rescue the continent. It may make things worse. I have already indicated that the role of China (and many other nations) is to sell their “junk” to Africa while at the same time gathering as much of the resource base as they can to keep their own economy humming.

            I just read an article that stated that university endowments are looking to invest in Africa because it is the last “economic frontier” and the returns at 8% or more are much higher than the rest of the world. In other words, they can invest a sum in Africa and expect to have it all back in about ten years and the rest of eternity is “gravy.” I would call this “exploitation.”

            I have also read the book, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens, by Nicholas Shaxson. International businesses do not want to make a profit in, say Kenya, where the profit will be taxed. Rather, by inflating the costs of goods and deflating their income, the corporations can hide their profits – untaxed by anyone – in one of the many of the world’s tax havens (which include the state of Delaware and the one square mile financial center called the “City of London”). Shaxson gives figures that indicate that, while aid to the developing world in 2008 was $100 billion, the amount lost through illicit transfer to tax havens was $1.2 trillion. Then the western world needs to look at the plank in its own eye – only 3% was due to corrupt money leaving the developing world, about 1/3 was due to criminal activity, but almost 2/3 was due to “cross-border commercial transactions” (page 29). Perhaps aid has been ineffective because it has been no more than a finger in the dike of the funds pulled out of Africa. Again I could go on and on.

            What then is the answer? It is what President Nyerere proclaimed shortly after independence in Tanzania – kujitolea which literally means to “work for oneself,” or “self-reliance.” In 1969 I ate some of the best navel oranges in my life at a cooperative in Kenya call Ka-the-ka-kai. Today Gladys and I buy navel oranges from either Egypt of South Africa, depending upon the season. This is a trivial example, but in 2008, right after the post-election violence, the most profitable company, Safaricom, decided to sell one quarter of its stock, mostly to Kenyans. It was oversubscribed five times and 5 billion dollars or so sat idle in the banks, waiting for the resolution of the stock sale. What if all these funds were invested in productive activities in Kenya – and as the interest of the global business community indicates – there are a lot of ripe pickings?

            Africa has been carved up into 55 mini-states, either in size or population. Yet China and India have more people each than all of Africa. Inner-African trade, which in East and Central Africa is growing substantially every year, needs to expand as quickly as possible and all the barriers that occur at every national boundary for the movement of people and of goods needs to be abolished. There is an exceedingly slow movement in this direction. In East Africa, it is due to the fear of the other countries that most of the benefits of inter-country trade will benefit Kenya.

            I once missed a flight in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, and Ethiopian Airlines put me up for the night at a small hotel owned by an Ethiopian who had live in Boston for decades and then had returned with his savings and built this small hotel. We had a delightful time talking about the Boston Red Sox. One encouraging sign is that the 10% of the Kenyan adult population that lives and works overseas sends substantial funds back to Kenya, which in the past was used for family welfare, and is partly being channeled into productive investment in Kenya itself. Some people, like the Ethiopian mentioned above, return with expertise and funds.

            In summary, I would say Africans need to be wary of strangers bearing either gifts or investments. If Africans wait for foreigners – either with aid or trade – they may wait forever as their destiny is outside their hands.

#237 — Murder Most Foul and Our Response — July 19, 2013

             From the end of April through the middle of May, a gang of machete wielding attackers in a number of villages in Bungoma County killed 15 people and mutilated at least another 150. There didn’t seem to be any motive for the attacks as, not only was nothing stolen, but the people being attacked were poverty-stricken with nothing significant to steal. The local police and security officers were unable to stem these attacks. Naturally this caused a great deal of public outcry not only in the county itself, but the country at large. Even Deputy President William Ruto visited Bungoma to discuss the conflict with local government officials.

            The police rounded up 309 youth suspects but soon released 297 of them without charge. They charged a few with having participated in the killings, but some of them were already in jail at the time of the attacks, awaiting hearing for other crimes — they were not the culprits. The community then took the law into their own hands, as is so common in Kenya. They found a young man whom they accused of participating in the attacks and tortured him until he gave the names of nine others who were alleged to be with him in the attacks. They then killed him and systematically found the other nine suspects and lynched them all. Of course, information obtained through torture is unreliable and there is doubt that these ten were the actual perpetrators. Even if they were, it will remain unknown who instigated these bizarre killings.

            These attacks occurred about 5 miles lower down on Mt Elgon from where we had been working during the election period. Our first response was for Getry Agizah, Peter Serete, Ezra Kigonbu, and Erastus Chesondi to spend three days visiting three of the villages that were attacked conducting a fact-finding mission. “There was so much pain and smell of blood as victims had wounds that were not treated. We could not bear it as it was so traumatizing.” They concluded that the villagers needed immediate listening sessions. With 17 of the HROC healing companions that we had trained in January as part of our current election violence prevention work, guided by our lead facilitators, 35 listening sessions were conducted for 516 participants in the three villages plus 4 more sessions in local churches. One participant, Rosemary, commented, “I need to be with you. My son of 7 months was cut and left bleeding until he died. I was going crazy until you people came. I still feel I need to get more of your humble listening.” At one of the listening sessions a man admitted that he had participated in the attack that lynched the third suspect — he showed no remorse for having done this and seemed willing to do it again if the situation called for it.

            We then decided to do three three-day HROC workshops with our experienced facilitators; there were 67 participants. As you can imagine, emotions were still very high. This was the first time we had attempted to do a HROC workshop so close to the incidents that made them necessary – in Mt Elgon four or five years had passed since the conflict ended so emotions had a time to cool down. One the lead facilitators, Eunice Okwemba, who had done many HROC workshops on Mt Elgon commented, “I thought it is like HROC that I have done in Mt Elgon, but, when the conflict is too fresh, it is very traumatizing to listen to these people. I went home the most traumatized person.” We realized that we need a debriefing team to help facilitators who are coming back from this kind of session to help them recover from their secondary trauma.

            The workshops, though, left us with another question as the members of the community asked, “How do we interact with the families of the ten young men who were killed by the mob? Please help us to live with the situation.”

#236 — HROC in Baltimore — July 12, 2013

            AGLI is now bringing the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program back to the United States. American facilitators were trained in our International Trainings in Burundi and Rwanda in the summers of 2011 and 2013. They have come back and, sometimes with the mentoring of our HROC facilitators from Africa, have conducted a small number of basic HROC workshop, mostly for people who work in the immigrant community. Recently a workshop at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore was held for Bhutanese immigrants – 18 were expected but 38 showed up – and they would like to continue with more HROC workshops with their community. If you would like to attend such a workshop, please email me ( and I will put you on the list to receive notices of up-coming HROC workshops.

In May, a basic HROC workshop was held again at Stony Run Meeting for Quakers and those working in the immigrant community. Madeline Schaefer, Aarati Kasturirangan, and Lucy Duncan from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) attended this workshop. These are three reports on the workshop reproduced with AFSC’s permission from their web publication, Acting in Faith: Connecting Friends to the work of AFSC.


Stone in the belly: Transforming trauma in community

by Lucy Duncan

Water/stress filling glass

Water/stress filling glass

Photo: Lucy Duncan

Copyright: AFSC

“Unless pain is transformed, it will be transferred.” – Richard Rohr, quoted by Amy Rakusin

When I was in Burundi after the World Conference of Friends in 2012, I visited a Peace Village outside Bujumbura where Hutu and Tutsi refugees were living. AFSC staff Triphonie Habonimana and Florence Ntakarutimana of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) program served as my hosts. They brought together perpetrators and victims of the decades-long conflict that had participated in the trauma healing workshops that HROC conducts in Bujumbura and elsewhere, sometimes in partnership with AFSC. The participants gathered in a small Friends church in the village and told me how the workshops had impacted them.

Each of them told stories of transformation: victims talked of forgiving horrendous acts perpetrated on them, and perpetrators talked about how they had reconnected with those they had harmed and had been healed from the shock of their acts. Listening to these stories of such deep and seemingly lasting change, it sounded like the workshops must work magic for there to be such healing. I wanted to learn more.

In mid-May three of us from AFSC participated in one of these three-day HROC workshops in Baltimore at Stony Run Meeting, led by one of my hosts in Burundi, Florence Ntakarutimana, as well as Americans Amy Rakusin and Bill Jacobsen.

During the workshop a woman who was a trauma nurse talked about how, with physical trauma, the wound often needs to be abraded, opened, exposed in order for there to be healing; if the wound isn’t cleaned and opened, it festers and can get worse or cause the loss of a limb, or even death.

This is true with wounds of the spirit, too. People can suffer spiritual death if they hold their wounds too tightly; they can let their hearts turn to stone.

In one activity on the first day, Florence provided a vivid demonstration of how stress and trauma operate in individuals and impact the community. She put a large glass on a tray in the middle of the room, with a pitcher of water next to it. She said, “Things happen that cause stress.”

“In Burundi, it’s sometimes not so easy to get breakfast for your children. They go to school without tea. One day you might not have bread.”

She filled the glass about a quarter full of water–the water was the stress, and the cup was the person without bread for their child.

She said, “You don’t have bread, but the next day you get some and feed your children. You feel better.”

Florence poured most of the water back out of the glass. She said, “You feel better, but not all of the stress is gone, the stress you’ve known.”

Florence said, “Normal stress comes and goes.”

“But let’s say, I am here in the United States and I get a phone call that my first born is in the hospital.” Florence filled the glass nearly to the top with water. 

“And then I get another call, my son has died. Now I have no more space to hold the stress.” Florence filled the glass until it overflowed, the water spilled out onto the tray.

“Then I return to Burundi and my husband is hit by a car and dies. This kind of stress is hard, it makes a hard place in my belly.” She added a piece of wood to the cup and more water spilled out onto the tray. The wood represented repeated, difficult events in one’s life, but not necessarily ones that people planned.

Florence said, “And some stress is like stones, it breaks me.”

“What if some parents raped their own children and killed them… this is like a stone, a stone in one’s heart.”

Florence put a large stone into the glass. The water overflowed into the tray.

“This kind of stress is beyond what we can hold, beyond our capacity to hold.”

“This is traumatic stress. Sometimes we experience or perpetrate such hard things, sometimes our heart is broken, there are scars and they remain. Some wounds are fresh, others aren’t fresh, but they are still there.”

“Some are caused by natural disasters, but the hardest are those that people planned. This kind of stress causes trauma, because of what we have heard, what we have seen, or what we have done. There is also cumulative stress; all together things are so hard to bear. When you live on the edge of stress, it can be what seems to be a small thing that puts you over the edge.”

“What if your parents experienced trauma and haven’t healed, then you could be born with a stone in your belly, and that makes it hard to bear stress, to be resilient.”

Florence invited us to look at the tray. The tray holding the glass was full of water. “The family and community around the person who has experienced or is experiencing stress and trauma also is affected because the trauma, the pain, the stress overflows into the community.”

Sharing, she said, is critical in the healing process. In order for people to heal, it is important for them to expose the trauma they’ve experienced to the light and re-discover the threads of human care and connection. “The more we are able to open our hearts, the more we can let love in,” Florence said. As people share in community, the more all can sit together in the mystery and face what is unknown together.

This was the first day of three. In the next two days we explored how the stones of trauma can be softened and melted. We learned how the water in that overflowing glass can be replaced by healing waters from the community through sharing and that as each person heals, they can support the healing of others.

On that first day I was already beginning to see that through this very intentional and powerful, but quite simple, process the healing that occurs isn’t magic, but is miraculous nonetheless.


The empty chair: Bringing love into the room

by Aarati Kasturirangan

Copyright: Carol Von Canon

Note: In May of 2013, three AFSC staff including Aarati Kasturirangan, Program Officer for Integration and Impact, went to the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop held at Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. Aarati attended the workshop to understand firsthand the HROC work she had heard of from AFSC program staff in Burundi. She went to find out if she thought HROC could be useful for other AFSC programs around the world.  – Lucy

I attended the workshop because HROC sounded miraculous to me. I went because it sounded impossible. I went to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears. I didn’t realize I also went to heal with my own heart.

On day two of this workshop, we all sat in a circle (Read Lucy Duncan’s blog post here for a beautiful description of a lesson from day one). Amy Rakusin, one of our facilitators, said, “I want you to think of someone who loves you or someone who has loved you. If you are lucky enough to have more than one person, think of whoever is most present for you right now.” 

An image of my little sister leapt to mind. “Now think about why that person loves you.”

Think about why that person loves you. Not why you love them, or why you are so close. Why does she love me? It was a simple assignment that, for me, produced immediate, unexpected feeling. Why – does she – love me?

Amy continues, “Now I want you to stand behind your chair. Imagine you are that loved one. Be that person telling you why they love you.”  When it was my turn, I stood already choked with tears I could not quite understand:

“Aarati, I love you because you were my first friend, another mom. You loved me unconditionally when I felt angry, when mom and dad did not know what to do. You have been there for me whenever I needed you. You are my best friend, and for a long time you were the most important person in my world. When things got bad at home I knew you were with me.”

I spoke these words to myself and felt a flood of love from my sister, pain in remembering those hard times she would have spoken of, anger that love is so often forged in the crucible of shared hardships, and a longing to see her because she now lives thousands of miles away.

This was the empty chair exercise. And one by one, each person embodied the one who loved them, and spoke of why they themselves were loved. Each of us reached into our own pasts to see with someone else’s eyes how our words, our acts, our mere presence had eased another’s sorrows, brought laughter into dark spaces, created safety in strange times. 

As individuals, we each had our own reaction to the empty chair in front of us. So often, as someone recounted a story of love, it was coupled with pain, loss, grief, or anger. In some cases, hearing others’ stories gave us new eyes to see our own with. 

We could also see how even someone who had done horrible things could have experienced love in their lives, love that could lead to recognition, remorse, redemption, and peace. And we could see how recognizing that person’s experience of love, we might be able to forgive past wrongs, rebuild connection, and move forward in community with those who had done us harm.

Together in that circle, we witnessed the powerful presence of love in the lives of 25 people, mostly strangers, but now somehow closer to us, part of our own connection to the human experience of love. 


 About the author: Aarati Kasturirangan is a program officer for the Integration and Impact Unit of AFSC. Her name is pronounced Arthi Kus-thu-ree-run-gun. She was born in New Delhi, India; raised in Wilmington, Del.; became an activist, wife, Ph.D., and mother in Chicago; stayed home with her kids in D.C.; and has now settled in Philladelphia. She blogs about identity (, sings as much as possible, and tells dumb jokes with her kids.



by Lucy Duncan

Copyright: AFSC

What is needed to build trust in community? After the HROC participants discussed healing from trauma and trust and mistrust, we set about to answer this question in small groups, and then reported back to each other.

As a whole group, we built a list of 49 qualities and practices needed to build trust in community.

I looked at this list and thought that these are the ingredients for creating one small plot of heaven—not one in which there is no conflict, but a community that is based on love.

Are there any qualities/practices that we didn’t include? What would you add? – Lucy

  • Don’t try to live ahead of your stage of evolution
  • Be consistent
  • Create commonly understood expectations
  • Foster good communication
  • Provide opportunities for input
  • Establish common goals
  • Work together
  • Share experiences
  • Share and discuss values
  • Provide opportunities for dialogue
  • Open spaces for telling stories
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Promote self-reflection
  • Take time to know yourself
  • Teach techniques for conflict resolution
  • Create a climate of self-care
  • Validate people’s experiences
  • Be aware of your own weaknesses and limitations
  • Be aware of your strengths
  • Provide times to play with one another
  • Create small groups for intimacy and connection
  • Make spaces to gather together by identity to share perspectives
  • Provide elements of choice
  • Make opportunities for people to contribute their gifts
  • Recognize people’s gifts
  • Create porous, but clear, boundaries
  • Name the injustice we have perpetrated
  • Be who you say you want to be
  • Share responsibility for what needs to get done
  • Celebrate
  • Create ceremonies/rituals
  • Address the needs in the community
  • See the needs of others, address those needs
  • Practice the values you share
  • Practice faith
  • Practice patience
  • Be brave
  • Sing and dance
  • Take time for a personal spiritual practice
  • Be slow, careful, intentional
  • Share food
  • Understand a hurt person’s limitation to respond
  • Take responsibility for your actions
  • Practice courage
  • Trust yourself
  • Work to help conflicting parties find common ground
  • Practice healing before forgiveness
  • Understand the historical context
  • Be warriors of the heart

#235 — China vs US in Africa — July 5, 2013

 President Obama’s recent trip to Africa, visiting Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, is a good time to look at China’s developing role in Africa. Much of the commentary on Obama’s trip included the fact that China, in 2009, overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner and now has twice the trade that the US has with the continent. This has been conveyed as if it were a super bowl match between the two biggest economies of the world. On his trip, Obama took along over 100 US businessmen to consider business opportunities in Africa.  What is my take on this?


 History repeats itself. When I first arrived 49 years ago in Tanzania, the conspiracy theory then was that the godless Chinese communists were taking over Africa. In particular, they had signed a contract to build the railroad from Dar-es-Salaam on the cost of Tanzania to landlocked Zambia where the Chinese were trying to seize control of the Zambian/Congolese cooper belt. I heard this first from the Bishop of Rulenge Diocese in northwestern Tanzania when I was teaching Rwandan refugees. The Bishop’s emphasis, of course, was on the “godless” part. Two years later when I was at the training for the Peace Corps in Dar-es-Salaam, a man from the US Embassy, whom we assumed was the CIA agent there, gave us a briefing. He emphasized the “communist” aspect of this theory.


 Here we are really comparing mangoes and bananas. For decades the Chinese have been flooding East Africa with consumer goods. If Chinese goods in the US are sometimes of poor quality, those imported into Africa are of terrible quality – in six years I have had to replace the Chinese-made faucet in my bathroom sink three times. More recently the Chinese have been focusing on large infrastructure projects – railroads, ports, pipelines, and roads. For example, the Chinese financed and built the first superhighway in Kenya from Nairobi to Thika – four express lanes and two local lanes in each direction. They worked 24 hours per day 365 days in the year and it is now complete. They are heavily involved in building the new Kenyan port in Lamu with the road, railroad, and pipeline to South Sudan where they hope to export the oil from South Sudan as they are the biggest purchaser of that oil. This indicates China’s major interest in Africa – the ability to purchase the long neglected resources that Africa has to offer. If this major increase in extraction of African resources will benefit Africans is a question still to be answered.



The United States, on the other hand, mostly invests in business in Africa. Here in Kenya you can find Everyready Battery, Goodyear Tire, Coca-Cola (of course), General Electric, and even Google. Kentucky Fried Chicken is here – I went once last year and found that there offerings in Kenya were just as greasy and salty as in the US. Walmart is on its way to Kenya via its new acquisition in South Africa. I have never known of American companies building roads, ports, gaslines, or railroads in this region. Of course, how this benefits Africans, is also an open question.


 An overlooked aspect is that China is hardly the only country eyeballing African resources. India, in particular, has a strong interest and, in East Africa, has the added benefit of the Indians who were imported to the region in the late 19th century to build the original railroads. Indians still control the building trade stories in Kenya including nearby Turbo and Kipkarren River. Others, though, have become tycoons and are able to leverage support from large Indian companies. Many other countries are also involved – Japan (Japanese cars dominate here), Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea. A strong, new entry in the region is Turkey, which wants to establish strong relations with countries that encircle the Arab Middle East – they were the first major country back into Somalia and are now helping to rebuild the Mogadishu airport.


 One major negative effect of the interest of China in Africa is the rise of poaching of elephants and rhinoceros. Over 30,000 elephants were killed last year. During the first decade of this century, poaching was contained and the number of elephants and rhinoceros were increasing, but recently this has changed as the scarcity of ivory and rhino horn medicines increased their price. In the past few years the poaching has escalated as more Chinese have access to Africa.


 African trade and development is not a major league sport where there are winners and losers. Rather it is the interaction of the global community that, if done correctly, benefits all those who are involved.  

#234 — Is Kenyan Decentralization Working? — June 24, 2013

It is difficult for Americans to understand the significance of decentralization in a country such as Kenya. Since the beginning, the US system has been decentralized. There are 50 states plus the District of Columbia, counties, cities, townships, school districts, and even cross-boundary government entities such as metropolitan transit authorities. We are taught about this in civic education classes in school and deal with its ramifications continuously. It seems to us the normal, correct method of government. It, of course, spreads power out and allows local communities and states to decide local issues on their own. As a result, in the United States, there are widely different ways that various issues –from taxation to abortion — are handled.

 A colonial ruler, such as Britain, does not want the messiness of decentralization and needs to control everything from a powerful center in the capital. This usurps any possible contending power bases, particularly in the periphery. One of the main problems with the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that the Belgians installed a centralized system for that country which is as big as the US east of the Mississippi and the center of the country is an impenetrable forest. As a result, the eastern Congo is attached more closely to East Africa than it is to its own capital in Kinshasa — the only method of going from the eastern Congo to Kinshasa is by airplane. It is no wonder that the eastern Congo is misruled. 

At independence in 1963, Britain bequeath this centralized system to Kenya, even though the smaller tribes on the periphery wanted a more decentralized system. During Jomo Kenyatta presidency for the first fifteen years of independence, this centralization was increased until the center controlled the total government. This included the security forces, the provincial administration, parliament, the courts, the electoral commission, and so on. All decisions emanated from Nairobi.

 This resulted in a strong movement to decentralize. In Kenya, this is called “devolvement” or “devolution.” In 2002 Mwai Kibaki campaigned on a platform of devolution of the centralized government, but as soon as he won the election, he reneged on this pledge as he found total power — now that he had it — to be quite congenial. In 2005 there was an attempt to adopt a new devolved constitution but. When the Kibaki government removed all the aspects of devolution from the proposed constitution, the proponents of devolution united to defeat this constitution. A second successful attempt was made in 2010 – this turned the nine centrally controlled provinces into 47 counties, each with a governor and legislature. In the 2013 election, these governors were elected and devolution began.

 When we leave aside all the personalities and political parties in Kenyan politics, the real underlying issue is this fundamental change from a centralized government with total power to a decentralized one with multiple smaller power centers. The next five years before the next election is going to determine if this is successful or a bust. How is it going to date?

 As can be expected, the central government does not want to give up its powers. Consequently it is doing what it can to thwart devolution. For example, even though the new constitution disbanded the provincial administration, the government has not abolished these positions, even when a court case ruled against it! Another technique has been to “starve” the counties of the funds that they need to do the work that has been allocated to them. The new senate has a senator from each county and, since the duties and powers of this new senate are not clearly defined, some people already talking of abolishing it since the senators are the force of the counties in the national government.

Yet regardless of this, there is what I consider a healthy development. Those 47 governors have become spokesmen (there are no women governors) for their counties. They are articulating what they feel are the needs of their particular county. The governors are emphasizing economic development, promotion of the appropriate agriculture, better rural roads, and other local concerns. This was not the case in the past. Interestingly enough the governors — regardless if they are from the ruling party or the opposition — are united in working together for their appropriate share of the power including adequate funding.

The future of Kenya depends on how this plays out. Since I am a grassroots kind of person, I am for decentralization. AGLI’s program in western Kenya is working, particularly in Kakamega and Bungoma counties, to see that the devolved government is implemented fairly and equitably. 

#233 — AVP with Christians and Muslims — June 18, 2013



Below is a report on an advanced AVP workshop with Muslim and Christian youth that was conducted in Turbo Division, Uasin Gishu county, western Kenya. Previously two basic workshops were held, and subsequently aTraining for Facilitator workshop has been conducted and the apprentice workshops are being arranged.


 This report is important, not for the specifics of the training itself, but of the great divide between Muslims and Christians throughout the world. In some places included the coast of Kenya and northern Nigeria this has led to violence and killings. In so many other places, there is a deep divide and mutual misunderstanding between adherents of the two religions. It is in this context that this report is significant – that is, thousands and thousands of these workshops need to be done around the world including the United States.


Program: Alternative to Violence Advanced Training


Venue: Juakali, Kenya, Industrial Estate Hall


Participants: 25, male 14, female 11   


Dates: June 13 -15, 2013


Facilitators: Caleb Amunya, Olive Kamave, Jennifer Bonareri and Peter Serete


Workshop Description:


          After completing two basic AVP trainings, it was very difficult to select 25 participants to proceed to the Advanced Training. We considered the potential in the first 25 participants from Muslim and Christians communities who will carry the flag of owning the program and helping other members of the community through the expansion of peace committees in their respective localities. The workshop focused on topics that enabled participants to improve communication skills, self-esteem, conflict resolution and transforming power. Participants showed their commitment through active participation.




Bringing Christians and Muslims together and sharing openly their grievances, confidentiality, brought deeper and great experience from the process of every exercise done in AVP. This was evident when we did the first exercise of “In Common.” “I have realized that we have many good things in common and if we can affirm the fact that through these things that we share in common can be the foundation that can bring the two religions together with different talents that will enable us to build good relationships that can bring peace — then violence and conflict in our community can be the thing of the past.” Idi Mwenesi”


 The question, “Does the Quran really contain dozens of verses promoting violence?” that was asked by Pastor Tarus provoked a deeper, healthy discussion and Malim Musa Sadala did not  lack answers:  


Many Muslims as well as Non-Muslims quote some verses from Qur’an which preach peace, and non-violence. I can give an example, The very word ‘Islam’ (from the Arabic silm) connotes peace. According to a tradition of the Prophet, ‘Peace is Islam’ (Al-Bukhari). This means that peace is one of the prerequisites of Islam. Similarly, a Hadith states: ‘A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands people are safe.’ One of the attributes of God described in the Quran is ‘As-Salam’, which means peace and security.’ That is to say that God’s Being itself is a manifestation of peace. Indeed, God is Peace (Al-Bukhari). In the Quran divine guidance is likened to the paths of peace. (5:16).


The advanced training gave participants an opportunity to the sense of belonging when it comes to matters of making decisions, and this was experienced in a consensus exercise, “If  we can be patient enough and take into consideration of everyone’s opinion and agree, then as a community we will impress peace and bring change.” On other hand, it was a challenge for other participants, especially youth, who lack the virtue of patience and the concept of consensus, because it needed patience to reach consensus.


Both Christians and Muslims are vulnerable and a much endangered generation considering many of them have fallen victim of many social injustices and abuse. Through the training they realized the role they play when it comes to perpetrating violence and the responsibility they have to bring peace, and it was emphasized that the two religions should take the lead in bringing change through being peaceful and they will respect human dignity. “As a participant of this training, I find that we should consider choosing good values that will enhance our freedom and can lead us to good life in relation to violence — being used in violence, drug abuse and bad life habits destroys the goodness and the potential we have. If we unify to resist and reject violence then we will be building a new society. Even if a Muslim should be convinced that someone is a non-believer, still he must accept that his fate is in the hands of God alone, since no one human can condemn another — this must be left to the judgment of God,” Malim Sadala.


After all had be said and done, the young participants in this training went into contract with themselves on the things they want to commit to and peace was one of the contracts. They vowed to impress it through creating peace awareness and spreading the same to other communities. Interestingly participants thought they are now ready to go and facilitate the same after completing the three days’ advanced training.


Evaluation and way forward


“We wish to thank Friend Church Peace Team through AGLI, our sponsor, and AVP facilitators for the great work that is being done in Uasin Gishu County through peace training. The organization has shed light in many of us. It is our appeal you continue supporting our peace work in this region and strengthen peace committees which was a good gesture and a way forward that will enable AVP be owed by the community.” It was in this training that participants were more than willing to get food that can help them do more workshops – “we all agreed that after we have done Training for Facilitators workshop, we will initiate that proposal during apprenticing workshops.”


The report was written by Peter Serete, Caleb Amunya, Oliva Kamave and Jenniffer Bonareri