Tag Archives: Kakuma

#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.

           

 

#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.