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A Little Peace of Kenya
By Aletia Dundas

When I first arrived at the Friends Peace Centre in Lubao, Kenya, I was a bit nervous. I had no idea what to expect and wondered if I would “fit in”. Although I am an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) facilitator with a background in Peace, I knew that the AVP workshops in Kenya and the Peace Centre itself would be different and new. I was keen to watch, learn and participate. I found that it didn’t take long to settle into a daily routine of waking at sunrise, boiling water for a shower, drinking tea, washing clothes by hand, catching a matatu into town, and negotiating the price of tomatoes.

During my first week in Lubao, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a HROC workshop (Healing and Rebuilding Our Community) led by facilitators from Burundi and Rwanda. The HROC workshop process was adapted from AVP to deal specifically with the aftermath of violent conflict. In Kenya, these workshops were being held for community leaders from Mt. Elgon, an area engulfed in violent conflict for the past couple of years. What amazed me was how quickly participants were able to move from being strangers to becoming friends. While those present were the ones hoping for peace, it was often their first time engaging with people from the other tribe since the beginning of the violence. People spoke honestly and emotionally about experiences of loss and grief associated with the violence; the workshop ended with much talk about getting more people involved, and spreading the message of peace. It was inspiring to be part of this process.

I also had the opportunity to facilitate an AVP workshop, and was challenged by some stark differences between the workshop process in Kenya and what I’m used to back home. Although I needed to remind people that I was a facilitator, not a teacher, and that there is good in all people, I was also humbled by the profound impact AVP seems to be having in Kenya. While I have grown up being quite comfortable talking about my emotions, for many participants this was a completely new and daunting concept. Yet people embraced it with understanding and enthusiasm. While I come from a culture where domestic violence is considered unacceptable I found that AVP is gently challenging violent gender relationships in a culture where such violence had never been challenged before.

While at the Peace Centre my particular project was to conduct an evaluation of the AVP workshops in Kenya. Similar evaluations had taken place in Rwanda and Burundi so we had some useful examples to assist us. In order to evaluate the impact of AVP in Kenya, and determine strategies for the future, we interviewed 40 workshop participants from a variety of geographical locations, age groups, and occupational backgrounds. Men and women were equally represented. This evaluation was made possible through funding from AGLI and the grant I received from Australia Yearly Meeting’s Peace and Social Justice Fund.

Through the course of the evaluation it was found that AVP is having an impact on both individuals and communities. Countless testimonies were given as to how lessons from AVP have been applied in the home; where physical and emotional violence is common. AVP had also helped people understand and deal with emotions and trauma in their lives. “Before the AVP workshop my anger could not be relieved without beating somebody but now I have developed a friendly heart”, said Noel Wanyonyi, a young lady who attended the workshop.

Those who deal with violence or conflict in their work, — particularly pastors, prison officers and social workers — indicated that the principles of AVP had not only given them useful tools for approaching conflicts in these workplaces, but has also led to suggestions and initiatives that will foster dialogue and support in the future. “I realized that it’s not through violence that we can change prisoners” said Arthur Agiza, a prison officer. People also made suggestions about ways to improve the workshops, and the organization in general, and these tended to be things like “make the workshop longer”, “get more funding so we can hold them more regularly”, and “focus on areas where violence is entrenched”.

I know that my short time at Friends Peace Centre will provide me with many happy memories and insights into the Kenyan experience. Certainly I will be taking a much greater chunk of Kenya with me than any piece of me that I will leave behind. I enjoyed being part of such a delightful community and hope that my small contribution will have been useful to those continuing the work.

Aletia Dundas is a Quaker from Australia and has been involved with AVP in her home town of Sydney since 2002. Aletia completed her Masters Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney in 2006, and most recently was working on the Peace and Disarmament Programme at the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva.