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The hard work of peacebuilding

Kenya, April 22, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Geri Manzano/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The Eldoret District Peace Committee (Stephen Mwangi is front row, between the two women). Photo: Geri Manzano/Mercy Corps

“If you remember nothing else, remember our thanks.”

The District Peace Committee is made up of the elders in the Eldoret area of Kenya, who meet regularly. It is a sacrifice for many as some come from the outlying rural areas where there is no regular public transportation. They do it for the future of Kenya — for their children and grandchildren.

As with the groups aimed at the youth, this is a mixed group. They are made up of numerous tribes — Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, Luo, Kisii and Turkana. They are male and female.

With funding from USAID, Mercy Corps supports this and other committees that promote dialogues for peace. These elders have heard many heartbreaking stories that people have shared about the period of violence after the elections of December 2007. They have heard women crying because their daughters were raped. But these meetings provide a place for people to share their stories and the elders remind them that no matter what happened, life must go on and that the goal has to be making a better future in Kenya.

Stephen Mwangi is one of the committee members. He lost his home and livestock during the violence.

“It was the devil’s work,” he said as he described how he had been relatively prosperous, but his large house was burned and he and his extended family were forced to flee to “The Showgrounds,” a displacement camp in a fairgrounds area.

He is a Kikuyu, but his children had married outside of their own tribe. As the patriarch, Stephen had to protect them and argue for them not to be harmed by those in the camp. After he had built good relationships within the camp, he decided to try returning to his original home. Though he returned as a minority Kikuyu among Kalenjin neighbors, he went and talked to his former neighbors and saw it was safe to return. He then went back to the camp and convinced his family and others that the neighbors would welcome them back.

Stephen and all the members wanted me to convey their thanks to Mercy Corps and our donors, who support the committee by providing transportation, a place to meet, office space and other means of support Their work has brought together tribes and communities and often led to reconciliation between neighbors. They hope for continued support as Kenya gets closer to the next elections in 2012.