Thursday, January 15, 2009

One year after the post poll violence…….

Kenya's worst ever ethnic violence was sparked off by a presidential election held a year ago today. A once stable and prosperous nation went from being known as a land of big cats and safaris to a country beset by brutal mob violence; a place where a church full of terrified worshippers could be set ablaze with dozens inside burnt alive. At least 1,300 people died and more than 300,000 fled their homes.
Since then, an internationally brokered peace deal to end the strife has held, and the coalition government is intact. But for many victims, the struggle to rebuild lives has barely begun. One issue is money. The other reason, especially in Eldoret which was the epicenter of the violence is fear and mistrust. There have been no more attacks but there are still verbal threats. Neighbours peep at each other through broken fences as they see their stolen property in the other’s compound. It is painful but one asks what wounds would be opened were they to claim what belongs or belonged to them.

Children’s games are now tailored between “us” and not with “them” creating a near-permanent hostility in their fragile minds. You can now hear children talk of others by their tribes which a while ago was foreign to them. Worst hit are the public schools mainly in the rural setting. Although our SOS School was not affected, our children witnessed what was going on at that time. We are very proud that our children in the village have been able to cope with the trauma thanks to the post election counseling debriefing that was conducted after the violence. They have been appreciative of each other although the subject of what transpired keeps coming up. They are encouraged to talk about it so that they can heal faster.

The plight of the internally displaced persons being repatriated back to their ancestral homes has raised questions as to how they can ever trust people they once regarded as their friends and neighbours, people they interacted with on a daily basis and with whom their children played together? Will friendships and relationships that are slowly starting to heal be broken again come the next elections?

The physical scars of the violence are still clear to see. Drive along the main, potholed road from Eldoret to Kitale and you can’t miss the burnt-out crumbling shells of former shops and restaurants, targeted and destroyed because their owners were from a rival ethnic group. The truth is that it's been quite a rollercoaster year for Kenyans. The violent fallout from the elections left them stunned. High food prices and ongoing drought has left the country in dire need for much of the year, while rising fuel prices made the cost of everyday life spiral thus affecting not only the SOS family budgets but also the greater Kenyan populace.

Most people are rebuilding, but they’re rebuilding smaller houses because they don’t have enough money. Business is slow now because people don’t have money. At least tension is now low and most people are eager to get on with their lives. Peace forums around the Eldoret town have been encouraging different communities to come together to talk about issues that were at the heart of the violence. Community leaders and elders have been leading discussions that aim to find local solutions to local problems.

Many of the displaced families around Eldoret are still living in tents and camps despite a sizeable number having returned home. These people are overwhelmingly desperate to regain their independence. They don't want to be stuck in limbo for another year. They receive food handouts once a month and this is a vital lifeline, with rising food prices putting even basic staple foods out of reach for those who lost everything when they fled their homes. Even then, sadly, they have been criticized as spongers, layabouts, and people trying to extort from the system.
Along the side of the camps, small business people are starting to re-establish their trades. But it's not easy, having seen all of their stock burned along with their stores in the violence. Local farmers are also struggling to replace tools stolen by looters and to buy fertilizer to grow a healthy crop next year.

Some of the emotional wounds are healing, while others still require a triple portion of healing balms and a continuous change of bandages.

In the picture above you see a house which was torched in Eldoret when marauders invaded a family in Kimimu Estate in Eldoret. Nothing was salvaged although the family escaped unhurt. They had sought refuge at a friend's house when it became evident that they were targeted for beloning to a different tribe.

Fredrick Ochieng - SOS co-worker Eldoret

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cheers and tears as Mama Stephen retires

The day was favorable, the sun had passed its zenith, and was retiring towards the West when the SOS Children’s Village Eldoret witnessed the second farewell party for its second retiring mother. The big retirement party on January 2nd was one to remember as members of staff from the four villages gathered at the Kenmosa village to pay tribute to Mama Stephen (house 1) for her long years of service to the SOS Children.

Mama Stephen retires after serving the organization for close to 22 years. She is a living icon of courage, perseverance, and resilience in the challenging work of raising children. The transition has been in the works for 7 months since she announced her plan to step down from daily duties. The incoming mother has taken up her duties with enthusiasm and has been adequately mentored by the outgoing mother.
The ceremony was led by the Village Director, Mr. Peter Mungai and graced by the first retired mother from Nairobi village, Mama James. He commended her great sacrifice, dedication and diligence in work.

There were dozens of poignant moments throughout the momentous occasion that was punctuated by songs and dance. But the most touching of them all was the reality that the children had to contend with - their mother retiring from active duty. It was a tearful moment as the children, some of whom are now independent, shared the memories and the connection they had established with their mother. They heaped adulation on her for her love, patience and care. "Our mother gave us an enormous, enormous opportunity to grow up as children naturally," her eldest daughter Elizabeth Hassan said, breaking down into tears. "And I want to thank her for the love and care she gave us”. Mama Stephen’s children acknowledged that it won't be easy to move on, given how naturally they had bonded with their mother, but promised to support and cooperate with the new Mother.

Her fellow mothers showered her with praise. They equated her effort and subsequent passage to the biblical journey of the Israelites from Egypt. “Today the baton is handed over to Joshua (symbolic of the new mother taking over the house) who must rise above the challenge and complete what Mama Stephen had started. At the ceremony, Mama Edna, a longtime friend to Mama Stephen presented her with a white handkerchief that signified her sincere and honest work.

“I actually never thought she would really retire”, said Mama Ngudi. She has been talking about it for the last few years, but her end date kept getting pushed further and further back or maybe to a different time of year, until I finally decided she never would leave.

The School Principal, Mr. Elijah Omobe applauded the retiring mother for her selfless service and reminded the audience that it is not how we start that counts but how we finish. “The works of Mama Stephen is manifested in the children that she has raised”, he added.

For her part, Mama Stephen thanked the co-workers for the support they gave her in the duty of raising children. She observed that even the times that were the toughest, the support of everyone made work a bit lighter. She noted that the retirement seminars she attended adequately prepared her to transition to a new beginning. "So let me just close by saying you've made it so much for me. There won't be a day of my life that I'm not thinking about SOS Children’s Villages, and the great things that it's doing, and wanting to help” she concluded.
With those words, Mama Stephen marked the end of a career that has lasted for 22 years.