By Peter Serete
On November 12, 2013, very early in the morning, the temperature in Kakuma refugee camp in the desert of northern Kenya was already at 92°F, and the wind was blowing from the east at 18 miles per hour. It was very dusty and hot! I was riding on the back of a motorbike from the Friends Church in Kakuma Camp II to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Camp I, in the company of a Congolese Quaker pastor and our Sudanese colleague. As we passed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) firewood distribution center, a woman shouted out to me in Arabic. I asked my Sudanese friend to translate what she had said. He told me that she had yelled, “I want to learn peace!”
Later I found that her name is Wijdan Yaya, and we invited her to join our Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshop. When I asked her why she wanted to learn peace, she replied in broken English: “It is only peace that unites us. War, hatred and violence divide us more and peace disappears during war. I want to teach peace to many women in this refugee camp.”
AVP was first introduced in Kakuma Refugee Camp one year ago. At that time, we focused on the Sudanese community; other communities were too suspicious of what we were doing. This time, we returned at the invitation of the Ethiopian community, and our workshops included Sudanese fleeing the renewed civil war; Somalis displaced by conflict among clan warlords; Ethiopians and Eritreans driven from their homes by struggles over independence, ideology and borders; Ugandans trying to protect their sons from abduction as child soldiers and their daughters as sex slaves by the Lord’s Resistance Army; and Congolese and Burundians driven to Kakuma by genocide, ethnic conflict and ongoing civil and interstate war linked with exploitation of natural resources. All of the communities within this vast refugee camp have now embraced AVP, and the impact of this ministry continues to grow and transform lives.
Listen within your heart to the words expressed by those who went through this workshop and hear the transforming message of peace and hope.
“The moment I crossed the borders of my homeland, I was given a new name that was known as ‘refugee,’ a branding that not only
degrades my status, but also subjects me to remember my deeper wounds and pain. Today I have a new name, a name that describes me positively — my AVP ‘adjective name’ is Relieved Ragaw. If we dwell on these positive states as much as we generally dwell on our negative thoughts and painful emotions, our lives would be transformed.” — Zinabu (Eyob) Ragaw
“I have been taught in school for many years. I have gained knowledge but that did not change me. In AVP, learning comes with
transformation; I have learnt to respect myself and others and to be an ambassador of peace.” —Fadhili Zagabe
“I have within me what can bring peace.” — Bezabih Damte Woldebreal
“I am an Ethiopian by nationality and, when I was sharing my story with my brother from the Sudanese community, I realized a lot of things are inherent in life — change, birth, death, conflict, illness, accidents, violence, calamities, and losses of all kinds — but I have learnt through sharing and listening to people in the same situation that these events don’t have to be the cause of ongoing suffering, trauma, denial and regrets that cause grief and sadness. Like everything else we can replace these bad experiences with others which can change enemies to friends and violence to peace.” — Kebede Shuba
Peter Serete is a Lead AVP Facilitator who works for the Friends Church Peace Team in Kenya. He coordinated the Friends election monitoring and violence prevention activities during the 2013 Kenyan national election. He is active as an AVP facilitator and non-violence trainer.