People Daily

Peace bred in child play

Hillary Bukuno, Monica Kinyua and Jane Kinyua started a peace intiative in 2011 that uses children as bridges of peace in warring communities

Harriet James @PeopleDailyKE

In the northern part of Kenya, competition for scarce resources has resulted in a long-standing enmity among the pastoral communities. This is because livestock, a precious commodity in the North, is not only a source of livelihood, but also a symbol of status. Consequently, cattle raids, banditry as well as inter-communal resource conflicts are prevalent.

The availability of small arms worsens the security situation. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), approximately 354 people died in the violence in 2009.

The state of anarchy in the region has made the locals take matters in their own hands and the function of elders, who most humanitarian organisations often use to resolve conflicts, is fast diminishing.

They have even lost their ability to sanction raids. This situation drove Hilary Bukuno together with his partners, Monica Kinyua and Jane Kinyua, to start a programme dubbed, Children Peace Initiative (CPI Kenya) in 2011. Bukuno noticed the apparent failure of elders to address the peace situation in this region where he grew up.

It was not until he was granted a job on peace and justice by Bishop Ambrose Ravasi of Marsabit diocese that he got the passion to preach peace in the region. “I began to ask myself how I can create peace between the families that are fighting?” he says. In 2009, he met Monica and Jane who were Catholic University students at that time.

They had come to Marsabit under the Justice and Peace Club. They had brought food and clothes to the affected Borana and Gabbra communities who had suffered as a result of clashes in the region.

In addition, they concentrated their efforts on talking to the youth in secondary schools and parents in the village, but left out the nursery children who were also traumatised by the clashes.

“We decided to bring the nursery children in the field to play fun games and it brought positive results. That’s where the inspiration to use children came from,” he explains.

Traditionally, among the pastoral communities, children played no role in inter-ethnic peace and reconciliation. Even in this current time, they have barely been included in peace-building and conflict transformation process.

This is because they are largely perceived as victims of conflict in need of protection and support. Even the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) strongly calls for strong measures to protect children and not employ them as agents of peace.

Hence, the organisation seeks to work with children as bridges of peace in their communities to combat and resolve inter-tribal conflict. We have been using an innovative approach of building friendships between children of different communities and warring pastoral families have been brought together by this.

One beneficiary of this peace initiative is Esther Salaiton (known as “Mama Caleb”), whose child’s perception changed after undergoing the Contact Theory, which emphasises the significance of friendship in dissolving inter-group conflict.

Caleb reaffirmed this when he explained: “We used to perceive Pokots as animals, but the contact during peace camps helped us to become friends. “I have two Pokot friends now,” he says.

Like many other children, Caleb participated in CPI Kenya’s series of cross-community interactions activities such as Peace Camps, Friendship for Peace Twinning, Holiday Exchange Peace Programmes, and Homestays, which are some of the programmes that the organisation employs to build relationships and nurture trust amongst the fighting communities.

Following two to three years of developed friendships, CPI Kenya rewarded friendly families for their peace-building progress by donating a cow to be shared through the Heifers for Peace programme. Forty cows have already been donated, but Mama Caleb hopes to receive one in the next round.

Currently, the organisation is working with six pastoralist communities in Baringo, Samburu and Marsabit and more than 97 peace activities have been initiated with children and their parents with support from their partners.

In addition, since 2011, over 250,000 direct and indirect beneficiaries have been impacted. Interactions amongst the warring communities have increased too.

For instance, for six years now, the Pokot and Samburu communities have lived in peace. Marsabit and Samburu, Gabra and Rendille too have experienced the same period of peace. So far, the organisation has worked with over 30 schools in the region. CPI Kenya is also working with children in Nairobi and Kajiado counties.

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