Northern Kenya is vast with spectacular natural features and diverse cultures. However, this part of the country faces numerous challenges among them prolonged drought which often occasions violent scramble for resources. Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR) has been involved in various Peacebuilding efforts involving different stakeholders at the local level as a way of mitigating the conflict. Other than targeting the community leaders who often come from the diverse ethnic groups living in the target areas, SCCRR has also involved young students and pupils in inter-ethnic schools within the same environments. The general purpose for targeting these students is to bring about positive change in their attitude, increase their tolerance and enhance objectivity in the manner in which they perceive the ethnic other. Shalom’s peace education program helps the school children to have increased awareness of alternative methods for settling disputes and resolving conflicts thus build bridges for the future and strengthen a Peaceful society. The Shalom’s Peace Manual for schools in conflict zones is invaluable in this process.
One of these schools identified by SCCRR is the only interethnic and interreligious Girls Secondary School located in Suguta Mar Mar ward, Samburu County. The school has more than three hundred students drawn from different ethnic communities living within Samburu County and its neighbouring counties of Turkana, Isiolo, Marsabit, Baringo and Laikipia The frequent inter-ethnic clashes witnessed in Suguta Mar Mar and its surrounding has been apparently, on the surface, over scarcity of resources, and conflict over boundaries. This has affected their learning progress and has huge potential to create feelings of uncertainty in school as the students grow suspicion and acrimonious to each other. The effect of the conflict to this school awakened the students and the teachers to consider establishing a system through which, the students and the entire school community could participate in enhancing peace not only within the school but also at the community level. As a result, the students took the initiative to start a school peace club after which they sought the support of SCCRR to assist them with the necessary peace education training and planning for actions that the club could take towards peacebuilding.
The initiative was successfully launched in June, 2017. The students mainly compose Form one and Form two students (first to two years of secondary school in Kenya). The thought behind this composition is to allow the Club to have longevity; building on long term process. Underpinning this process was a felt need of a peacebuilding initiative that was from and driven by the students for the school and the wider community. Shalom were more than keen to be part of the process’s foundation and progression. We applaud the innovations of the students, the principal, and the teachers. A number of factors were considered in the selection of club representatives and by extension their officials. Some of these factors were age, ethnic background and religious affiliation inclusivity. Also taken into consideration was willingness to learn and to share, tolerance and respect towards one another within a spirit of passion for positive change where all focused on the well-being and security of all.
An important positive aspect of the development was the commitment of the Clubs’ Patron who happens to be the school Principle. This fact emphasises the great need for such a Club and the support that the schools’ authority has given to it. With the aim of reaching influential community leaders, parents, religious / church leaders, women, local government leaders and even the school dropout children, club members have set the strategies that will guide them in achieving their desired goals. They also have a plan of reaching out to other nearby schools and form a network for an exchange programme. Some of the activities planned by the Club include; Weekly Peace Education sessions by the through the guidance provided Peace Manual from SCCRR, Regular meetings of officials and members to analyse various situations and suggest forms of action; Inter-cultural exchange programmes for members that will enhance their mutual learning and sharing their skills; Conduct inter-ethnic home visitation in order to enhance tolerance and appreciation of cultural diversity. One can only admire the leadership and maturity that is evolving among the students moving into the future.
Through this Shalom school peace club being actively involved in Peace activities, the school has a great opportunity to contribute towards peacebuilding through increasing people’s awareness on the effects of conflict and techniques of peacebuilding thus change the behaviour and patterns of thinking of both students and the community. Moreover, through the intervention of SCCRR to support the peace education program of this club, opportunities are ripe for the Peace Club members and the school at large, to develop increased leadership skills, cooperative problem identification and intervention as well as to increase understanding and tolerance between their peers from diverse communities. If ever a community is deciding to be the architects of their own future there are lessons to be learned and replicated in this school. And this is only one of many that the SHALOM team are helping to develop. Thanks to the local population and our supporters worldwide.
By Godfrey Okoth, SCCRR Program Manager and Kennedy Otieno – SCCRR Logistics Officer