Healing from Violence: Strengthening Community Dialogue
By Rebecca Fordham
KISUMU, Kenya, March 2013 – “If I am in a playground and two people disagree about who owns the football, I can ask them to explain their side of the story and see who is telling the truth,” said 14 year old Diana. “Then we can have a peaceful school and strong friendships.”
Fourteen year-old Diana Adhiambo, a student at Kasawo Primary School, Kisumu City western Kenyan, acts as a mediator between two groups of students during a Life Skills Education class, which form part of the Peace Education curriculum.
Introduced by the Government of Kenya to primary and secondary schools following the post-election violence in 2008, the Peace Education curriculum is part of a broader nation-wide peace initiative. Born out of a humanitarian response, the response has also strengthened development partnerships and dialogue across Kenyan society using influential groups with good community links.
The classes equip both students and teachers with positive behavior models enabling them to deal with challenges as they progress through life. Mediation and arbitration skills are taught, which the children also use at home.
“The school system had become transfixed by exams and results. We had neglected community responsibility, justice and citizenship and forgotten about child’s internal development,” said Francesca Hawala, Kisumu City Education Office. “Both teachers and children now feel more comfortable with each other.”
Creating safe havens in schoolsTwo teachers from each school were trained in the Life Skills Education. The initiative was evaluated positively to show that is helped to turn schools into safe havens, reduce gender-based violence and enable children to take responsibility for their decisions. In Kisumu City, primary school completion rates have increased from 78, 627(39,246 boys, 39,381 girls) in 2008 to 89,359 (44,279 boys, 45080 girls) in 2012.
“It is easier to build relationships if you understand different people’s opinions,” said 14 year-old Millicent Atieno, a student at Karapul Primary, “I also feel more able to ask for what I want and know what might not be in my interests.”
In 2008, Millicent and her family had to relocate from Kawangware in Nairobi where they had a tailoring shop to Siaya County, due to the high cost of living. The young girl is now playing a leading role in her peer group.
“When there is a problem in our community Millicent is the one who brings home what she learns at school. She explains the importance of respect to adults,” said Lillian Atieno, Millicent’s mother, “Millicent understands that in life decisions are sometimes made that don’t agree with, you continue and next time you will approach differently.”
Purposefully engaging local networks, especially traditional and religious leaders as advocates, has been seen to increase the dissemination of skills and knowledge to families and communities, and overrides adult behaviour seen to be harmful to children and their community.
Boda Boda preach peaceIn Kisumu County, the Boda Boda motor bikes, a common form of transportation in Kenya, have a network of over 3, 000 people. The members created a Peace Initiative where they identified problems in the area, potential insecurities and drafted an action plan.
“I talk to the children during the trip to school, encouraging them to respect other children and people no matter, their race, tribe or colour,” said Nelson Odire, Chair Boda Boda Summit.
The bikers use their work as an opportunity to meet and talk to people about the importance of maintaining peaceful coexistence with people from other communities and neighbours.
“We still need to carry out more sensitization. We still need to come together. We still need to address issues of peace,” said Lorna Odero, Kisumu County Commissioner, ‘I still want to call upon UNICEF and other partners together with the government to come together addressing peace issues’.
Devolution is a central part of Kenya’s new Constitution, which is in the process of being implemented. This comes with mainstreaming children’s participation in school governance and peace initiatives. Prioritizing the safety of children and profiling their needs extends beyond Kenya’s education programme across sectors.