Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)
By Shelly Stratton
For laid out version with more pictures, chick on tcsc-shellys-report-dec-2016
Note: Thanks and appreciation to those who responded to my request last week to support HROC workshops at Kericho Women’s Prison. Some people did not want to sign up to send funds through WorldRemit. Another alternative is to send a check made out to me, “David Zarembka” with memo of “TCSC” and send it to David Zarembka, 8 Midsummer Ct, Gaithersburg, MD 20878 and my son, Tommy, will deposit the funds into my account and I’ll forward them to TCSC.
In 2008 the Mount Elgon region experienced some of the most devastating post-election violence in Kenya. At that time peace makers and community activists from Quaker peace teams approached these communities with workshops that explored the dynamics of violence and the impact of trauma, while also promoting resilience and community healing. These workshops have led to a growing number of grassroots leaders in Mount Elgon communities who are committed to strengthening families while also addressing structural and interpersonal violence.
In 2013 Mount Elgon communities began calling for a neutral space to be developed, where diverse perspectives could be shared and where dialogue and trainings might continue to promote peace and development in communities hard hit by violence and persistent poverty. Their determination led to the collection of donations from across the mountain to fund the purchase of land and the building of a peace center in Chepyuk. The Peace Center was completed in the fall of 2015 and today is the hub of a wide range of important community activities. Participants often squeeze into this small space to take part in community dialogue and workshops, to gain access to healthcare resources and information, and most recently children gathered to play and participate in a project exploring children’s rights.
The land is also used to grow crops that support ongoing development and care of the Peace Center. Our caretaker Steven, his wife Lilian and three children (Mary, Kibet and Bahti Cherop) now live on the premises looking after the Peace Center, supporting the smooth accommodation of activities, and caring for the newly acquired cow named “Mercy”.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2016
With the completion of the Peace Center many ideas for addressing community challenges have begun to emerge. Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops have been a core component of TCSC involvement in Mount Elgon communities. This past year 12 HROC trainings were funded by the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI, Friends Peace Teams) and by private donations targeting the support of birth companions/midwives.
With escalating tension related to presidential elections in August, workshops with ex-militia, including senior commanders and those in charge of weapons, seem particularly important and impactful. However, HROC workshops have also mobilized activities that are sure to shape the future of these communities. Many Mount Elgon communities have welcomed initiatives promoting peace, social justice and community healing, and are now also investing in their future by considering the needs of children and families.
Birthing companions on Mount Elgon work under very difficult circumstances with limited supportive infrastructure and the many challenges that come with poverty in remote areas. These women have received little training and are often forced to deal with significant birthing complications. The distance and condition of roads also makes access to hospital resources difficult. In July a group of 46 women shared their challenges and gained valuable information about early recognition of high risk births, HIV, birth of breech babies and family planning. These conversations were facilitated by a team of social workers and midwives from both Kenya and the United States. The women have also organized a mutual aid group, sharing resources, experience and knowledge at monthly gatherings. The organization manages birthing supplies that have been donated through TCSC, and provides a venue for support and the sharing of valuable information related to childbirth, reproductive health and the empowerment of women and girls.
Building Resilience for the Girl Child
Growing concern about early pregnancy and the high mortality rate of infants and mothers in childbirth have led these communities to begin conversations that have not always been easy. Following two days with birthing companions TCSC facilitated conversations with the broader community, focusing on the vulnerability of young child victims living in poverty, and who often have little support from parents. Too often young girls fall victim to the inappropriate advances of men as they seek supplies for their basic needs, or they are raped when they are still children (9-12 yrs). This contact is not only traumatic, but also impacts self-esteem and at times leads to pregnancy, early marriage and difficulty completing school. The alarming rate of pregnancy in high school has been the subject of many Kenyan news reports, including a report this past year of 20 high school girls becoming pregnant at nearby Chewelli High School.
In a series of TCSC community dialogues, one day was devoted to conversations with 85 girls from St Johns High School and 26 girls who had not finished school due to pregnancy and early marriage. They shared their challenges and explored ways to support one another in their efforts to stay safe and avoid early pregnancy and marriage. They also learned about contraceptives (Kenyan’s refer to this as family planning). Their stories often reflected hardship unfit for such young women, but they relished an opportunity to talk and to be playful in the activities that were shared.
The following day was spent with 45 young men who were eager to share their challenges and ideas about building resilience in their communities. They also discussed ways to maintain boundaries when feeling pressured to engage in sexual activity, and were provided information about reproductive health and family planning.
Those attending the gatherings at the Peace Center talked about the importance of providing support and protection for young girls, as well as educating all adolescents and parents about options for family planning.
Funds raised in the U.S. also made it possible for over 610 high school girls to receive 6 months’ worth of sanitary pads, 280 boys to receive underwear, and birthing supplies have made the jobs of birthing companions safer and more sanitary.
Addressing Gender Based Violence (GBV)
Since these conversations TCSC volunteers have found themselves supporting several child victims of violent rape. They have worked with the survivors to pursue safety and legal support, facilitated conversations with families, and have engaged in community conversations to discern a community response that reflects sensitivity to the emotional impact of rape. They provided education regarding laws related to GBV. In January TCSC will collaborate with African Youth and Community Organization (AYCO), offering information about the legal ramification of GBV and the rights of women and girls. There is growing concern in the organization that we need to consider options for increasing resources for rescue and care of girls and young women impacted by GBV.
Voices of Children
The most recent activity at the Peace Center focused on the children. Shelly Stratton from the U.S., with the support of TCSC organizers, hosted an opportunity for children to share their ideas about “the rights of the child”. This project, with the support of World Forum, has been gathering the voices of children from around the world to create a documentary that reflects the perspectives of young children regarding their needs, interests and hopes for changes that nurture the well-being of children. Although the intention was to work with a small group of children over 90 children arrived eager to participate! They drew pictures, jumped rope, played football (soccer), made dolls out of sticks, and built a village that represented a place where children would feel their needs were being met and where they could be happy and thrive. Their building structures included two churches, a school and several houses.
As Pastor Erastus Chesandi (Peace Center project manager) watched the children engage in activities he was filled with joy and a wish to continue bringing them together. He is beginning to plan for a Christmas celebration for vulnerable children who are orphans or live with only one parent struggling to make ends meet.
At a time when the country is witnessing increasing political tension these communities are remaining focused on the rebuilding of healthy and peaceful communities that can stand strong in the face of challenges. They are proud of their Peace Center and efforts to promote community based support for families, including the most vulnerable children in their midst.
Please consider supporting TCSC and the Mount Elgon community. Your tax deductible dollars will support a wonderful Christmas celebration for the children, the January training on gender based violence, and ongoing efforts to promote peaceful elections in August 2017.
Donations can be made to:
Friends Peace Teams
1001 Park Ave
St. Louis, MO 64104-3720
(designated to: TCSC holiday fund drive)
TCSC volunteers and the Mount Elgon community wish you the very best of holidays and peace for the coming New Year!