I like this picture of a “resilient woman.” It illustrates the theme of this report – to be hopeful in bad times. Moreover in western Kenya, in Maragoli culture women do not ride bicycles but among the nearby Kabras women do ride bicycles. This shows how different local customs can be.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something, If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.                                                           Howard Zinn

 My daughter, Joy, works for Busboys and Poets a chain of seven “restaurants, bookstores, lounges, and theaters in the Washington, D.C. area as a haven for writers, thinkers and performers from America’s progressive social and political movements.” (from their webpage). They are organizing a Peace Ball: Voices of Hope and Resistance at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This will be held on January 19, the evening before Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the next US president. The 3500 $200 tickets have already been sold out; Joy main task is to bus these people to the mall since security is closing down that part of DC for the inauguration. Joy sent me the above quote from Howard Zinn since they are using this as their motto for the occasion. I thought it was apropos not only of the forthcoming situation in the United States, but reflects what I have often seen here in eastern Africa.

When I visited Burundi from 1999 to 2005 during its Civil War, I was struck by the fact that many people were making adobe bricks – extremely hard physical work that cost nothing to do, but signals hopefully better times in the future. In 1999 I visited Musama Friends Church where the young adults were rebuilding houses of vulnerable people destroyed in the conflict – I visited the home of a blind man which they had already rebuilt four times. It is only hope in bad times that would lead people to do such backbreaking work in the midst of violence.

When I go on my speaking tours in the United States, people often ask me how I can psychological survive such horrors as the Rwandan genocide, the civil war in Burundi, the deadly conflicts in eastern Congo, the brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, and the post-election violence in Kenya. My response is that I am buoyed up by the resilience of the Africans who are determined to build a better future regardless of the trials they have gone through. I doubt that any of them have heard of Howard Zinn’s quote above, but they are hopeful both as individuals and as a community in their daily life activities.

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Trainers for HROC workshops at Kericho Women’s Prison – from left Grace ChirChir, Mercy Chemtai, translator, Eunice Okwemba, Loice Muriithi and Lucy Karambu.

Appreciation: I would like to thanks those who contributed to my December 16 request for funding to support HROC workshops in the Kericho Women’s Prison here in Kenya. I received more than we needed so the excess will be used for the next important project.

The workshops were organized by a local Kenya organization called Resilient Woman. These workshops were the continuing psychosocial program of providing support and guidance for women re-entering and reintegrating from prison life to their home communities. The objective is to help them deal with traumatic experiences that keep them stuck, equipping them with tools to handle and heal from their trauma. The mentors are those people who have volunteered to support them as they re-enter a community where they are now stigmatized for whatever they had done, for having been confined in prison, and for being absent from their families and communities while in prison.

The two workshops were successfully completed. Their first workshop was for fourteen mentors who will assist the women prisoners to adjust to the outside world when they are released from prison. The second was for eighteen women who will be released in the next three to six months. Most of these women are marginally educated without even speaking the national language, Swahili, so that a translator who had attended a previous HROC training while in Lang’ata Women’s Prison near Nairobi was needed.

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I have had more reactions than usual to my posting last week on Silence (See http://davidzarembka.com/2017/01/02/420-silence-january-6-2017/). A number of people have indicated that they plan on seeing the film. If you do so, I would appreciate your reaction to it.

Below is part of a comment I received from Patrick Nugent, the former principal of Friends Theological College, whom I know well from the time when he and his family served here in Kenya. I thought it was a profound comment on the issues raised by the book. It also relates to the theme of this posting.

I really appreciate the way you connected the film to the African context. I was touched by the poignant Rwandan proverb as well. The question of “where God is” in situations of suffering and evil has occupied me as a theologian for decades and I used to teach a course in it at Earlham School of Religion. I came to the conclusion long ago that the only way God can interfere or intervene in the world is in changing human hearts, and that there is a serious battle between Good and evil, in which only changed human hearts can turn the tide. This is one of the reasons your work has inspired me so deeply over the years — you have a very concrete way of turning hearts in the direction of resistance to evil and healing its effects. When I was “on loan” to a UCC church and then a Brethren church as pastor, I’ve had several occasions to preach on the subject of how God is present in times of great evil, and each time I have used your work and the many Africans who have learned the AVP and HROC processes as concrete examples of how God works in the world. It’s only through the thoughts and actions of *human beings* like you and your African colleagues and students who choose to counteract the forces of violence. 

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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues with his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.

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David Zarembka

Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)

P.O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765-4098
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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