Shades of Pain and Shame: HROC and AVP Workshops on Mt. Elgon

By Peter Serete – Program Coordinator

Transforming Community for Social Change

A section of women covering their faces. 

The pain and shame that I carry as a woman wounds me deeply. This training has been of help to me. I joined other women to come to terms with what we went through, unmasking my face of shame and creating a new life. Don’t leave us. [HROC participant]

Due to the sensitivity of this report and the confidentiality, we are not going to use real names and other pictures of our participants in the just concluded three basic Healing and Rebuilding Our Community trainings because most of the participants are rape victims and some of their children have been defiled.

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC) has been on forefront in intervening in the midst of erupted violence and unrest in parts of Mt Elgon. We managed to identify and mobilize all rape survivors who were taken through counseling and medication for the defiled children. From the meetings, we managed to do three basic HROC workshops with a total of 60 women between the ages of 21 to 37 years. During the training, the rape survivors and mothers of the defiled girls only 11 women accepted us to take their picture on condition they cover their faces for the fear of perpetrators, husbands and family members. The wounds of this experience were so deep. These kind of traumatic events shatter the world as we know it, leaving these women disordered, disempowered, and feeling disconnected from other people and from life. Most of the women expressed anger, anxiety, depression, fear and asking questions like “Why us?” “Where was God?” and “What’s the meaning of life anyway?”

My daughter who is 12 years old and other girls of her age have been going to the forest to fetch firewood, especially on the weekends. They have always gone in a small group of five to six girls of her age. She came back home that evening without firewood and she was crying when I asked she said “Blacky” slept on top of her and forcefully penetrated her. I didn’t know where to report and again I feared to expose my daughter. I took her to Kopsiro dispensary and never shared with anyone because in 2007 I was also raped when I had gone to look for building material for our house in the same forest. I have never shared what I went through because my husband could have killed me or even divorced me. How I wish I had shared because today my daughter would not have been a victim. I thank this organization for this training, Yes, I am ashamed to share my story but today I feel helped. HROC participant.

I am a window. My husband died in jail. It was not easy to raise the five kids he left me with. I had this man who was very supportive to me. I never knew he was defiling my 13year old daughter for two years. He used to threaten her that he will kill her if she reported and sometimes he could give her 10 shillings [10 US cents] to keep quite.  One day I came back from a funeral and found him with my daughter. The man attacked me and pushed me on the floor and left the house. I have never seen him since then. What saddened me was that as a mother I never discovered for two years this man had turned my daughter into a wife and innocently my daughter was helpless. I am so sorry my child was trapped in an abusive environment with this animal.  From this training in must help her find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy and safety in a situation that is unsafe. HROC participant.

As the organization we will need to do more sensitization meetings with all community stakeholders. Because most women fear reporting their cases, we need to push for witness protection programs and proper channels of reporting to government security personnel and human right actors, creation of safe rescue centers for the victims and continued psychosocial support to the victims. Our Mt Elgon Center has played a role but it doesn’t have enough space to give support to the victims.

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Alternative to Violence workshop

AVP participants in training on Mt. Elgon. 

I have been a leader of a violent group, but I have learnt that violence bets violence. I will apply the non-violent skills that I have learnt. [AVP participant].

The main objective of the AVP training was to help the youth at risk of violence with knowledge and skills on how to constructively handle violent conflicts and effectively communicate. The aim was to contribute towards the reduction of youth propagated violent conflicts in Mt. Elgon. We had 25 participants – 23 male and 2 female plus 3 local administrators.

The training workshop was delivered by trained facilitators based on participants’ experiences not based on lectures. The experiential learning approach was adopted as it is suitable for participants, majority whom have been victims and perpetrators of violence in the community. The workshop approach draws on the shared experience of participants, using reflections, interactive exercises, group and plenary discussions, learning’s games and role-plays to examine the ways we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behavior and violence. The training and the related exercises prescribe conflict transformation skills that can enable individuals to build successful interpersonal interactions, gain insights into themselves, and find new and positive approaches to their lives. The workshop is anchored around principle pillars of: Affirmation, Effective Communication, Co-operation, Community Building and Trust and Confidence Building.

The high levels of commitment, cooperation and responsive of the participants throughout the training was remarkable. This level of participation was contrary to expectations of destruction, lateness, and lack of interest and focus due to the fact that majority of the participants are still on the journey of transforming from a violent environment. Above all, participants drawn from different rival villages and groups were able to constructively interact, thereby improving their levels of trust and confidence in each other.

AVP training empowered individuals who feel hopeless, unappreciated in the community to liberate themselves and others from the burden of violence. The fundamental belief is that there is power for peace and good in everyone. This innate power has the ability to transform violence, building community resilience and rehabilitating affected communities through practical approaches that seek to provide sustainable pathways to counter violent narratives that could lead to violent extremism.

At the end of the cooperation exercises participants realized that there is need to reach out in cooperation and communication. Participants saw the need of networking and having exchange programs between the motorbike riders.

The participants applauded the training due to the interactive nature that enabled them to improve their perceptions about life realities, especially about themselves, the community and leadership. The following were some of the remarks from the participants:

I am happy the training has changed my way of thinking in conflict situations.

I have learnt a different way to solve issues at my home and neighborhood.

I appreciate the need to know about oneself through the affirmation exercise. I now understand myself differently from before.

The training was conducted while we were sitting in a circle and not the usual high table; this made me feel equal to all, even the facilitators.

I have learnt how important it is to care and trust others because we need each other.

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David Zarembka

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