Hello all! I am Chelang’at Surum, a rising junior studying International Relations with a concentration in International Development Economics. I am spending the summer in my home country of Kenya working with Sisi Ni Amani (We Are Peace in English), an organization that engages the efforts of peace leaders in Kenya through an sms-based system.
As I expected going into this internship, I have learned a lot about my own country. My internship has taken me to places in Kenya that I have never experienced before, from the slums of Nairobi to semi-urban Narok in Rift Valley. I am amazed by all the efforts at the grassroots to build peace and prevent a repeat of the post-electoral violence in 2007 that was disastrous for the country. I have realized that a good number of Kenyans in troubled areas are concerned for peace in the country, and want to work for peace especially as we draw closer to the next elections in the coming year of 2012. Sisi Ni Amani (SNA) is making great strides in sensitizing the people on issues of peace and good governance in as many areas as our capacity allows, but the very nature of what we do makes it difficult to adequately measure our performance. However, from community led hot-spot analysis we have learned that peace in different parts of Kenya has different dynamics. The issues we address in Narok are not the same as those in Nairobi. I understand that a mistake that is commonly made by scholars addressing the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya is to lump together different hot spots without the consideration of area-specific local dynamics of violence.
I have had some of my most challenging discussions outside of the somewhat formal community meetings with our volunteers. Almost every time we have to deal with the sensitive issue of budgeting in our meetings, a follow-up conversation with my fellow interns as well as our chapter volunteers is inevitable. Unlike most of the other NGOs that work in Kenyan slums, Sisi Ni Amani runs on a limited budget and we watch our expenditure as much as possible. Now this is where the problem arises. Volunteers on the ground are used to being handed out surprisingly huge stipends to do any groundwork for the NGOs. Most of our volunteers are not always excited about carrying out full-day mobilization processes for SNA with stipends not as huge as what they are accustomed to. From my Kenyan perspective I do understand where they are coming from, and I do not blame them for looking to gain financially. Most of these people are unemployed or hold temporary, unstable jobs despite having dependants. Out of their good will, they work for free for Sisi Ni Amani for the most part. On the other hand, my fellow intern who is a non-Kenyan feels that it is wrong that our volunteers are seemingly trying to make money out of the peace-building process. We had a little debate about this issue; I definitely do not disagree with my fellow intern but at the same time I feel that I would probably have the same demands if I were in our volunteers’ situations. I am still struggling in building up my thoughts and concerns on the financial expectations of volunteers particularly in the slums. However, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that almost nothing can be accomplished on the ground without money for handouts.
I am looking forward to the first of a series of meetings to build a community-based manifesto in one of our chapters. The manifesto will contain main issues that the community wants leaders to address, and will be presented to aspiring political candidates for the area. The failure of Kenyan political leaders to address the concerns of the voters leads to frustration among voters that is often expressed through violence. In my next post, I will relate my experience preparing for the creation of a community-based manifesto.