Kenya Trip September 2015
Visit to SLEC, Kenya
August 28-September 6, 2015
Traveling; Glenn Cross and Cheryl Broetje
Notes by: Cheryl Broetje
Purpose of Trip: To Visit SLEC, (a Servant Leadership Environmental Conservation organization CFS assisted in birthing as a result of the SL courses we taught in Kenya) and help evaluate where it is now at 4 years old.
The weather was cold and rainy while in Nairobi this time. As is the U.S, they are gearing up for “El Nino”, and sadly, we felt right at home as the front page of the news featured Kenyan teachers all on strike, as are ours in Pasco, WA. We actually got caught in a flash flood while visiting the farm land SLEC is considering as torrents of water flowed down the mountainsides onto the roadways, leaving cars, people and animals wading along. And it all happened in less than an hour. Very scary!
Vista Hermosa Foundation (still a funding partner) and Center for Sharing have grown increasingly concerned that the SLEC ‘family’ needs to grow to ensure its long term viability. Roseanne Mbaya, the founder/dreamer has demonstrated excellent SL teaching skills in addition to the capacity to generate spirit in those feeling voiceless and powerless…especially women. Over time we have noted several additional dynamics that we feel are threats to SLEC’s existence however.
We have come to believe that underneath the beautiful, smiling faces of our Kenyan partners, there often lies great fear. As with all colonized countries, this fear stems in part from the trauma of their personal and national history. First it was the colonizers who controlled forced compliance with their regimes. When they finally left, although systems were now left in the hands of Kenyans, with a veneer of democracy, the systems of forced compliance did not change. President Moi is now 91 years old and apparently reads his bible every day. But back in the days of his reign, many still remember how people were routinely silenced, tortured, imprisoned or killed for speaking out. Current leaders of Kenya are being tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
We are learning from trauma informed theory that when people are traumatized, fear can cause them to become silent. It robs them of the critical language they need to describe and address the issues that keeps them stuck, as if holding their breath. It causes people to feel they have no power of agency to act in ways that can positively make a difference in life. And so, the victims of trauma shut down, and focus on staying safe. We can still see this syndrome today. Here is an example:
We have been staying at the same hotel for over 20 years when we visit Kenya. We have come to know and care about the dining room, security and front desk staff. We sent one to school, fixed another’s teeth, have witnessed their kind, faithful service, but also the quiet desperation that lies just under the surface. For one thing, these folks often go for weeks without seeing their families. They can’t afford to make the trip home and don’t have enough time off to stay anyway. They raise their families on incomes less than $200/month. Health care and school fees are a constant source of struggle and pain.
So we had noticed that things seemed to be quiet there. I wondered what kind of marketing they are doing these days. When I inquired of my friend, he simply said, “Let me be safe”. And then he put his fingers to his mouth and made a closing the zipper gesture. How sad is that?! He’s worked there for many years, has made many observations about what might help, but he believes he would absolutely lose his job if he said what he knows. This spells death for the spirit of organizations and of people.
Contrast that however, with a remarkable story of a young woman, Njoki Munene, who grew up in a military family who lived and worked in a prison compound for 26 years. Imagine being close neighbors with rapists (who wore blue suits) and murderers (who wore red suits) as well as the hangman who received extra milk and meat so that he had the strength to do his job. They all lived there together, shared the same life, the same transport when going to town, receiving the daily in-home services of prisoners such as taking out the garbage, etc., in addition to watching them be executed or shot as they escaped, as a part of her ‘normal’ existence.
Today, she has a master’s degree and is Roseanne’s administrative assistant. Her face glows. How can this be? Well, for one thing, when she was 7, she was put in counseling. Every week at 4 pm she went to talk to the counselor-for years. Even today at times her folks suggest she might want to consult with the counselor when faced with challenges. Her perspective on what it means to live together in the complexity of great diversity and suffering with caring and compassion, without judgement is just extraordinary. She reports continuing to deepen her relationship with God through SLEC’s daily devotional times.
Without healing, trauma keeps good people locked in the past. They tell you what they think you want to hear. So….this time we shared what we are learning about trauma, with the board members. We dared to say our truths. They dared to say theirs as well! No one left. In fact the board meeting lasted 6 hours longer than planned. We studied Lupton’s article: “Colonialism or Partnership.” There was general consensus that unless SLEC focuses on finding more partners in Kenya, the capacity to grow is being crippled. And, regarding communication, we discovered that the SLEC board and staff don’t like to use email. They like “What’s App”.
On Wednesday we went to visit Janet Mawiyoo at the Kenya Community Development Foundation. Janet oversees some 150 – 200 programs they support. She gave Roseanne many tips and ideas, and suggestions for finding others doing similar kinds of work. For example, Bishop Masika, with Christian Impact Mission, has a small farm. One day he heard that a woman had just died of hunger while trying to breast-feed her baby….just a few meters from his place. He was so shocked that he decided to do something to address hunger in that community. He started offering classes in spiritual growth and also small scale agricultural schemes. Today, KCDF wants to replicate his program in other high risk areas of Kenya. Janet invited Roseanne to go visit him.
At first Roseanne expressed concern that it seemed she was being asked to do whatever Janet might tell her (such as a suggestion to move to a remote part of the country due to its extreme poverty). To those who do the hard, lonely work of putting flesh on their dreams, it can feel a bit like suggesting that the baby you have birthed and nurtured all this time is being put in foster care because you are deemed now lacking in your parenting ability. Upon reflection, Roseanne said she felt more comfortable with her suggestions.
Roseanne has set her sights on the village of Kongoni, in the district of Moi Ndabi, some 37 km from Naivasha, famous for flower greenhouses and tourism. While we don’t all agree that area is as needy, it is Roseanne’s choice for security. Apparently many different tribes live around there peacefully. Security and safety are always on her mind…as her own cousin narrowly escaped being burned alive after the post-election violence in 2007. She was considered an outsider in the town where she and her husband were living. The driver of a truck full of sand threw her in at the last minute, covered her with sand, and drove away as her house burned.
I had the feeling all week that we were there to be part of an organizational surgery taking place…some sort of spiritual surgery on souls and systems. Every session was intense. But, we also laughed and ate and drank a ton of Kenyan tea. (note: in Uganda, when doing truth and reconciliation work, groups have noted that sessions of extremely painful story telling need to be interspersed with time to play hard together. The energy released allows them to resume their emotional work again.)
Africans are most hospitable, and patient. And their church services are incredibly life-giving for attendees who are packed in like sardines! I swear the music alone literally calls the dead back to life for another week. The dancing that accompanies it brings tired, worn bodies along in response to the soul’s revival. And for so many of them, being together is the most important thing… for them they sense the option is either life together or face marginalization and slow death alone. The question is: can they merge a paradox of: “speak truth AND cherish?” This is the great work that needs to be done in the 21st century. We are all caught up in this work, no matter where we live, or the specific work we have been called to focus on.