Dispatch From Kenya: Restoring Peace in Eldoret

Ken MacLean, CRS’ country representative for Kenya, sends this update on the situation in Eldoret, where election violence has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Jendayi E. Frazer meets with Bishop Cornelius Korir

U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer meets with Bishop Cornelius Korir of Eldoret. Photo by Jeannine Cinco/CRS

Today I traveled to Eldoret, where tens of thousands of Kenyans are now displaced as a result of election violence. Accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael E. Ranneberger and U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer, our aim was to meet with Bishop Cornelius Korir, as well as with members of the clergy, civil society and displaced families.

The bishop welcomed us at Eldoret’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral. Here, 7,500 people are camped out on the church grounds. Thousands more are finding refuge in other local churches, schools and public facilities.

Since the December 27 general elections, up to 500 people have been reported killed, and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 250,000 have been displaced. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has committed $150,000 to help people affected by this crisis. Staff on the ground in Eldoret and Bungoma are currently assessing needs and coordinating distribution of critical mosquito nets, blankets and plastic sheeting for shelters.

In our meeting, Bishop Korir noted that tensions rise annually around election time. This year, however, when local favorite Raila Odinga failed to win the contested presidential election, violence erupted on a much larger and tragic scale. Last week, dozens of people were burned in a nearby church where they were seeking refuge. Thousands of others escaped death, but are now displaced from their homes and in need of food, clothes, blankets and proper shelter.

Women Preparing Maize

Two women displaced by the post-election violence in Eldoret prepare maize on cathedral grounds. Photo by Jeannine Cinco/CRS

Community members at the cathedral shared their stories of terror with us. In tale after tale, families typically were approached by gangs of young men and told to leave within minutes or they would be killed. Mothers, fathers and children fled with little-to-no belongings, leaving all of their possessions behind to be torched or looted. These people are thankful to have found safety on church grounds, but they are in need of additional assistance.

Ambassador Ranneberger shared his confidence that Kenya would pull through this time of trouble and pledged $5 million for emergency response efforts. CRS is already working closely with the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to provide critical support to affected communities across Kenya and is coordinating relief efforts with Caritas Kenya, CAFOD and Trocaire. In addition to procuring essential supplies for distribution, CRS pledged private funds to enable the Eldoret diocese to purchase 42 metric tons of food locally on credit for immediate distribution to people in need.

CRS and the Kenya Episcopal Conference urge all Kenyans to refrain from violence. The Conference last week also encouraged an investigation into claims of electoral irregularities and appealed to political leaders to engage in dialogue. As the country seeks to solve this crisis, CRS will continue to serve those in need and take action to help restore peace.

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5 Responses to “Dispatch From Kenya: Restoring Peace in Eldoret”

  1. Georgina Bor-Chepkwony Says:

    First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to CRS for sending your team to Eldoret to evaluate the needs of the people there and assist them. I am a member of Eldoret Diocese, but I currently reside in the USA. I was also wondering if you were able to visit other local catholic churches housing displaced victims of the violence. One such church is Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Langas, Eldoret, where more people are camped out. If you can, please check them out because they are in dire need of assistance.

  2. Roy D. Mercer Says:

    Mr. Hartill,

    I would like to commend you on your writings and coverage of some of the world’s most important stories. Sometimes the most important stories all the least desirable by the mainstream but you are doing an excellent job at giving a voice to these people in Africa. My thanks and continued grattitude.

    Sincerely,

    Roy D. Mercer
    Letisha A. Mercer

  3. Mark Turco Says:

    Several years ago, Fr. Cosmas K’Otienoh, a wonderful man and priest from Kenya spent some time at our parish in Northern Virginia while he studied at Catholic University in Washington, DC. When he returned to Kenya, we formed a tax-exempt charitable organization (Friends of Kenyan Kids, Inc. )to help create and fund the Good Samiritan Orphanage Centre, which provides for and educates orphans of AIDS. The Centre, which Fr. Cosmas directs, now supports over 100 children in Nairobi, with plans for a new branch in Kisumu. It pains me to pass along the following e-mail, which we received from Fr. Cosmas today, describing the suffering and need in Kenya right now.

    My Dear and Rev. Fr. McAffee – the Venerable Pastor of St. John Catholic Church, Mclean,
    My Dear Friends of Kenyan Kids,
    All My Dear Friends at St. John Catholic Church, McLean,

    RE: AN ARDENT APPEAL TO YOU ALL

    I do not know where to begin!
    It is with a very heavy heart that I write this letter in order to give all of you first hand up-date regarding the events in Kenya.
    Having seen disturbing images from the comfort of your living rooms coming from Kenya as a result of the flawed Presidential election, most of you have been very concerned about the safety of the kids, the safety of the Director and the Staff, the safety of the members of the Board and the safety of our pemises housing the Good Samaritan Orphanage Centres in both Kisumu and Nairobi.

    Today, I want to thank you sincerely for all your prayers, the concern, the phone-calls, and the e-mails that you have sent inquiring about our situation and our whereabout and about the general situation of our country. I am most grateful to each and everyone of you.
    Today, I am here to request you to go an extra mile. I am here to request you to do a little bit more. I am begging you to swing into action as a Parish or as my dear friend who care to make a difference by a simple donation or a simple gesture. Whatever it is, it will be more than welcome because of the humanitarian crisis in which the country is.

    As I write this letter, I flew back to Nairobi yesterday having been away since 3rd.Jan.2008 having visited first hand parts of the country which have been hard hit as a result of the political violence. I have been to see the five kids whom we are supporting and their relatives in the North Rift Valley where many atrocities were committed. Their situation is heart-rending. These orphans who had lost their parents earlier on to HIV/AIDS have now lost every means of livelihood. The situation is pathetic. Indeed one wonders what sense of humour God must have!

    Therefore, my first appeal to you all as individuals and as St. John Catholic Church for financial assistance to help give these internally displaced persons a meaning in life and a reason to go on. On behalf of my good friend and class-mate the Bishop of Eldoret – the Most Rev. Cornelius Korir, who has over 10,000 displaced persons on the compound of the Sacred Heart Cathedral – Eldoret, kindly assist. The Bishop is asking for donations of used clothes to be given to the hundreds of orphans whose parents were killed and their homes torched with everything in them and if possible send some $25,000 or whatever money you can afford. I am making this appeal on his behalf because the humanitarian crisis there is immense. If you can do something, please help.
    May you therefore kindly organise some fund-raising and donation of used clothes to be given to the hundreds of orphans and adults who had to flee from their homes with only what they were putting on. With over 10,000 displaced person on the Cathedral compound, can you imagine the situation of sanitation in the place!

    After Eldoret I came to Kisumu by road with so many road blocks manned by the youth carrying machetes and baying for blood. We had to travel in a convoy. It is 120 kilometres fro Eldoret to Kisumu. Ordinarily it is a short trip that takes barely one hour. However, with so many road blocks, it took us seven hours and we had to have police escort.
    Kisumu is the city on the shores of Lake Victoria. It is here that we have the second orphanage and therefore our center in Nyanza province. I was shocked to see many buildings burned down by arsonists and property worth billions of Kenyan shillings looted. The city center was badly burnt and so was Kondele our neighbourhood. Our Orphanage in Kisumu was spared because it belongs to the Catholic Church under the auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kisumu. Were it not for this reason, this orphanage would have been burnt and razed to the ground.
    Because of the volatility of the situation, the Archbishop of Kisumu advised us to employ a bigger firm to man the prtemises until the situation normalises God knows when. The cost of the employment of the security firm is $230 per month. We shall need your assistance in this area since it is better to pay that amount than to have the property vandalised and burnt down.
    While still in Kisumu, The Archbishop and I together with others visited the Morgue to praye over the victims who killed by security forces. To our horror and pain we counted 63 bodies riddled with bullets – young children in their teens shot at close range by security personnel because they were demanding Justice after the announcement of the flawed Presidential election results. This was their only crime.
    After the Morgue and the pain we exprienced there, we left the city to visit the environs of Kisumu because the Archbishop was told that there were internally displaced persons in Muhoroni, Miwani, Songor and Kopere who urgently needed food, clothes, and medicine.
    On behalf of this Archbishop – the Most Rev. Zacchaeus Okoth, I am appealing for financial assistance to the tune of $20,000 and used clothes for children and adults. He is my former teacher, a good friend and a great supporter of the course of the Good Samaritan Orphanage Center.
    Last week the Archbishop of Kisumu met in Kisumu Dr. Jendayi Frazer – the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs who came to Kenya with a message from President George Bush to mediate between the two parties. She was flanked by the US ambassador to Kenya- His Excellency Michael Ranneburger. The Archbishop gave them alot of information regarding what was happening on the ground.

    I know that among the parishioners of St. John Catholic Church, McLean, there are many people working for the Government. With tears in my eyes, I am begging all of you who are working for the US Government, for the sake of so many innocent children who have been murdered or who have been made orphans, though no fault of their own in Eldoret, Burnt Forest, Kisumu, Bungoma, Kakamega, Molo Kitale, Mombasa, Kuresoi and many other places…I am appealing to you today to do something. Please lobby your Congressman/Woman about the volatile situation in Kenya. Please do not be quiet. Kenya is burning please help to put the fire out.
    In the same breath, I am appealing to you to be cautious with the official position of the Kenyan Government in this grave matter. The government is hidding the truth from the International Community and pretending that life is getting back to normal. The truth is Kenya is still burning and the fire in our opinion can be put out at once by the intervention of the Superpower. As members of St. John Catholic Church in McLean you are in a better position to assist in this matter before it degenerates any further.

    Our greatest headache at the moment is the fact that no student can report to any primary, secondary and teachers’ colleges in Western Kenya despite the assurance given by the government that security shall be provided. As I write this mail, there are still 15 kids at the Orphanage in Nairobi because they cannot report to school owing to insecurity. Because of this undue delay that only God knows when it will come to an end, and in order to assist the kids whose relatives have been displaced in the Rift valley, in Kisumu and in the slums of Nairobi, together with the expenses of having to feed the kids in Nairobi Orphanage Centre until they leave for their respective schools, we are appealing for more $10,000 if this is possible.

    Threat are emanating from Western kenya and Rift Valley provinces that unless justice is done in correcting the flawed presidential election results which were announced on 30th December, there will be no peace in western and Rift Valley provinces.
    Please, I am begging you all to pray for Kenya and the Kenyan People to embrace Justice, truth and peace. As Kenyans we have no other place to call home except Kenya. Pray with us and for us that our beautiful country does not go to the dogs.

    Today, it is difficult if not impossible to travel by road from Nairobi to Western Region through Narok or even through Nakuru owing to the many road blocks mounted by rowdy youth. A simple journey of six hours today takes over 12 hours by road and one has to travel in a convoy with a police escort at that!

    Finally, may I request you to pass this letter to ALL parishioners of St. John. In anticipation, I wish to thank you for taking time to read this long letter of appeal and to thank you for whatever donation or contribution you shall give, may God reward you with Peace and good health. Thank you for standing with the Kenyan People at this hour of our great need eventhough we are half the globe away.
    Thank you so much and looking forward to hearing from you. Take care and God bless.

    Your Kenyan Friend,
    Fr. Cosmas.

  4. Sarah Says:

    As I consider switching careers to work as a CRS fellow, it is such an amazing gift that I am able to read a first-hand account of the assistance you and other CRS workers are providing to the people in Eldoret and the Rift Valley region. You are an inspiration.

  5. Patricia Says:

    In the 80’s, there was a priest named Henry Simarro who was at this church in Eldoret. Does anyone know what happened to him or where he might be today? I would love to be in touch with him.
    Thank you,
    Patricia

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