Open Dialogue Helps Open Hearts During Conflict in Kenya

Conflict continues in Kenya over the contested win by President Mwai Kibaki over rival contender Raila Odinga. The crisis in Kenya is affecting people across the country, whether or not they have been directly touched by the violence.

In Nairobi, most businesses have reopened. For CRS staff, however, it’s far from business as usual. Debbie DeVoe, regional information officer for East Africa, sat down with John Katunga, regional technical advisor for peacebuilding and justice, and Peter Kimeu, regional technical advisor for peacebuilding, global solidarity and justice, to learn more about the reflection sessions they have been holding for staff.

Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

The conference room was packed with staff who value the opportunity to come together to address and reduce any tension. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Kimeu: Kenyan hearts are bleeding, and CRS staff hearts are bleeding too. We need to reconcile as members of the CRS family so we can provide the emergency response required. By bringing the staff together, they can share their feelings with each other and listen to one another.

Katunga: What has happened in the country can’t be isolated. CRS employees in Kenya are a microcosm of society, and as Kenyan society is divided by the crisis, it affects our staff.

These meetings provide a framework for staff to vent their frustrations and their feelings. By coming together, people realize how what they are saying and how they are acting are affecting others. People need to be able to say “I’m not happy about what’s happening” without saying “I hate Kibaki” or “I hate Raila.” We need to learn ways to express ourselves without antagonizing others.

Kimeu: We asked staff to write on cards how the conflict has changed their working relationships. Many of the cards have the same message: “I’m hurt. I’m scared. I don’t know how to approach my brothers or sisters anymore.” By bringing these issues to the table, we can help people listen to one another.

Katunga: These days every word can be interpreted differently. Take the word “justice.” It no longer means the same thing for everyone. Through these reflections, we are giving staff the opportunity to examine how their emotions and beliefs have been affected by the situation to improve their working relationships.

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2 Responses to “Open Dialogue Helps Open Hearts During Conflict in Kenya”

  1. David Macharia Says:

    I really appreciate the effort of the CRS EARO/Kenya peace building effort. As a Kenyan living abroad and a former member of the CRS Kenya team, I share the feeling of the staff in Kenya. I am hurt, I am angry at what is happening in the country. I am disappointed that the once lovely country and haven of peace for the region has been turned to a battle ground. I am however still believe that this crisis will leave stronger than before. In my anger, disappointment and frustration I have not lost hope in my beloved country.

    David, CRS Burundi

  2. Opata Peter Paul Says:

    I must truly appreciate my brothers Peter and John for facilitating these reflections for the staff which they too belong to but have demostrated that sometimes we need to go beond merely doing our job to sow the seeds of Justice, John’s comment not withstanding.
    At some point i kept reflecting on the suffering that “our” own people in Northern Uganda have gone through. A mere listening to their stories have often sent chills down my spine, i guess i am just emotionally weak, but the thought of what has happened in Kenya in just about a month nearly equals the pain we have experienced for over two decades. Like David, it hurts, that we should be a more civilised breed of humans and yet our civility may fail to pass some basic tests. But i am hopeful that regardless of our civilised side will come to over power us and soon our beloved Kenya will see smiling faces disregarding that tribe or that political affiliation. I thank CRS for providing the opportunity for the staff to reflect, and possibly we should do these more often so we do not have to wait for such occurances. Thanks to Peter and John.

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