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A Report from Kenya

Seven years ago I started working with a small group of elders in the central part of Kenya. I had noticed the isolation and loneliness of a woman who had lost her husband and then a son several years later. As a result of meeting with her and listening to her, I started the group of elders, which has come together once a month. (You can never predict the turn of events for anything you start!) Many of the people are in their late seventies or early eighties. One person is a hundred and seven years old and recently lost a brother who was a hundred and four. We’ve taken turns talking about our lives—our struggles and challenges and how we have come to be where we are today.

When we meet, we first share what is new and good and what is going on [happening] in our lives. Then we discuss different topics, chosen by the group. Initially people interrupted each other. Gradually, with basic information about taking turns, they found that by being listened to they felt supported, encouraged, and appreciated.


This is a mixed group of males and females. At first violence against women did not seem like a big deal to the women (or to the men). They felt like it was a way of life; they were used to certain customs. An example is marriage. When a male wishes to marry a female, it can happen that she will be captured while fetching water or bringing firewood from the forest. A group of men will carry her away, screaming.

Each person in the group had a chance to talk about this. Initially it was entertaining, something to laugh about, and of course the men trivialized it. It took several meetings before people started to reconnect with their feelings. Eventually there was a remarkable amount of discharging. Everyone began to notice the pain the women had gone through. They could see the cruelty a woman would be exposed to if she decided not to be married to a particular man and attempted to run back home. The father, who did not wish to return the dowry, would force her to go back. Then the husband would punish her, often beating her. Under a system of polygamy, the other co-wives would often treat her like a child who needed to be disciplined and taught marriage skills.


When I was growing up, my grandmother was like a thread weaving a garment together. She taught us about things our parents could not discuss, especially things related to sex. She was the one who often corrected our behavior. She would warn us against behaviors that could lead to failure in the future. She was a storyteller and told stories about moral values to help us shape our future. My grandfather was an environmentalist and came to our school to talk about conservation.

Elders were important in our lives. Only recently have I realized how elders are being pushed out and disrespected. Their existence is disregarded, and in general they are given little attention. They often feel that they have no value to anyone and don’t know anything. All this has become clearer as I’ve listened to this group of women and men.

Two years ago I started a group for boys and girls ages thirteen to twenty-one. At one point they met together with the elders to build relationships, gain respect and appreciation for each other, and understand each other’s worlds. Many of the young people are from an urban area, while the elders live in a rural area. Often these young people have no connection with a grandmother or grandfather, so sitting close to an elder, holding hands, interacting, and healing by telling life stories were helpful. The young people had an opportunity to appreciate the elder man or woman sitting with them, someone with no or few teeth, and understand that he or she was a normal, feeling human being. And the elders had an opportunity to not look down upon youth as unintelligent.


I went to Poland for the RC Healing from War Workshop. I could see similarities between the cruelty of the European concentration camps and that of the detention camps here in Kenya [brutal detention camps set up by the British colonizers during the 1952 to 1960 Mau Mau uprising]. I gained courage to find out more about what had happened during the time of the Mau Mau movement and about the extreme cruelty of the detention camps.

Not much has been written by our people about the experience of the detention camps. The stories about this period have been told by the Europeans, who were victimizing our people. The books and movies about it often show the Europeans as heroes and the Africans as evil, backward people. Not much has been said about the fact that our people were trying to regain their land—land that had been taken by force. In the meetings with the elders we have discussed at length issues related to the war on the Mau Mau. I can’t remember a meeting in which this topic has not been brought up.

Group members who suffered in these camps have held their feelings inside for a long time. They took an oath to never talk about what happened. It has been quite a journey for them to find their way to discharging and to understanding the importance of discharge.


In early January, a group of people met to talk about the environment. Our country is going through a major drought. Even communities that have never required food relief are asking for it because there is nothing to eat, nothing for their animals, and no water. The land is dusty and dry, and people are dying because of hunger.

The people in the group were knowledgeable about caring for the environment. They talked about how every tree that is cut needs to be replaced with another tree. Also, you should never start with a good house. After acquiring a piece of land, you first make a mud house with a thatched roof and very small windows. You make it from small pieces of wood that you collect and mud made out of soil. You plant trees and start growing crops and having animals. When your trees are big enough, you can use them to build a house with stronger poles. As you earn money from production, you can buy iron sheeting for the roof, which can then be used to harvest water, making it possible to grow more crops.

So you don’t start by cutting the trees and clearing the forest. You start by conserving what you have and investing in useful products from the environment, like trees. Trees also bring rain.

You also recycle. You feed your cow, and the cow gives you manure and milk. You use cow manure on your crops, and when you harvest the crops, you feed the scrubs to your animals. Your animals give you more manure, and so on. This is a very organic way of eating.

When you harvest your maize or potatoes, you save seed from that crop and store it for the next planting. I was shown some maize planted from seeds that had been saved for forty years.

Another thing is to store food without using chemicals. For example, there is an insect that eats beans and dried corn, but if you put ash on the beans and corn, the insect will not attack them.

World leaders have been meeting to address and reduce greenhouse gas emissions—in Paris, France; and in Marrakech, Morocco. Our group members asked, “Why go that far? Why not meet with us? We have many years of experience. We have a lot of knowledge.”

Wanjiku Kironyo

Regional Reference Person for Northern Africa and East Africa

Nairobi, Kenya

(Present Time 187, April 2017)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00