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Bringing Together the Young and the Old

Our colonizers wrote our history, which included their justification for colonizing Africa: that we were a primitive people. Their books told a one-sided story, and they were what I and many other Africans my age and older read in school and were examined on. They were our main source of information.

Many of our people ended up in detention or were killed during the hunting of the Mau Mau. [The Mau Mau were a group of mostly Kikuyu people in Kenya who from 1952 to 1960 revolted against the British colonizers.] Those who survived have been afraid to talk about what they experienced, because they took an oath not to share it. Many people have gone to their graves without talking about their experiences, even to their own children. Fears remaining from torture, shame, the raping of women, and the killing of loved ones have overwhelmed people. Those who can open up always whisper, and only to people they trust. I attempted to talk to my grandmother about it, and she refused to say a word.

I have been organizing meetings for elders in their eighties and above and am hearing things that are not available in any book. I use a question-and-answer format. The youth who attend prepare themselves before the meeting, in order to understand the challenges facing elderly people and the supportive role they can play. The old people also prepare. They meet separately to discharge and discuss the goal of the meeting. It’s important that they discharge separately, so they can alleviate some of their fears, including fears of being prosecuted.

In the combined group, the youth take turns asking questions while the elderly people listen carefully and take turns answering. The elders confess that they have not talked about many of these things before, for fear of prosecution and because not many people have taken an interest in knowing what happened.

The government promised it would appeal to the British to apologize for what they had done and to compensate those who had suffered. But many of the people who sought that help were exploited, disappointed, and further humiliated, so they have given up. All of this has affected their ability to share.

I recently visited the World War II Nazi concentration camps in Poland and got a new perspective. I realized how urgent it is to hear from these people in Kenya. The youngest is eighty-five and the oldest is a hundred and seven and their memories are fading. Only a handful of people remain who were directly involved and witnessed exactly what happened.

I’ve also been organizing youth in the Mathare valley slum. Many of them have never known a family—parents or grandparents. A program brings them together with older people. The young and the old sit opposite each other and exchange questions and answers. Here is a link to a video showing the activities of such a day: <>. I hope it will add insight and a new dimension to your lives and encourage you to share your stories with the younger generation.

Wanjiku Kironyo

Regional Reference Person for Northern Africa and East Africa

Nairobi, Kenya

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00