Saturday, April 12, 2008

Writing for Kenya's Children

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Violence is an acceptable way of solving problems.
Those people are bad.
Friends can’t be trusted.
Those I love can’t protect me.

One by one we listed negative lessons that Kenyan children learned in the violence that followed last December’s elections.

I drew a line down the board. “What are the positive lessons we want them to learn instead?” I asked.

“Good people still exist!” two students practically shouted. “And some of them are from the other tribe,” someone added. We went on to talk about hope, trust, the power of difference and ways of portraying such themes in stories.

I was deeply moved as I listened to fifteen women, talking so excitedly about the needs of Kenyan children that they practically ignored me, their teacher. They came from different ethnic groups, some 'at war' with one another, but they shared a passion for Christ, for children, for books and for their country.

The next morning we prayed together for the God who heals the broken hearted, who is a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows to use us to share his comfort. As we broke for tea in the afternoon, one of the women received an SMS from her office to avoid Ngong Road—new violence had broken out.

I am not one to panic. I have lived in the midst of a revolution in Ethiopia and a civil war in Mozambique. I am well aware that the media plays up the most dramatic scenes, and Nairobi was probably not going to burst into flames that afternoon. Although the women all expressed the same sentiments in their words, more than one described her stomach twisting in fear. “Not again! Dear God, don’t let it be like before when bands of thugs went house to house asking what tribe you were from so they could decide whether or not to kill you.”

A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, I tell my students. But this story doesn’t yet have an ending. Kenya’s political problems won’t be easily solved. And what difference will a political solution make for the poor and the hopeless who blame other ethnic groups for their problems? I wonder about the personal ending for these women. Some are teachers; some work with relief organizations. One has HIV and came to the workshop only days after leaving the hospital. Will the refugee children still in the camps be able to unlearn the lessons their experiences have taught them or is Kenya doomed to repeat the cycle of violence in the next generation?

We don’t know the ending to the story, but we can talk to the One who does.

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