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People flee from homes in Eldoret, Kenya, because of violence. MCC provided funding for hygiene supplies for 2,500 people in Eldoret through a project of the Anglican Church of Kenya. Esther Bett

People flee from homes in Eldoret, Kenya, because of violence. MCC provided funding for hygiene supplies for 2,500 people in Eldoret through a project of the Anglican Church of Kenya. Esther Bett

MCC increases response to violence in Kenya

February 8, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is committing more than $150,000 for relief and reconciliation work in Kenya as sporadic post-election violence continues to flare in this east African country.

MCC welcomes financial contributions for this work in Kenya. Contributions may be made through any MCC office or online at mcc.org/donate. Donations should be designated, "Kenya Emergency Assistance."

Violence that began in late December, following disputed national elections, has killed an estimated 1,000 people and more than 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

"The situation changes daily. In many places, the cost of food is rising dramatically, and there’s so much destruction of property," said Melody Rupley, co-director of MCC’s Africa program.

MCC partners report that homes have been torched and people left without food, clothing or permanent shelter. Public transportation is unsafe in many areas because people are being pulled from buses and sorted by ethnic group. The tourism industry, a vital part of the economy, is on the verge of collapse.

MCC is responding with emergency relief supplies and long-term peace-building and reconciliation initiatives.

Supplies like soap, baby diapers, rice, beans and medicine are already reaching families in the cities of Eldoret and Kisumu and in Mathare North, an impoverished neighborhood of Nairobi. These supplies are being distributed through local MCC partners including the Kenya National Council of Churches, The Mathare North Mennonite Church and the Anglican Church of Kenya.

Efforts for longer term peace building have also begun – growing out of long-term partnerships in Kenya, where MCC has worked for more than 40 years. In Kisumu, a hot spot for violence, a newly elected government official approached MCC staff member and Kenyan Mennonite pastor Maurice Anyanga seeking help in quelling the violence.

On Feb. 1 Anyanga and his volunteer staff helped facilitate a meeting at the official’s office. More than 100 people attended the five-hour meeting including some who had incited the violence as well as women with powerful stories about how the unrest affected them, their children and communities.

People asked for and received forgiveness. Vows were made to desist from participating in any further violence. They agreed to hold each other accountable for peace. Plans were made for the safe reopening of schools. A government official in a neighbouring district took notice of the good things happening, and asked for assistance in conducting a similar meeting in his district.

In another project, MCC is providing funds for bringing together about 40 elders from three ethnic groups who are currently experiencing tension among themselves, for dialogue.

"People who have been displaced will see that it is important for the leaders of ethnic groups to work together," Rupley said. "It’s bearing witness to a way that communities try to slow down the violence and rebuild trust."

Despite the severe disruption of life in many areas of Kenya, other parts remain peaceful. MCC’s sand dam work in the communities of Kola and Kitui, as well as food and agriculture projects in Maasailand, are continuing. A twelve member work and learn team from Manitoba just completed an uneventful two weeks of service in Kola.

MCC representatives continue to work with local partners to monitor the safety of MCC workers in Kenya. All ten workers – including three in Kola, six in Nairobi and one in Kisumu – remain in place as of Feb. 6.

Meanwhile, in addition to the thousand people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, an estimated half million people are out of work, Rupley said. Rail lines and ports have been disrupted. And she noted at this point there is little reliable and safe transport between eastern and western Kenya. This represents a bottleneck for the shipment of goods, including humanitarian supplies, through Kenya to other nations such as Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.