For decades, the small, pastoral communities in northern Kenya have been caught in a cycle of violence. Tribes have shed blood over distrust, scarce resources, and the theft of livestock.
Rotary Scholar Monica Kinyua founded the Children Peace Initiative (CPI) Kenya with her twin sister, Jane Wanjiru, to end the fighting by building friendships between children from different tribes.
Earlier this year, the sisters used a global grant sponsored by Rotary members in San Diego, California, and the Rotary Club of Nairobi to conduct a peace camp for children in Baragoi, Samburu County, one of the most dangerous in northern Kenya. Forty police officers investigating a report of cattle rustling had been killed there a few years prior.
During the peace camp in May 2014, Turkana students from three community schools and Samburu students from three schools along with their teachers mingled for five days of ice-breaking and bonding activities. At the end of each camp, every child is strongly encouraged to make a friend with a child from another tribe.
CPI Kenya volunteers also organized events in Marsabit County where children who had formed friendships with children from neighboring communities invited their parents to meet their friends, and in the process the two families formed friendships.
"In one case, they greeted each other with gifts that ranged from clothing, artifacts, foodstuff, confectionaries, and mostly goats," Monica said.
Before the CPI Kenya activities, resolution happened only in the form of armed negotiations. On one occasion, before delegates from one tribe had even arrived at the other tribe's village, they were met on the road by armed negotiators. The peace camps have reduced violence in the region.
"Children have never before been involved directly in conflict resolution," she says. "This role has been reserved for men. Through the CPI Kenya program, children are directly participating in intercommunity peace and coaching their parents and influencing the communities to live peacefully with each other."
Monica contacted Rotary for help following a series of serendipitous events that began in 2011. She had just been selected to receive a scholarship to the University of San Diego to pursue a master's in peace and justice, but she had no means of paying her living expenses. Days before she had to decide whether to accept the scholarship, she attended a Rotaract club she was considering joining.
Carol Kurth, a college student from San Diego, was also visiting the club that day as part of a trip she was taking through another nonprofit. Her mother, San Diego Rotary member Janice Kurth, had spent time in Kenya on a Rotary vocational exchange 18 months earlier.
"When Carol left on her trip, I gave her my business card to use while there. So she gave Monica my business card and Monica emails me," Kurth recalls. "Our district has been using grants to sponsor students in the very program she was applying to for the past several years. I went to people in my district and explained the situation, and when she was selected, I said, 'I have to be her host counselor.' "
Kurth said Monica became like another daughter to her during the scholarship. Near its conclusion, Kurth called one of her contacts in Kenya, Rotary Club of Nairobi member Sudesh Walia, and they began putting together a global grant to fund Monica's work.
More communities have requested CPI Kenya's help as they hear about the work the sisters are doing. At the end of each peace camp, community leaders recommend other villages that would be helped by the program.
Monica, who serves as executive director of CPI Kenya, says her Rotary scholarship helped her become a better leader and form a wider network of support. She got to know Interactions for Peace, a nonprofit based in San Diego, through a Rotary member, and is now partnering with the group. The University of San Diego has also lent support.
"Rotary exposed me to a world of possibilities and opportunities," she says. "Many of the people I met are even today continuing to mentor me or shape my career. I see Rotary's commitment to education and to world peace as a great asset to peace and understanding in the world."