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Celebrating Six Years of Amani Kibera
In 2008, following the post-election violence, a group of young people from the Kibera slum decided that enough was enough and it was time for peace. Kibera has been one of the places most affected by violence, largely due to the density of the population and the diversity of tribes living so close together. Election violence was fought along tribal lines, as the election itself was contested.
Amani is a Swahili word meaning “peace” and that is Amani Kibera’s goal. Since establishing itself as an NGO, the organization has worked hard to make a significant impact in its community. The main activity is to promote peace through sport and so they have created a football competition in Kibera, providing uniforms for teams and referees. This simple gesture instills a sense of belonging in young players, most of whom are young men who are most susceptible to the negative influences of drugs, alcohol and the idleness of unemployment.
In February 2011, Amani Kibera opened the only public library in the slum (where between 1 and 2 million people live). Every day, students flock to the library. Often, the home environment is not conducive to effective study, as most homes are just one room where cooking, eating, sleeping, and living take place. Thus, the library offers a space where students can concentrate, but also benefit from the help of volunteer tutors.
Amani Kibera has also started a girls’ group, where young women learn to make beaded jewelry which they sell to raise money for their school fees. For those too old to go back to school, Amani Kibera has set up a fashion institute where women learn to design and produce clothes so that they have a job and a way to earn money.
Every December, Amani Kibera celebrates his birthday with a football tournament. Last year (2012), to celebrate five years, they also organized a series of fishing concerts. It was time for a grand celebration of peace as election campaigns were in full swing and there was uncertainty as to what would happen this time around. The theme of the festival was “Ukabila ni Ujinga” – Ethnicity is stupidity. It is time for Kenyans to see themselves as Kenyans, not along tribal lines; and it is time for political aspirants to stop campaigning for this as well.
Teams from across Kenya are invited to participate in the tournament, with the aim of promoting peace through sport. The day of the final has such a party atmosphere. Music blares from loudspeakers and local dance troupes perform in front of the crowd as the games progress. Last year the day of the final was so exciting but I have to admit with all the Swahili commentary and the distraction from the off court acrobatics I lost track of who was playing and even who won at the end ! I had the honor of having the privilege of handing out player rewards…although again, I must admit I wasn’t exactly sure what they were!
Peace concerts were held every weekend in December 2012. Local artists were invited to perform and I was so impressed with the talent that was hiding in Kibera! We marched through the slums, singing peace songs and holding banners with peace messages to promote the message. My banner said “Umoja ni ngovu”, which means “unity is strength”. At one point a man we passed got carried away by the parade and happily told us that he had thrown his panga (machete, which is a useful tool and it is common to see people carrying them everywhere. However, it is also the weapon of choice in Kenya) in the sewers and was ready for a peaceful election. Another man asked me if I was an aspiring politician, to which I smiled and replied that Kenya should be run by good and strong Kenyans – how could I claim to represent Kibera in parliament? !
Both days I visited the celebrations, I was overwhelmed by the positive and uplifting atmosphere. I really felt that Kenyans do not want to experience another terrifying event like 2008 and they are trying to unite and encourage each other to live in peace. There is little tolerance for political aspirants to put across a strong tribal message. There is still some healing to be done, which was neglected by the country’s leadership after the 2008 violence, but overall I am quietly confident that, although there may be minor squabbles here and there , Amani Kibera’s message is felt and supported throughout most of the country.
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