Three Kenyan Youth Win Date With Queen Elizabeth
The passion of three young Kenyans has seen them set up initiatives to transform the society. Out of their activities, they have been able to change the perceptions of the community but also create an environment that is sustainable.
Their efforts have been recognised both locally and internationally. They have been awarded the Queen Young Leaders award. The award seeks to recognise young people aged between 18 and 29 who are using their skills to transform lives.
Samuel Karuita, 27
Samuel Karuita considers himself a peace ambassador.
“The Queen’s Young Leaders award recognised my efforts in peace building and youth empowerment in Kenya,” he says.
Karuitu was inspired by the post-election violence of 2007-08, when he had just completed his O-levels in Uganda and getting ready to go to Masinde Muliro University of Technology for his bachelors.
“After the tragedy that happened, I was forced to postpone my course for a semester, because I was scared and concerned,” he says, adding that his relatives living in Kakamega at the time for more than 10 years lost everything, and it was traumatising for him to see people turning against each other due to politics.
For him what was more concerning is that the youth are both the perpetrators and victims of violence. It is not only in Kenya but the whole of Africa, where the youth suffer in this cycle of conflicts, most of which are politically instigated.
“The youth tend to fall into these conflicts because of ignorance as they haven’t had the chance to be educated on the importance of maintaining peace and consequences of conflict. They also have not been engaged in different opportunities to exploit their talents,” he adds.
This situation, coupled with the rife tribalism in campus, especially during student union elections, Karuitu decided to establish a club, called Disaster Environment Management Association, where he started teaching the youth the importance of maintaining peace and solving conflicts in non-violent ways.
Karuitu has gotten support from different sectors, including from the Administration Police in Kakamega.
“I got the opportunity to meet Francis Koori, a senior superintendent of AP, currently the sub county commander of AP in Kakamega, and the patron for a peace club in Moi University. It was from this meeting that the initiative, Peace Ambassadors, was formed,” he says.
Peace Ambassadors was formed with the aim of setting up peace and youth empowerment clubs in institutions of higher learning. The first two clubs were started in Masinde Muliro University and Moi University, with a total of 15 members. They started with the first Peace Walk from Eldoret to Kakamega, which involved speaking at barazas in towns and shopping centres along the 150km stretch for four days.
“Aside from peace talks, we also have conversations about other issues affecting the community because it is not only about peace but also about development,” he adds.
Since 2012, when the organisation was set up, the Peace Ambassadors club has been established in 21 institutions across the country, with more than 4,000 members. This vast network of peace builders has been effective in giving the youth a platform on which they can engage on different issues.
The selection of members in universities and tertiary colleges was because the youth here are already enlightened but do not have the opportunity to bring out the best of themselves. This means that the group is able to create the best ripple effect and reach out to as many people as possible.
So far, the Peace Ambassadors club has organised nine national peace advocacy walks to places where conflict is rampant.
“We have done walks from Kaimosi to Muhoroni, from Maralal to Baragoi, from Bungoma to Kapenguria, Embu to Nairobi, and Embu to Meru,” Karuitu adds, saying that they have had peace forums with the communities in those places.
The members of the club get to live within the community and learn about their lifestyles so that they can engage with them better. It was a way of making sure that the youth let go of their stereotypes.
One of the unique things about the Peace Ambassadors is that they engage the youth to work hand-in-hand with the Administration Police.
“Samuel Arachi, the deputy Inspector General, is the patron for the organisation. And the AP have been our partners in this venture. Through them, we have a direct link with the community wherever we go in the country,” Karuitu says.
Aside from the peace advocacy, the group also engages in other activities including health projects, where they work with the National Blood Transfusion services to mobilise blood donation. We also work together with students of medicine and medical clubs in universities to offer services to the communities through medical camps.
In education, they have also engaged a number of schools in marginalised areas to improve their learning. The M&M (Mentor Mentee) programme involves the pairing students in different schools to their mentors from universities. Currently the group is working with three schools namely, Senetwo in West Pokot, Ngubereti in Baringo and Kisima in Samburu.
“We select schools that are in conflict-prone areas because the level of education there is usually very low yet they are trying to compete with national schools. We not only work with them on academics but also in life skills, such as baking and beading,” Karuitu adds.
The visits are carried out three times for five days in a year during the holidays to avoid interrupting the school calendar. The members of the peace ambassadors are hosted by the community and accommodated by the family of the mentees.
They also run a charity project where they look for ways to give back to society around the institutions. Some of the outreach activities they have taken part include visiting children’s homes, hospitals and prisons.
To bring about change in the members of the clubs and community, the group has also partnered with Centre for Non-violent Communication to train them on ways to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner.
Some of the challenges they have come across include the lack of resources and funding to run their affairs. The group is totally non-profit and most of the funding come from the members themselves.
They have also had to grapple with political interference, which counter their achievements in a really short time. This marks a tough point in the process because it takes a long while to change people’s perceptions and attitudes, especially among the youth.
It is through these efforts that he was nominated for the Queen’s Young Leaders Awards. He will be joined by 37 other young leaders who will take part in training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK during which they will collect their award from Her Majesty The Queen.
Abdikadir Aden Hassan, 27
He is a peace and environmental conservation ambassador from Garissa County and the founder of Youth for Environmental Sustainability Network. He is passionate about conserving the environment, and is working on the Garissa One Milion Trees campaign.
“Coming from an arid area that has been hit by climate change and global warming for so long, I realised that as a young person, I have to stand up and take action to bring social change to the community that I live in,” says Hassan, who has won more than 15 international and local awards for his conservation efforts.
Some of his awards include the Head of State commendation during the Kenya @50 celebrations, and the Commonwealth Youth Worker award in Cameroon in February 2015.
He not only works with environmental issues but also other development-related initiatives that would create change in the society, especially the youth. The initiative allows the youth to take part in what he refers to ‘the green ventures’ during their free time.
“This is to ensure that they are not idle, especially in Garissa where we see the effect of young people being enlisted in militias,” he adds.
Hassan works with schools by forming environmental conservation clubs, where students in primary and secondary levels get to learn more about conservation. He also engages the youth in sports, in conjunction with other partners in the network he has formed while doing his conservation work.
Since the inception of the project in 2012, Hassan has seen change in the society.
“One is positive attitude as the young people are able to see themselves as the source of change in the society,” he says, adding that the awareness of the community in conservation work has also seen them take charge of conserving the trees, especially indigenous ones, and in creation of tree nursery projects.
One of the main challenges he has faced is the lack of publicity on the positive things happening especially in the northern region.
He has also had to grapple with inadequate resources to make his initiative more effective. Nevertheless, he has opted to use community members in different sections of the conservation process.
“I see environmental conservation in dryland areas an opportunity because the picture people have is totally different from what they initially expected,” he concludes.
Caren Nelima Odanga, 21
The realisation that most girls in rural areas do not get education because most parents opt to educate their sons, Caren Odanga decided to set up the Sirari Women Initiative based in Mumias.
“I started the initiative alone, but received support from the Yaya Education Trust, which helps me to educate girls. We also have help from the Youth Alliance for Leadership Development in Africa (Yalda), which focuses on reproductive health,” the third year student at Kenya Institute of Mass Education says.
With the help of Yalda, the initiative holds seminars and workshops that train girls on their reproductive rights, including using contraceptives. The girls also get to learn about sanitation and water use through collaboration with Kopernik.
“In rural areas, getting water is difficult. There are no taps and people are forced to go a long way to get water. Through Kopernik, the community is supplied with water barrels that can be dragged on the ground,” she adds.
Aside from these projects, the Sirari Women Initiative also takes part in campaigning against gender-based violence, environmental protection, promotion of community peace building efforts, illiteracy in rural women and entrepreneurship training and job creation.
The project has been operating in Mumias for the last two years and has worked with more than 500 girls in various projects.
“We have worked to enlighten women because most of them depend on their husbands, some of who do not bother but drink chang’aa all day. So it is left to the woman to work on other people’s farms to get some money to feed her kids,” Caren adds.
Caren says focusing on these women is important because they have no education and most of them have been married at ages as young as 13.
The effects of the project is already visible in Mumias.
“The perspective of the community on the girl-child has started changing. Most people thought we were there to ‘spoil’ their girls, and thus rejected us. But after working with a few girls, other members of the community saw the change and have accepted us,” she says, adding that some of the girls that have participated in the seminars have gone back to school.
One of the main challenges she has faced was building that trust in the survivors of gender-based violence for them to open up.
“It is not that easy to get them, especially survivors of rape, to open up. In cases where the rape is by a relative, most of them do not want to say anything. We have had to look for ways to work with them by sharing our personal stories so that they realise they are not alone,” she says.
Caren found out more about the Queen’s Young Leaders Awards and nominated herself because she thought it would be good to share her experience and the work Sirari Women Initiative has been doing.