Somalis seek alternatives to violenceBy Debbi DiGennaro Eastern Mennonite Missions
NAIROBI, Kenya — During the past three years an Eastern Mennonite Missions worker has become convinced that peacebuilding is one of the most important aspects of his work with Somali refugees.
At a recent Alternatives to Violence seminar at the Eastleigh Fellowship Center, a 30-year-old Somali man said, “These days, many young people carry weapons. If you have a misunderstanding, they just shoot. My mother even begs me not to come back to her in Somalia.”
The EMM worker said that traditional Somali culture, like all societies, had mechanisms for resolving conflict. Village elders used to mediate and resolve local issues, but Somalia’s 20-year civil war has wrecked the system for conflict resolution.
“In Somali culture today, there’s an assumption that conflicts include violence,” said the EMM worker, who is not named in this article due to sensitivities in Kenya. “The Alternatives to Violence seminars help participants develop their skills in listening, seeking consensus and dealing with differences. It’s exactly what is needed.”
In the recent seminar, 20 Somali participants were prompted to share their stories of personal triumphs and dreams with a partner. Instead of lectures, there was a lot of group interaction.
“Even though my partner and I are enemies, politically, when he told me a story about his mother, we got caught up together in the story,” one participant said. “I forgot about the politics. We identified with each other, as humans.”
Another woman said, “I was surprised to find there was peace between us.”
The EMM worker quoted the Somali proverb, “If you want peace, prepare for war,” as a good reason why more seminars of this kind are needed in the Somali community.
In Alternatives to Violence seminars and other peacebuilding work in East Africa, EMM collaborates in facilitation and funding with Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee.
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