Christine, 30, lives in West Pokot County, Kenya. A mother of three children, she works in the fields and sells vegetables at the market. Since she was a girl, Christine has seen communities in her region torn apart by violence. “I didn’t have to think twice about becoming a peace ambassador,” she explains.
In September 2014, Christine took part in an awareness session conducted by Handicap International on reducing armed violence and sexual gender based violence and continues the work passing on the message to her community: “Marriage, burials, village celebrations are all opportunities for us to discuss the impact of violence with villagers," explains Christine. “I talk to the women. Many have their first child at age 13. I remind them of the importance of not becoming a mother too early, and of finishing school. I try to open their eyes. No, domestic violence isn’t normal. Nor is it normal for your husband to sleep with other women. Men are more reluctant; they ask me what my problem is. But I don’t care: I want women to know they have rights!”
Gorrety Odhiambo, Handicap International’s armed violence reduction project manager in Kenya, explains: “There’s a real problem with armed violence in north-western Kenya. Over half of the population of Trans-Nzoia County possess an illicit firearm. ‘To feel protected,’ they say. But the consequences of armed violence are very serious, including loss of human life and property, population displacement, and environmental degradation, and communities are the first to suffer. We want to reduce the factors that give rise to armed violence and support dialogue.”
“Since August 2014, 100 community peace representatives, elected by their communities, have raised the awareness of more than 10,000 people, with support from Handicap International and its partners, and in conjunction with security operators. They address the impact of violence–particularly domestic abuse and gender-based violence–and its psychological consequences. They also talk to young people and encourage them to control their energy because violence has really dramatic effects. Some schools are closed for months. But we keep on reminding them that by using these arms, they’re delaying their country’s development.”
Handicap International’s intervention
Since August 2014, HI has been implementing an Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) project to contribute to the reduction of risk factors and the motivations for armed violence in West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, and Turkana Counties. In conjunction with its Kenyan partners Justice and Peace Center and the Free Pentecoastal Fellowship of Kenya, Handicap International works to improve community safety perceptions, to enhance dialogue and to build a relationship of trust between communities and security operators.
The project’s actions include elections for community peace representatives, inter-communal dialogue forums attended by public authorities and security operators, and risk education sessions on small arms and sexual gender-based violence. They aim to ensure arms are no longer perceived as a source of protection by their illegal owners, and to reduce the number of victims of this serious problem, which is preventing the region from developing.