CALGARY, Alta.— A recent 480 kilometre bicycle tour in Kenya that included one of Canada’s most decorated Olympian has given peace clubs in Kenya a welcome boost.
These peace clubs, supported by Mennonite Central Committee, encourage Kenyan youth from other ethnic groups to build friendships.
The recent surge of interest was fueled by the five-day tour in May 2011 that included speed skater Cindy Klassen who won five medals at the Olympic Winter Games in 2006.
“Yes, peace clubs have been started in many different regions following the trip, and even of late, we have been receiving calls and visitations from different quarters asking that we visit and help them start some,” said Waihenya Njoroge, founder and coordinator of the Lari Memorial Peace Museum in Kenya.
About 30 primary and secondary schools plan to start peace clubs in 2011, bringing the total to about 180 schools, said Njoroge.
“That is awesome, that is such good news,” said Klassen, who incorporated the cycle tour in her training schedule.
MCC has supported the peace clubs since 2008. The clubs use computers and social networking to encourage interaction among youth from different ethnic groups. In addition to providing peace building training manuals and other resources, MCC has provided more than 200 computers and assisted schools with setting up computer labs.
The bicycle tour was a joint effort between MCC Kenya, MCC Alberta and the Lari Memorial Peace Museum which promotes inter-ethnic dialogue and peace education in schools. Five Canadian and 14Kenyan cyclists participated.
The tour, Cycle for Life: Build Peace, Stop AIDS, was the first part of a two-part bicycle tour that also included a 12-day, 1,500 kilometre tour in Alberta that raised $238,000 for MCC-supported peace and HIV programs.
In Kenya, the cyclists rode through a region where 1,300 people died and 640,000 were left homeless because of post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.
Klassen, the only female cyclist in the group, said children ran alongside the cyclists and were excited to see the gender, geographic and ethnic diversity of cyclists.
They made frequent stops along the way to talk about peace clubs and the importance of finding ways to overcome the bitterness and anger created by past conflicts and violence between ethnic groups. In many communities government officials, police departments and other dignitaries helped cyclists increase awareness of peace clubs and other Lari Memorial Peace Museum activities.
Klassen said she has learned much about the deep-rooted conflicts and violence in Kenya and was inspired by the commitment of the Kenyan cyclists to pursue peace, healing and reconciliation.
“The hope they had for peace was incredible,” she said. “They were so hopeful that this cycle tour would make a difference.”
She was also touched by the strong support for peace clubs and how the peace clubs encourage social interaction among youth from different ethnic groups.
“The peace clubs are great,” said Klassen. “We heard people say the future of their country is their children and that peace needs to start with people talking with each other.”
The Lari Memorial Peace Museum was started in year 2001. The organization’s commitment to peacebuilding stems from unhealed wounds and painful memories from the massacre in Lari in 1953.
Kenya has 42 major tribes and the Lari Memorial Peace Museum is starting peace clubs in at least one larger primary or secondary school in many of these tribal communities to promote peace education and build bridges of communication across tribal boundaries.
Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada