Survivors of ethnic violence Kenya

By Sister Kay Lawlor

kay_lawlor2This morning I met Eda, a wife, mother, and Community Health Worker trained by Sister Patricia Hoey and her team at St. Mary’s Clinic in Eldoret. Eda is a remarkable woman. When she told me her story, when I saw the pain in her eyes and glimpsed her hope for the future, I came away feeling privileged and humbled to have met her.

Eda has worked hard all her life, supporting her husband, Isaac, who had a problem with alcohol dependency. Despite this, she raised and educated her children, built her homestead and helped her neighbours.

kenya_p_hoey_eda_isaacThe family owned a five-acre plot, which they farmed, growing mainly maize. Their cement-built home consisted of six rooms and was beautifully and comfortably furnished. Her husband joined a recovery programme which led to a very good outcome. The children moved on with their lives after finishing school. Eda and Isaac were a happy, late middle-aged couple looking forward to years of contentment and peace on their farm. All that was shattered on the night of 31 December 2007.

Kenyans had gone to the polls on the 27 December. The campaigns for Members of Parliament and President had been heated and tribally based. There was a lot of negative ethnicity. When the results were eventually announced, violence was unleashed and it was tribal, pitting neighbour against neighbour. It was especially bad around Eldoret in the Rift Valley, an area that has suffered land clashes in the past. The people knew what was about to happen!

Eda’s home and farm is just outside the town of Eldoret, situated on a hill. On the night of the 31 December, she and Isaaac were sitting in their home when they heard a lot of noise in the distance. Looking out they saw houses on fire – houses of people they knew, friends and neighbours who were Kikuyus. Eda and Isaac were of the same tribe, unwanted in that area. They knew what was coming.

So they gathered up what they could - some household belongings, chickens, papers – and gave them to a neighbour to keep for them. This neighbour was of a different tribe and would not be disturbed. As the crowd of rampaging youth drew nearer, Eda and Isaac fled for their lives. Many attackers headed their way. Eda said, "There must have been a thousand."

kenya_edas_burned_houseIt was well planned and very well organized. They worked in groups, each large group taking a different pre-selected homestead. Within each group there was division of labour. Some took the animals: Eda had seven goats and a cow. Some carried away cupboards, tables, chairs and cushions, while others cut down trees. When all was looted, they set fire to the house, dousing the roof with petrol.

When the attackers had gone and it was safe to return from the camp to which they fled, Eda found their animals gone, their 100 sacks of maize gone, and their house a burned-out shell. Isaac collapsed when he saw the work of a lifetime so totally destroyed. He was unable to stay in the area and went to relatives for a while.

Eda spent two days camping at a local church until a kind person invited her to stay with her family. She spent her days helping others as a Community Health Worker. People were sick and babies were being born. She would go without food all day so as not to disturb the family who had taken her in. She lived this way for three months. She had nothing. Even some of the belongings that she had left with her neighbour had been used by him. His family ate most of their chickens. Eda was left with only the burnt iron sheets from her house and some charred metal sofa frames. But she had her faith in God and her will to live and begin again. She was not going to give up.

On a sunny day at the end of May she took me to her new home. With a small amount of financial help from Sister Patricia’s emergency fund and a lot of ingenuity and courage, Eda has managed to rent a small plot of land. There she built a house with three small rooms, all made from the charred iron sheeting and two wooden doors that a friend gave her. She has a small enclosure for her two remaining hens and has planted the small area with maize and green vegetables.

kenya_p_hoey_eda_on_sofaIsaac has returned and is working alongside her. In their mud-floored sitting room we sat on the charred metal frames of their original sofa which they had salvaged from the wreckage of their home. It had rained the night before and was muddy. There was a kerosene stove and a wheelbarrow in the corner.

They took me to see the burnt-out shell of their former home – roof, floors, and windows all gone. They have plowed their farm but they were not given seed or fertilizer so have not been able to plant. People of their tribe are not wanted in the area and are being discriminated against.

The work and dreams of a lifetime were gone in such a short time – gone because of tribal hatred fueled by unequal distribution of land; because of the greed of a few and the poverty of the many; gone because people greedy for power and wealth incited and used the poor to burn and kill.

As we left Eda and Isaac, bravely standing in front of their new home, I knew that behind the smile on their faces there was pain and sadness in their eyes. I, too, felt sad and angry. At the same time I am awed at the faith and hope of Eda and Isaac as they try to face the future.