FRIENDSHIPS

How Samburu, Pokot children helped end a war

Taken to peace camps, where they become friends and help rope in their parents.

In Summary

•The two communities had been fighting over cattle. 

•Programme spearheaded by Child Peace Initiative Kenya.

Joyce Leiririo and Salaiton Lenguris with a delegate at their stand during the International Conference on Population and Development on November 14, 2019 at the KICC.
Joyce Leiririo and Salaiton Lenguris with a delegate at their stand during the International Conference on Population and Development on November 14, 2019 at the KICC.
Image: MERCY MUMO

They had lived in conflict with each other for more than five years over their main source of livelihood—cattle. 

The men would protect the communities while the women and children would hide, whenever they came under attack. 

"These animals are our whole life. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the beads we wear, our children's fees, the money all comes from selling cattle," says Salaiton Lenguris, a Samburu woman. 

She was speaking to the Star during the just-concluded International Conference on Population and Development.

Whenever they were attacked, they would flee, leaving behind their belongings and without knowing where they were going. 

"The Pokot have guns but we the Samburu did not have any. Whenever we would hear gunshots, we would flee our homes," Lenguris says. 

"We did not eat or sleep in peace. Sometimes they would come when you were in the middle of cooking and you had to leave the food and run because you could hear the gunshots."

She lost her father and grandchild as a result of spending countless nights in the cold, without shelter or food. 

"Due to the rain, the cold and hunger, I lost my father to pneumonia," Lenguris says.

Each time you would see your son leave then you had to come to terms with the fact that he might never come back. When they left, they were no longer our children
Salaiton Lenguris

Sometimes the families would manage to rescue a few animals that would be grazed by the boys.  

 

"Each time you would see your son leave then you had to come to terms with the fact that he might never come back. When they left, they were no longer our children," she says. 

"We were happy when they came back from grazing but we knew if the rest had been back and you did not see your child about five minutes after, then they were dead."

They fled for so long that they began to feel like refugees in their own country. 

"Sometimes we would ask for help from people in certain areas and they would refuse to help," Lenguris says. 

A few sympathetic people would let them sleep on the floor outside their homes in the local town. 

The families would run each time they heard gunshots. They did not have time to take clothes or food.

"All you could take was your child, if you had them, and run," she says. 

Eventually, Red Cross donated tents, utensils, food and blankets to the affected families, offering them temporary reprieve.  

However, the enemy changed tack.  

"They would quietly come and check to see whether the tent was occupied. Once they confirmed people were inside, they would surround the tent and kill everyone inside," Lenguris says. "We lost a whole family to such an attack."

The community, henceforth, would cook their meals in the tents but slept in a forest.

"We risked attack from wild animals and the cold was also very bad. So many people died during this time, it was hard," she says. 

After the children became friends, the initiative would introduce the parents to each other. As the friendships develop, the families start exchanging gifts and visiting each other and communicating over the phone so they really get to know each other’ – Child Peace Initiative Kenya executive director Hilary Bukuno

Eventually, Child Peace Initiative Kenya, which uses children to foster peace,  intervened to bring harmony between the two communities. 

The group approached the displaced families and requested them to allow their children to attend peace camps for five days. 

With tears streaming down her face Lenguris says it was hard to let her son Caleb attend the camp. She was terrified she would never see him again, but eventually let him leave. 

"When my son left, I was in tears. I was scared because he was going to the same people who had been at war with us. When he came back I was very happy and I could not believe it," she says. 

The initiative's executive director Hilary Bukuno says they put Pokot and Samburu children in the camp. 

"We engaged the children in a series of plays for five days to develop friendships between them," he says.

After the children became friends, the initiative would introduce the parents to each other. 

"As the friendships develop, the families start exchanging gifts and visiting each other and communicating over the phone so that they really get to know each other," he says. 

"The parents would then be encouraged to spend a few days in the homes of the other family so they could really get to know about them and see how they live."

The aim was to foster trust between the two families so they were not afraid to visit each other or ask each other for help during times of need. 

"If one family is having a hard time, the friendship would enable them to reach out to the other family and say, 'kindly help me'," Bukuno says. 

"If it is dry on one side and they have rain on the other side, we have seen families take their animals to graze or provide some food for a family in need."

After about two years of friendship, the two families are given a heifer to take care of together. 

"We let the two families decide who keeps the heifer and when a calf has been born then it can be gifted to the other family. This creates trust between them," he says. 

We have managed to restore peace between Pokot and Samburu, Gabra and Rendille, and Gabra and Turkana families
Bukuno

The initiative has so far held four peace camps, one each year, and each peace camp has had about 300 children.

The children are from warring communities. 

"We have managed to restore peace between Pokot and Samburu, Gabra and Rendille, and Gabra and Turkana families," Bukuno says. 

"We are now working with families from Turkana and Samburu and Ilchamus and Pokot."

He says the initiative is proof that you can use friendships to change people's minds and foster peace. 

QUILTS FOR PEACE

During the ICPD25 conference, Lenguris and her friend Joyce Leiririo from Samburu displayed 'The Kenya Cow Quilt' to celebrate the importance of animals, particularly cows, in the lives of pastoralists. 

Cows are the principal form of wealth and cause of conflict, made worse by drought and climate change. 

The quilt was made with the help of volunteers from the initiative, and Eunice Chelungi and Jepowakes Lemuyet from the Pokot community. 

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya