Mennonites assist relief efforts in conflict-riven Kenya

By agency reporter
January 17, 2008

Two weeks after the country's disputed election and the violence that has followed in its wake, Mennonite relief work is continuing and the peace church reports that Kenyan Mennonite Church members are safe despite the troubles.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC, the North American relief and development agency) is continuing to work with Nairobi Peace Initiatives Africa, an international peace-building organization, to distribute relief supplies.

MCC has sent money to the Anglical Church of Kenya in Eldoret for sanitary supplies and to the National Council of Churches of Kenya in Kisumu for food for displaced families in four camps.

A number of Mennonites have been displaced because they were living in areas where the majority of residents are from other tribes, and some have lost tools.

“People have been maimed and traumatized and are in urgent need of assistance.... We hope the situation will get back to normal soon,” said Bishop Philip Okeyo, general secretary of the Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC).

Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city located in the western region, has been the centre of much of the post-election violence. Hundreds are dead in Kisumu alone and many major businesses are totally gutted.

In Songhor, Mennonite bishop Clyde Agola of the Kisumu East Diocese, said that more than 1,500 refugees from the region had camped at the local police station for protection. Some 700 of the refugees are children. All are in desperate need of water, food, shelter, and medicine. They fled with only the clothes they were wearing.

Mennonite Bishop Dominic Opondo is working with some 2,000 refugees in Kisumu West. Oleopos Mennonite Church, 100 miles west of Nairobi, is caring for 1,000 refugees, half of whom are children.

Rebecca and Joash Osiro, of the Luo tribe, were forced to leave their home in Nairobi, rented from a person from the Kikuyu tribe. Rebecca has been an active leader with African Anabaptist Women Theologians, an inter-country group facilitated by Mennonite World Conference.

She has also been the recipient of a scholarship for seminary study from Mennonite Women, a Mennonite Church USA organization. The Osiros are reported to be living in tight quarters with a relative.

Early this month (January 2008), a small group met at Mathare North Mennonite Church in Nairobi, whose members are of mixed ethnicity. Many members did not come from their rural homes because of fear and lack of transportation. A band of youth interrupted the service, demanding payment for having “protected” the compound during the previous days.

The worshippers were able to thank the youth for their “services” and to convince them to accept the little money from the offering. No one was hurt.

A few tribally mixed villages are not fighting, but where they are, Christians are risking their lives by offering care and protection for their “enemies” from other tribes.

Obtaining food and cooking fuel is difficult because many shops have been burned. Communication everywhere is a challenge with unreliable networks, internet cafés closed or people unable to get to them.

Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) has also released emergency funds to purchase food, blankets and tarps for displaced people in the Kisumu and Olepolos regions. The agency hopes to send more aid to other regions as funds become available.

No Mennonite Central Committee or EMM workers have been harmed in the recent skirmishes.

With acknowledgemnents to Ferne Burkhardt, with contributions from Eastern Mennonite Missions and Mennonite Central Committee

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