A Kenyan youth activist from Africa’s biggest slum spoke to over 200 young people in Hendon, North London at the weekend, calling on them to "become a shining light" for their generation.
Kepha Ngito, 25, was speaking on a panel addressing youth violence and reconciliation. He was joined by the Mizen family and Pat Gaffney, the General Secretary of Pax Christi.
The event, which was part of the ‘Brightlights Festival’ organised by the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, discussed and reflected on rising crime levels amongst young people and what measures can be taken to address it.
Kepha Ngito told the audience of young adults about growing up in Kibera, Nairobi, where over a million people live in extreme poverty. He talked about his frustration due to a lack of opportunities for young people, and how this only inspired him, at the age of 20, to found the Kibera community youth programme with his friends. Their aim was to support other young people and give them hope that they could achieve something with their lives.
Kepha told his audience: “Kibera is quite volatile compared to other places. Because of the social economic conditions, many young people end up wasting their lives with violence...mostly they are exploited by politicians and business people to go into violence. That’s what we’re trying to work against... our aim is to build a movement of young people who are conscious about change, and who are using the right means to fight for their rights.”
After the horrendous violence that followed the 2007 elections, their peace project, ‘Youth Building Bridges’, was central to bringing together a divided community. The project worked with young people in non-violent action and started to repair the shattered lives of young people through peace and reconciliation workshops.
Kepha said: “Between a fist and an open hand, the open hand is stronger. To be able to forgive not only helps you relate to the other person, it also cleanses you, clears your conscience. If you live by forgiveness, you will likely live longer.”
Kepha has been sharing his experiences with young people across England, as a guest of the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD), which supports his work in Kenya.
Barry and Margaret Mizen, whose son Jimmy was murdered in South London on May 10th last year, heard Kepha speaking at the event in Hendon. Barry Mizen welcomed Kepha’s words on youth solidarity and working together for peace. He said: “If you make yourself the sole important thing in your life, you can never be happy. You can only be happy if you put other people first.”
His wife, Margaret Mizen, said that more needs to be done to tackle the root causes of youth violence.
“We need to get out there, and seek and see what the problems are, because often someone who is a bully was bullied themselves at a young age”.
Pat Gaffney, the General Secretary of Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace network, told the audience. “We spend a huge amount of money teaching people to read, but conflict resolution, how to deal with anger, how to deal with difference, it’s not there. We have to invest in becoming peacemakers. This involves developing all sorts of skills to help us make choices. This involves economic choices, social choices, political choices that will make a difference in the world that we’re living in.”
Kepha Ngito is in England until July 18th.