Tecla Wanjala – Kenja

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See also the WSF World Social Forum 2007, Kenya.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “In war everybody is a victim. For one to reconcile communities, one needs to rise from being a wounded victim to a wounded healer. I am a wounded healer”. And: “I don’t want my children to suffer the way I saw others suffering”.

She says also: “You wouldn’t think that, for example, Indonesia and Kenya have so much in common. Do you think that people who are refugees or maybe practitioners, if they heard stories from other communities that have begun to process and heal, it would help them to process and heal? It is interesting how healing stories themselves are, no?”.

And she says: “I have committed my life to peace building. To reconcile communities, one needs to rise from being a wounded victim to a wounded healer. I am a wounded healer”.

Tecla Wanjala - Kenja two redim70p.jpg

Tecla Wanjala – Kenja

She works for the Japan International Cooperation Agency JICA, for the Peace and Development Network of the NGO Council PeaceNet, and for the Coalition for Peace in Africa COPA.

Tecla Wanjala, a Kenyan 43-year-old mother of four, has dedicated her work to peace building. The trained social worker holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution. She started working with refugees in 1991 and later with internally displaced persons in her home district in Western Kenya. She initiated reconciliation meetings between opposing ethnic groups. Today, she works on peace building and post-conflict reconstruction from community to national level.

Tecla Wanjala remembers from the time she was working in a refugee camp: Cecilia’s only possession were two small pans and two blankets. Always at the side of the elderly woman was an old man, a Mzee, the Kiswahili word used by East Africans to refer to a grandfather. She cared for him, even under the tough conditions in the refugee camp. The young social worker Tecla Wanjala was impressed. “I saw the love between the two of them, and I wondered whether I would love my husband as much when we grow as old as they are, “ she recalls. Two weeks later the Mzee died, leaving Cecilia devastated. Tecla Wanjala suffered with her, although she had to stay focused on her job as a coordinator for relief and rehabilitation.

The incident remained with her. Years later, at a conflict transformation course in South Africa, a young woman from Congo shared her traumatic experience with the other participants. “What she said wasn’t similar to what Cecilia had gone through, but suddenly I remembered her,” Tecla Wanjala recalls. “I ran out of the room and cried the whole day. Later, one the course organizers came and talked to me for a long time. I didn’t know that I was traumatized.”

Now her reaction doesn’t surprise.

She started in 1991 after completing a diploma in social work. She began to work in a camp of 30 000 refugees from Somalia. Assigned to teach Kiswahili to children, Tecla became aware of the general desperation, especially of single women and mothers who had no maintenance support. She got many refugees involved in small farming projects to earn a humble income.

In 1992 she was hired to work for the Catholic Diocese of her home district Bungoma, Western Kenya, as a relief and rehabilitation coordinator for 40 000 internally displaced persons following the ethnic clashes in 1991/92 in Kenya. Tecla Wanjala was involved in the registration process and formation of management structures in the camp, and in organizing food and medical assistance. “The conditions were terrible. Children starved to death; mothers became malnourished day to day. Those people went through traumatic experiences: being displaced, having lost relatives and property, not knowing the future,” she empathizes. She was frustrated by the conditions in the camps. But this frustration turned a committed social worker into a peace builder – a transformation Tecla describes as one of the magic moments in her life. “I don’t want my children to suffer the way I saw kids suffering,” she states firmly.

“In late 1993 I sought ways of getting the victims back to their farms by organizing meetings in the camps to find out under what circumstances they had left their homes. I then reached out to the perpetrators to find out why they had evicted their neighbors. After a series of workshops they accepted to meet with their neighbors to discuss the problems that they would face in resettlement, a process in which I participated in from 1994.”
“They are all victims, some are victims of competing political interests and manipulation by the government; others are marginalized by the society. At one point, they said, ‘We realize what we have done to each other. We need to apologize, too.’ This is the beginning of reconciliation.” As a result, around 35 000 out of 40 000 refugees returned to their homes.

For seven years beginning in 1996, she worked as the coordinator of the Peace and Development Network of the NGO Council (PeaceNet). She was in charge of coordinating member activities, fundraising and resource mobilization; organizing coalitions and lobbying meetings around conflict. Based on her wide experience, she trained hundreds of peace practitioners from community to national level, from inside and out of Africa, in basic skills in conflict transformation. “The structures on the ground, in the communities, have to be strengthened,” she insists. The resettlement and reconciliation meetings initiated by the courageous Kenyan are still going on, which is acknowledged as a success. Tecla Wanjala believes research on African mechanisms for conflict management is important.

Between 2001 and 2003, she undertook a MA course in the US in conflict transformation–even though she didn’t hold a first degree. Her unique experience removed any doubts about her qualifications. She scored straight A’s. Her skills and experience are not only appreciated in Africa. A woman with a welcoming attitude, Tecla has also contributed to the reconciliation processes in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, by facilitating workshops on ethnic nationalism and focused on trauma healing.

However, it hasn’t been an easy road. “As a woman you have to move a milestone to prove that you are able,” she says, but instantly finds a positive angle: “But being a woman is also a strength. Women have a soft approach.” Another big obstacle is the absence of political good will. “Many times I was followed by someone from the government. I didn’t know that a government can have so many resources to follow a single woman,” she smiles with irony. “I am not political but they relate my work to politics.” Drawing her attention to the political implications in her work and askind her whether she could imagine herself in an official political position, she shakes her head, doubtful this could happen: “You would have a long way to go to be useful in this government. I am better off lobbying from outside.”

Currently she works on post-conflict reconstruction with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Nairobi and is engaged in establishing a trauma-healing program. “I have committed my life to peace building,“ she says thoughtfully. “To reconcile communities, one needs to rise from being a wounded victim to a wounded healer. I am a wounded healer.” (Read all on 1000peacewomen 2005).

Tecla Wanjala of Kenya, for example, came to EMU after having worked in refugee camps. She earned her masters in conflict transformation from EMU in 2002 and then returned home to focus on post-conflict reconstruction as part of the Coalition for Peace in Africa. (Eastern Mennonite University).

Eight women trained at CJP were among a group of 1,000 women nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize by a Switzerland-based committee. The committee combed the world to find 1,000 women to represent the millions of women who have devoted themselves to a future free of violence, according to the committee’s website, www.1000peacewomen.org. The 2005 peace prize was awarded to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its Egyptian director general, Mohamed El Baradei. But the work and stories of each woman are featured in a 1,000-page book sold through the committee’s website. The eight CJP-trained women hail from six countries:

  • Tecla Wanjala, MA ’03, and Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, SPI ’98, from Kenya;
  • Myla Leguro, SPI ’98,’04, and Miriam Suacito, SPI ’01, from the Philippines;
  • Stella Tamang, STAR ’05, from Nepal;
  • Valentina Cherevatenko, STAR ’05, from Russia;
  • Mary V. Balikungeri, STAR ’04, from Rwanda;
  • and Asha Hagi Elmi Amin, SPI ’98, from Somalia. (full text).

links:

Women as Peace Builders in Africa, and their video order form;

Frozen Emotions;

The national council of NGOs;

Peacebuilding Portal;

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom;

PAYSON, The Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer.

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