Here we have the first instalment of Brad’s blog chronicling his current trip to visit our project partners in Kenya and Tanzania.
On my first day working on this visit I sat eating lunch with George, who is coordinating the development of Mercy Primary School close to Mbita in Kenya. The TV in the corner went through a variety of news stories… Apparently there’s an ongoing trend from spited wives to punish their husband’s infidelity by hacking off their genitals and Kenya’s most famous footballer, Victor Wanyama, is rumoured to be interesting footballing giants Arsenal and Man United.
Another story was, predictably, the continued warnings against travel to Kenya by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. In fairness, the news station did exaggerate the warnings to imply that UK citizens were warned against all travel to Kenya. However, when George asked me whether people in the UK genuinely believed that it was unsafe to travel to Kenya, I had to admit that it was a fairly common opinion.
Over the past few months I’ve been able to explain to those close to me that the attacks from Al Shabaab militants could very easily be several countries away from where I visit. Indeed, the only reason that the attacks actually fall into Kenya, is because European leaders sketched the borders in such a way. However, unfortunately in the same way that the Kenyan news station exaggerated their story to promote interest, western news agencies have presented recent terror attacks as a country-wide issue. Therefore, the weeks before a visit to Kenya normally involve a lot of people asking me “Oh, you’re going to Kenya? …Is it safe?”
The fact is that Mbita is perfectly safe, particularly as I’m not a cheating husband! However, part of the reason that Mbita is safe is because it has developed an improving educational system, which has been achieved through the local community working alongside organisations such as the British Council, Development Direct and COCO.
In areas of extreme poverty, insufficient education and poor health it is easy for stable areas to become unsafe. This lack of safety may come from the development of extremist ideologies, desperation from residents leading to crime or the rise of irresponsible leaders.
At Mercy Primary, so far COCO has worked alongside the community to develop classrooms to provide a safe and secure environment for education. Additionally, a school farm using sustainable agriculture techniques has been developed which provides employment to a member of the community, food for students and a marketable skill for members of the community to develop. Furthermore, fifteen members of the community have recently completed repayment of the first round of micro-finance loans.
Such initiatives protect members of the community from becoming vulnerable to extremist ideologies, provide opportunities to prevent community members being pushed into a desperate situation from which they have to resort to crime and reduces vulnerability from the emergence of irresponsible leaders. If you’re educated and prosperous, you’re capable of seeing through the lies being told to you by extremist groups and corrupt leaders, and are able to earn funds legitimately without resorting to criminal activities.
David Cameron (link) and The Secretary for International Development, Justine Greening, (link) have both responded to the current crisis of people fleeing unsafe and less than prosperous areas across the Mediterranean, by explaining that the only solution to the issue is to build communities that people have little incentive to flee.
As much as it pains me to say it, there are parts of Kenya that aren’t safe at the moment. A very small proportion of the country is susceptible to attacks from extremists. The challenge faced is to spread positive initiatives such as those in Mbita across Kenya and neighbouring countries to lift up the vulnerable people that extremists target to join them.