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VAS

Teacher on crusade for peace

BREAKING NEWS
By | November 22nd 2009

By John Kariuki

When some people dammed the Subukia River upstream for irrigation purposes and water only trickled downstream, young David Wanjohi was hauled into the intrigues of human rights and justice.

Villagers ganged up to protest and Wanjohi drafted a petition letter to the late Mirugi Kariuki, then a prominent Nakuru lawyer to ask him to offer them legal and political assistance.

"I took the letter personally to Mirugi and he promised to respond," Wanjohi recalls. But the villagers’ demonstration was noticed by the provincial administration and the dams upstream were demolished, returning the flow of water to its normal volume. The incident had lit Wanjohi’s fire for championing people’s rights.

Wanjohi, this year’s winner of the Kenya Human Rights Commission essay writing competition in the teachers’ category, is a soft-spoken history and geography teacher at Gatero Girl’s High School in Laikipia.

But beneath his affable demeanour lies a strong resolve to teach peace to school pupils in the aftermath of the 2007 post election violence that affected him directly. He is the regional coordinator of Pamoja, an organisation with peace building programmes in schools in Laikipia, a vast region incorporating Naivasha, Nakuru, Nyahururu and the older Laikipia districts and parts of Baringo and Samburu districts.

Greater political space

While on his first posting at Shamata Girls’ High School in Nyandarua North District, Wanjohi joined the Ufungamano initiative of the 1990s, clamouring for greater political space under the auspices of the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission.

David Maina Wanjohi’s journey from an ordinary classroom teacher to a human rights campaigner has been long and eventful

In 2004, he transferred to Loreto High School Matunda in Uasin Gishu West District. It is here that he lived through the harrowing experience of the last year’s violence.

"I was a presiding officer with the then Electoral Commission of Kenya at Kapkoros voting centre and saw the muted genesis of the violence as early as the evening of December 27, 2007," he says.

At that polling station, where Wanjohi was considered an outsider, mobs of marauding youths openly campaigned for their favourite presidential candidate whom they did not expect to lose. But it would be four days later when full-scale madness reigned. The Moi University trained teacher says when the results of the presidential poll were announced, people fleeing from neighbouring areas swamped the Catholic complex where Loreto Matunda School is situated. Their houses and granaries had been torched and they were fleeing for their lives.

"But we all felt marooned at the complex and men would regularly hide in the complex’s forest and hedges during daytime fearing attack," he says.

"The mission’s guards were deemed to be untrustworthy by the refugees, hence our extra caution," he adds.

Wanjohi had been a church leader at Matunda and was the coordinator of Pamoja in the larger Kitale area. So he was socially visible.

"I was already known as a human rights advocate because of my work at the mission and connection with the Association of Sisterhoods in Kenya Justice and Peace Commission AOSK-JPC."

Made up his mind to flee

Indeed, calls from some youths to get him in person were gathering force in the Matunda area and on occasion he would overhear the shouts. "Let’s torch the chairman’s house!" He made up his mind to flee.

But the violence around Matunda area abated in early January, last year, when 20 attackers were killed. Elsewhere the army had secured most of the road from Nakuru to Eldoret. This is the lull that he used to get his family out of Matunda to Nyahururu where he would stay with a friend. The only possessions they carried were those that could fit in their car.

After reporting to the local education office, Wanjohi was posted to teach at Gatero Girls, an institution in which he had studied for his O-levels between 1984 and 1987 when it was a mixed school.

When he had settled down at Gatero, Wanjohi got a rerun of post election violence fright when some skirmishes erupted in parts of Laikipia early last year and not too far from his school. "I relocated my family to Ol Kalou, 60 kilometres away, and I would commute to and from work," he says.

But soon after the President and Prime Minister signed the peace accord, in late February last year, he moved his family yet again to Marmarnet (Ol Jabet) centre that is near his school and where they currently live.

While attending a peace workshop in Nakuru last year, Sister Mary Francis, the programmes officer with AOSK-JPC urged him to use his unique experience to work for peace in Laikipia as he had done in the Kitale region. He took up the challenge and has since teamed up with the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar and the Trocaire Ireland organisation, in addition to the other Pamoja partners as his area of operation expands.

Snowball effect

"I started by initiating peace clubs in three schools and by use of diplomacy and contacts, there has been a snowball effect and now Pamoja has a reach of 60 schools, both primary and secondary, in our areas of operation," he says.

With the help of the Laikipia West education office, Wanjohi launched his peace agenda last year at a well attended seminar targeting teachers drawn from his vast area of operation spanning Nyandarua, Laikipia, Naivasha, Nakuru and Baringo districts. The teachers were sensitised on the need of starting peace clubs in schools or including peace agenda in existing ones.

"And I am proud many schools have done this," he says.

This year, under the sponsorship of Pamoja partners he successfully organised a writing competition for school pupils and students in his area of operation to commemorate the International Women’s Day, an occasion that is held on March 8.

"Through this competition, we were able to draw in participants from Meru and Nyeri," he says.

Peace building a calling

Wanjohi says peace building has many challenges. Among these is little awareness of peace education amongst the people and peace stakeholders not working in tandem. "The non-state actors need coordination to avoid duplication of efforts and for efficient distribution of resources."

He adds: "There is a misconception by some people that I work for money, but peace building is a calling."

Some people don’t see the connection between peace and everything else they do, he says.

"I have been ridiculed even by prominent leaders on why I am working for peace and yet there is no war!"

But he takes all this criticism in his stride and aspires to reach more students and pupils with his peace education. He also plans to resume his studies for a Master’s degree at Moi University that were disrupted by the post-election violence.

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