After spending two months in Kenya during the run-up to their presidential elections, I was greatly saddened and shocked to hear of the eruption of violence that has wracked the country. I am saddened not only by the rising death toll and numbers of displaced families, which are tragic, but also by the loss of the promise that Kenya held as a model, healthy society.

Photo by Gabriel Kadidi.The situation in the Kibera slum of Nairobi

The Kenyans that I met during my time there told me that they knew that there would be problems with the election. Some of them expected “irregularities” in the vote tallies, some even worried that incidents of violence would occur. Although they were all aware of tribal differences within the country, no one imagined that such awful strife would erupt. Sadly, I think we must attribute a large portion of the blame to people in positions of power who are manipulating the public in their struggle for even greater riches. Do not blame the peasants who are both committing acts of violence and suffering from them; they are merely pawns to the political elite who have held power in Kenya for years. This election and the engineered unrest that followed are all about a chess game played by the upper class to increase their piece of the pie. I don’t blame the poor, the ones who are suffering most in this situation, for being “racist”, “tribal” or inherently violent. Rather, I am disheartened that the most vulnerable have been taken advantage of.

Upon hearing the news of the unrest, and subsequently following the story as best I can through the media, my heart was gripped by the desire to help. I am thinking not only of the many good people that I worked with, sang and laughed with and said goodbye to in Nairobi, but all the Kenyans out there who looked forward proudly to a brighter future. For a while I felt there was nothing I could do. A story came on NPR about donating phone credit to people who have been displaced in these clashes, but the website mentioned didn’t work for me. Then I discovered that Jamii Bora, the microfinance institution with which I worked in Kenya, has set up an emergency fund to provide help to those affected by the unrest.

Jamii Bora, which works to create “better families” as it’s name suggests, is continuing to work with the poorest Kenyans to help improve their lives. The members of Jamii Bora live in the slums and the rural areas of Kenya and, with access to microcredit and health services provided by Jamii Bora, they had been climbing their own way out of poverty. In light of the tremendous setbacks that they are now facing, Jamii Bora started this fund to begin to help people get back on their feet and to survive these dark days. They are using the money to rebuild their looted offices and to help their members open up their businesses again and return to their homes. The donations will be handled through Unitus, a “global microfinance accelerator” and Jamii Bora partner based in Seattle, Washington.

Click here to donate to Jamii Bora’s Emergency Fund.

Below is a message from Ingrid Munro, Managing Trustee of Jamii Bora, highlighting the seriousness of the situation and asking for assistance.

Dear friends,

We have been able to be in touch with most of our branch staff in various parts of the country. The situation is very serious in many parts of the country. The target for most mob actions are the Kikuyu, the country’s largest tribe. But even families of other ethnic background are victims when the looting goes out of hand and nobody has time to check who is a Kikuyu and who is not.

Jamii Bora members are particularly badly hit, first because they are in the poorest areas that are most badly affected, second because in these areas they are often the most successful business people after many years of climbing with Jamii Bora, third because many are Kikuyus in the central urban areas, fourth because the police protection is not so strong in the poorest sections of the cities and town. The areas of the rich are much better protected and hardly attacked at all.

Terrible things are happening. People are killed and injured. Rape is on the rise. A church where many families with children had sought refuge was burnt down by an angry mob in Eldoret and many people including at least 34 children were killed. Poor people’s businesses are destroyed, burnt and/or looted. Homes and even churches are burnt down. The fruits of their hard work to climb out of poverty has been destroyed and burnt to the ground.

Tense calm has returned to a few places but most of the badly hit areas are still experiencing problems. Many families are running away in panic and have lost everything they have worked so hard for.

Some of the worst hit areas are the large slums in Nairobi especially Kibera, Mathare, Huruma- Korogocho, Kangemi and Kawangware. Other towns that have been exposed to serious destruction are Eldoret, Kisumu, Kericho and Mombasa. Many other parts of the country are experiencing serious problems in poorer sections of the towns. Several of our branches have also been looted and our computers and POS machines stolen. People can not run their businesses for risk of looting, thus even those who have not been looted or burnt down are affected. No buses are available since the owners fear that they may be stoned or vandalized. People are starving because they cannot access food, they are homeless and seek refuge at police stations and churches. Thus everyone is affected.

Jamii Bora estimates that almost 50% of the members are affected in at least one of the above mentioned ways. Our own disaster fund will not last long in this situation and we urgently need help.

Anything you can do to assist and contribute in a big or a small way will be highly appreciated.

Warm regards

Ingrid

If you can help, please click here to make a contribution through the Unitus website.

I thank you in advance and ask that you not give up hope for the good people of Kenya.
Me and a cobbler in the Mathare slum
-Trenton

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