As the workshop came to a close on the third day, you could almost see how much transformation was taking place in the lives of the participants. It was almost like magic.
There was even a symbolic burial by one of the participants that everyone participated in. The participant was searching for closure after having lost all his family and being left in this cruel world all by himself at the age of four years. The participant shared amidst tears in their eyes;
“I have pushed myself to face my fears. My father was murdered in my presence, and so many of my family members. I have no family right now. I was so young when they were killed, my memories of my father are blurry. I only make up pieces of him from the stories I used to hear growing up. I never in my life thought I would need to deal with the pain of losing my family especially my parents. When I came here I told myself that I won’t speak of it, I would just listen to others as they share but you found a way to help me open my tightly sealed box of pain. I have cried all the tears I ignored, I have acknowledged my pain and I have to do one thing that I feel will help me to have closure.” he said
I have always thought of my father every time I faced difficulties in life. I felt like if he was still alive, with me, he would hold my hand and help me. I have lived wishing and hoping that somehow, he would come back to my life. But I know he will never come back. I want to release him. I want to have closure on him. I have modelled this image of a man to symbolize my dad and all my other family members that I never got to say goodbye to (Holding a man modelled from plasticine). I would like to have a symbolic burial for all my loved ones that were killed. I want to finally let my dad rest in peace and allow myself to move on and heal.”
He was allowed to perform a symbolic burial to which everyone joined him to offer emotional support. The compassion and empathy in the room was almost tangible. It was an emotional moment and there were so many tears in the room as many other participants remembered and grieved for their own loved ones that they never got to bid final goodbyes. Healing silence was allowed to fill the room.
The song ‘This is my Wish’ by Jordan Sparks, which had been beautifully sang by the same participant who had the symbolic burial, was sang over and over again by all the participants as the workshop came to the end. The song indeed captured the wish of everyone in the room. And it definitely captured the wish and vision for Bridges of Peace Initiatives (BPI) and Initiatives of Change (IofC), Kenya organization that had partnered to make the workshop happen. Part of the song reads;
‘This is my wish. My wish for the world. That peace would find its way. To every boy and girl. This is the time. The time for harmony. Let love be the song. That everybody sings.
Fill the air with joyful noise, Ring the bells and raise your voice. Let there be peace on earth. Let there be peace on earth
Lift your light. Let it shine. Shine, shine, shine. Let there be peace on earth. Let there be peace on earth’
The request for Healing Conversations to be taken to more refugees was shared over and over again. “Please take this workshop to more refugees. You can help many other refugees to heal. There are so many refugees in Kenya, and many are suffering stress and depression. You can help them too. You have something special and unique in Healing Conversations that other organizations are not offering.”; “Please talk to UNHCR and let them know of your program, this are the kind of programs they should support.”; “I will be praying for you that you get the finances to take Healing Conversations to more refugees.”
They also requested us to keep walking with them as they continue in their journey of healing. “Please make sure to organize some more workshops for us. We still need some support as we continue healing.”
There was one more thing that they wished to share with Kenyans. “Don’t take your peace for granted! Somethings that you are doing, like the recent maandamano’s, and taking them as a joke could very easily turn into something you can’t control. War is not anything you want in your lives. And remember, even if the war will come to an end. Millions of people continue living with the war in their hearts and their mind.”
On this high note, the participants were handed their certificate of participation and urged to go out there and help those around them find their healing too.
There were two major challenges that we faced, finances and language;
Finances: The Healing Conversations workshop should take four days. That comes with a cost for the venue, meals, workshop materials and some facilitation support for the resource persons. The refugees lack the financial ability to support any workshop expense, hence the need for full support to run such forums. For this particular Healing Conversations, we had to reduce the number of days to three due to financial constraints. Healing is a lot of work and if it were possible, there would have been more impact if we had extended the workshop for a fourth day. On the other side, the refugees survive hand to mouth- if they don’t go to run their daily jobs, they can’t put food on the table. They need healing and on the other hand they have to survive and provide for their families. If they don’t heal, they keep on transferring their pain and woundedness to other innocent people. If they don’t go to earn a living for the day, they cause pain to their dependents. This calls for a need to give the refugees some transport re-imbursement and a daily allowance.
Language: The Healing Conversations is primarily designed to be delivered in English. With most of the refugees only comfortable with Swahili, we had to put effort and deliver the workshop in Swahili which was a huge task. We made through.
Moving forward, the facilitators recommend the following to support the healing journey for the refugees through the Healing Conversations Workshop:
Reach out to more Refugees: There is a need for taking the Healing Conversations to more refugees and offering them with the much needed mental health and psychosocial support.
Follow-up Sessions: For continued support, it might be helpful to have one day follow up healing conversations sessions, at least monthly, for about three months before leaving them to continue with their individual and corporate healing journey.
Local Community Awareness and Sensitization: There is need for community awareness and advocacy about the unique challenges and needs that refugees have and how to give them support.
Community Trust-Building Forums and Dialogues: There is a need to organize for trust building forums and dialogues between the locals and the refugees to foster better relationships and integration.
Economic Empowerment: Seek partnerships with other organizations that can help in the area of economic empowerment to the refugees for self-sustenance.
Privacy & Identity Preservation: Some of the participants’ faces have been hidden due to security purposes. In addition, the participant’s names are kept private as a way to continue making Healing Conversations a safe place for everyone.
Special Appreciation to Annie Gitu, Lucy Omol and Josephine Malusi for their financial support towards the workshop.
BPI is also very grateful to Initiatives of Change, Kenya for being a worthy partner in making the Healing Conversations workshop happen.
Facilitators: Njeri Ndiangui & Mumbi Wambugu
Photographer: Ursula Hiuhu
Report by Karen Nthambi & Mumbi Wambugu