Group helps Kenyans cope with violence

Local organizations facilitated discussions for the Kenyan community.

Riham Feshir

.”Imagine grief, Mr. Kivuitu. Grief so fierce, so deep, it shreds the muscle fibers of your heart,” wrote a Kenyan woman in a letter to Kenya’s Electoral Commission Chairman Samuel Kivuitu.

In her letter, Shailja Patel said she attempted to put words to what could not be easily expressed in words.

“Multiply that feeling by every Kenyan who has watched a loved one slashed to death,” wrote Patel, describing her reaction to the violent events which occurred in the months since election results.

The letter was distributed over the Internet to several Kenyan organizations including the Minneapolis Center for Victims of Torture, said Paul Orieny, family social science doctoral candidate and staff member at the center.

The University’s family social science department is collaborating with the Center for Victims of Torture to facilitate community discussions that reach out to the Kenyan communities in Minnesota, helping them cope with the fact that their friends and relatives are victims of violence.

The first meeting was held on Friday at McNeal Hall where mothers said they were unable to justify the violence to their children, and fellow Kenyans said they admitted loss of Kenyan pride.

According to the Center for Victims of Torture, a record 65 percent of registered Kenyans voted, hoping to see a change. But when Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, the country erupted in violence.

Orieny, a Kenyan himself, added that more than 1,000 lives have been lost and 300,000 people displaced internally since December.

Thousands of miles away, Orieny said a “healing circle” for Kenyans and friends of Kenya is a start for the strengthening process.

“All Kenyans, regardless of which political side they’re on, are feeling the loss of a nation,” he said.

Bringing a group of Kenyans together is a way to share the common feelings of helplessness and loss, Orieny said. He added that Kenya was once a place for citizens of surrounding war-torn countries to escape to.

Social workers from the Center for Victims of Torture and family social science professors gave tips and advice to participants, including a few University students and other members of the community, to start the healing process.

Liz Wieling, a professor of family social science and an expert on psychological trauma resulting from war and organized crime, said she is helping facilitate discussion events for the future. No dates or times have been set yet for future discussion sessions.

Wieling said staying connected to families back in Kenya is important, but being too consumed and constantly calling can be detrimental.

The focus of the discussions is to create dialogue around what people may be experiencing emotionally and psychologically due to current events in Kenya, she said.

Although political topics aren’t recommended during the discussion, Orieny said a brief news update as an introduction to each discussion helps educate participants about reasons for their psychological effects.

“People are experiencing a state of shock and disbelief,” he said.