Violet Muthiga has seen the impact of extremist activities on women in Kenya’s recent history, including in the marginalization of mothers whose children had been arrested on charges of suspected radicalization, vetted and later released. Because the police were suspicious of them and their communities were scared, the women kept to themselves.
Muthiga spoke of her trauma counseling and reintegration work during an early December graduation ceremony in Nairobi. She was among eight women to earn graduate certificates in peacebuilding leadership from the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program (WPLP) of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).
Muthiga is CEO of Mombasa-based Sauti Ya Wanawake Pwani, a local women’s organization that works in six coastal counties. She conducts trauma counseling for mothers of radicalized youth and reintegration programs for de-radicalized youth, among other activities, and said she is “lucky” to have had the opportunity to bolster her skills through WPLP.
Other graduates in the ceremony expressed similar appreciation for new skills related to conflict analysis, restorative justice and trauma resilience, said CJP executive director Daryl Byler. “WPLP built their level of self confidence, helped them understand who they are, and develop as leaders.”
Affirmation also came from Samson Sorobit, who said that through the strength of the people in WPLP, “we’ve seen change happen.” Sorobit spoke on behalf of local partner Daima Initiatives for Peace and Development, which supports peacebuilding, development and social change initiatives in the region.
Rachel Mutai, another graduate, said that she had been promised that WPLP would be “a journey of learning and relearning,” and that proved true. “There are things I thought I knew that I didn’t know, and there are things that once I tested in the field, I realized I needed to be learning again, and do something different.”
Mutai is the curriculum development coordinator at African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries. She coordinates the development of and training for peacebuilding and leadership curriculum, and has conducted trauma healing programming for women, led youth leadership development activities, and been involved in a domestic violence counseling ministry.
The program offered a “very relevant” balance of theory and practice that gave the group confidence and is “very apropos in the field” for them as women who are making a difference, Mutai said.
Funding for WPLP is primarily provided through USAID Kenya and East Africa and by international development organizations that administer USAID grants.
The fourth cohort included:
- Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir formerly worked for Serve Women and Children Empowerment and Development Agenda, which rallies Somali women in Garissa and Kismayo to work for peace using clan and family networks, but most recently ran for a seat in Kenya’s parliament during the country’s 2017 election. She also volunteers for an association for Somali professionals, and is a writer and a poet who uses her talents for advocacy and activism. She has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in development studies.
- Judith Nasimiyu Mandillah is the chief probation officer of the Kakamega High Court; she was previously a probation officer for 25 years. In her current role, she leads and advocates for alternative dispute resolution processes. In a volunteer capacity, she has worked in crime prevention with youth in Bungoma and Kakamega, and in justice and family conflict programming throughout western Kenya. She has also registered an organization which advocates for alternative dispute resolution among women leaders and youth. She has a bachelor’s degree in guiding and counseling from Kampala International University and is completing an master of science degree in peace and conflict studies from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology.
- Rachel Cherotich Mutai is from Kericho County and has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Kenya Highlands Evangelical University and an MDiv from Africa International University.
- Violet Wairimu Muthiga lives and works in Mombasa County, where she also works with county peace committees and court users committees to create programming for local communities. She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Egerton University and is completing her master’s degree in project planning and management the University of Nairobi.
- Sarah Chelimo Naibei is from Mt. Elgon Sub County. She has worked for the Peace and Rights Program, where she played a role in the signing of a peace agreement between conflicting communities in Mt. Elgon, and has rehabilitated ex-combatants and child soldiers. She recently transitioned into the role of assistant county commissioner, and is now responsible for county peace activities. She has a passion for facilitating reconciliation and trauma healing programs in the Mt. Elgon area and for working with communities and widows of the conflict to find sustainable, locally-owned solutions to conflicts. She has a bachelor’s degree in gender and development from Makarere University and a master’s degree in project planning and management from the University of Nairobi.
- Catherine Gaku Njeru is from Embu County, where she is a gender specialist at the International Peace Support Training Center. Using this platform she has been involved in the design of Kenya’s national action plan for implementing UN 1325, has rolled out training for the military in peacebuilding, and has implemented a child development program in Embu county. Her work also took her to Marsabit County, where she engaged in women’s empowerment activities; she was recently relocated to do similar work in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has more than ten years of experience in gender mainstreaming and curriculum development. Catherine has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Egerton University and a master’s degree in project planning and management from the University of Nairobi.
- Beatrice Kizi Nzovu works in Majengo for Life and Peace Institute as the lead Kenya program advisor. Her work there focuses on how communities – and specifically women – can build resilience against violent extremism. In the past she has worked with cattle rustling and resource issues in North and South Rift, land conflicts in the coast, gender mainstreaming at the regional level, and post-election violence in Nakuru. Beatrice has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Maseno University and a master’s degree in peace studies and conflict transformation from European University.
- Shamsa Hassan Sheikh recently accepted a position with Act Change Transform (ACT!), a Kenyan non-governmental organization that works with environmental and natural resources management as well as democracy and human rights and peacebuilding and conflict transformation. Previously, she worked for the Wajir County Land Management Board, designing and facilitating local alternative dispute resolution processes for land and resource-based conflicts in Wajir county. She also played a role in reviewing and drafting land and resource-based policies. Shamsa has a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Nairobi.