By Michael Owuor and Beatrice Atieno, AfriNov.
Women have long been key drivers for change in Kenya. When children cannot access education and resort to a life in criminal gangs, violence spreads. Women are most affected by this, not only as direct victims of violence, but also because they lose their children. Dedicated women nonviolence campaigners in Nairobi, Kenya decided to non-violently change their communities’ future.
Community Health Workers Rescue Organization (CHEWOREO), is a community group led by women that are fighting against social injustices in Maili Saba community in Nairobi. Originally brought together because of their service as Community Health Volunteers under the Ministry of Health Department of Nairobi County, they have expanded their community work by leading nonviolent campaigns.
As members of their local community, CHEWOREO were aware of the problems the community faced but until recently, they did not know how to address them. As a result, they normalized these social injustices and experiences that were harmful to women and their community. Their only recourse was to report to the local area chief and police and hope for the best.
After being trained by AfriNov on the Turning the Tide (TTT) nonviolence approach, CHEWOREO community group launched nonviolence
campaigns against poor administration at Jehovah Jireh Primary School and insecurity in their community. The poor administration coupled with high level of absenteeism of teachers directly contributed to poor performance of the school. This also fuelled drug and substance abuse of their children and unplanned pregnancies among female pupils. In turn, many pupils dropped out of school into lives of crime where many lost their lives.
Through the TTT training and support for their grassroots campaigns by AfriNov, CHEWOREO group felt empowered to actively undertake nonviolence campaigning against these injustices. Their fears slowly subsided, as they learned to non-violently advocate for their own rights and those of others.
“The training enabled us to discover our power and importance of working together with other allies. As a result, we felt empowered as women to participate in public meetings and it made us understand our role as leaders in our community”, shared one of members of CHEWOREO.
As a result of their campaign, their local primary school received a new head teacher who restored high level of discipline and performance among the pupils. The high number of dropouts fell and unwanted pregnancies among female pupils significantly decreased. Teachers’ attendance in class has improved.
Working with allies like their elected member of parliament, CHEWOREO helped the school acquire new chairs for pupils and increase bursaries allocation to needy pupils in the community. The floors of the classes have been tiled, and additional toilets were constructed for both teachers, female and male pupils. AfriNov supported the group in their campaign with connections to allies, organizing activities and by providing advice.
CHEWOREO’s nonviolence work has been felt in their community. The women reached out to the youth who were engaged in crime and a group of elders, the Kasarani United Elders CBO. CHEWOREO connected both groups to be trained by AfriNov on nonviolent campaigning. The youth transformed and quit their criminal way and formed their own community group known as Blessed Njiru Self Help Group. The elders are leading Maili Saba community on a campaign against poor roads, which is still ongoing. The CHEWOREO women are not only on the forefront of change in their own community, but they also encourage other groups to use the power of nonviolence to bring about social justice.