Kenyan peace activist speaks at CVU (4/22/10)

April 22, 2010

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Kenyan activist Dr. Karambu Ringera spoke with Champlain Valley Union High School students and community members this week about her efforts to promote grassroots development in growing nations.


    Observer photo by Stephanie Choate
Kenyan peace activist Dr. Karambu Ringera speaks to CVU students Tuesday about her work in Africa.

“You are the future leaders in your country and future leaders in the world,” she told a group of students Tuesday. “I want to challenge you … go and listen to the people, see what they perceive to be their challenges and needs and create solutions with them.”

Ringera heads International Peace Initiatives, or IPI, which works toward solutions for disease, conflict and poverty. She recently launched a community home for orphans in Meru, Kenya, which she hopes will represent a new approach to development.

“We’re trying to create a solution from the bottom up, from the voice of the people affected by the problems,” she said.

Ringera said the welfare-type model that most orphanages operate under is not working. Children become dependent on outside sources and often end up on the street once they leave the orphanage.

The problem extends to other aid projects, she said. Since the projects were not developed with the involvement of local people, the projects end soon after aid workers leave.

“The only way to help people is to work with them and identify their problems and solutions,” she told students. “Unless people create solutions themselves, they’re not going to be sustainable.”


CVU connections

Ringera’s visit, one of several across the country, was sponsored by CVU students Ditra Backup and Molly Vatis.

Backup and Vatis went to Kenya in August as part of their Graduation Challenge, a learning project required of all CVU seniors. In Kenya, the two met Ringera and worked in the community home, called Kithoka Amani Community Home.

“The experiences that touched me the most were during the time that I spent with the kids,” Backup said. “Every day there would be something little they would do that would warm my heart or change my perspective of myself or the world in some way.”

Ringera came to the United States to talk about her school, and also to encourage high school and college students to come to Kenya and volunteer.

Backup said several students have already expressed interest in fund-raising or travelling to Kenya as a result of Ringera’s visit.

“I can already see the impact it’s had and the good it’s done, which is just incredible for me,” Backup said.

Vatis called her experience in Kenya “absolutely incredible and life changing.” She urged fellow students, teachers, and community members to find a cause they feel strongly about, in another country or their own community, and get involved.

“Every single person in the world can do something to create change,” Vatis wrote in an e-mail. “It’s important that everyone recognize their responsibility to take action, for we are all global citizens and human beings and we have the power to make a difference.”


Work in Kenya

Ringera’s goal is to make Kithoka Amani Community Home self-sustaining in the next three to five years, creating projects that will help students learn to provide for themselves and raise money locally.

Students grow vegetables and raise animals, and each student has his or her own fruit tree. The students keep 30 percent of profits from the sale of animals or produce they tend. Each student has his or her own bank account, which teaches how to save.

“That way, they are responsible for sustaining themselves,” Ringera said. “We are creating their livelihood together, and they have a role to play.

The home teaches students skills, including agriculture, animal husbandry and jewelry-making.

“We’re using cottage industry as a way of teaching children skills they can benefit from in the future,” Ringera said.

The training shows the community, as well as the children, that youngsters are valuable members of society, not liabilities, Ringera said.

“We need to show the community that the children are valuable,” she said. “They can do something to benefit society, so society stops discriminating against them and excluding them.”