“We are frightened mostly students coz in kenya it happened in a university.”
I was FB chatting with Siima Smith, one of the young adults in the Nikibasika program in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Al Shabaab has threatened attacks on Uganda, and last week, the Chief Prosecutor in the trial against the perpetrators of the 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala was shot dead in front of her children as she bought fruit on her way home from work.
“It’s so upsetting as it’s easter time and everyone is celebrating but trying to avoid crowded places where many people are gathered because they are mostly targeted by terrorists.Security has been made more tight because there is checking everywhere.”
The kids in the Niki program aren’t kids anymore. When I was in Kampala in December, I had dinner with the group who are now in post-secondary school in Kampala and Jinja. Baptiste, Maureen, Moreen, Abdu, Joel, Saphra, Manoti, Brendah. Another six are now in Kampala about to join university and college: Nelly, Mary, Brenda, Siima, Fred, Beth. Two have already graduated from university: Elinah and Sylver.
Every one of these kids has a story that makes their being in post-secondary school a miracle. Manoti was born by the side of the road during the Rwandan genocide while her mother tried to cross the border into Uganda. Nelly was born in a refugee camp a month later. One of the families in our program saw their mother murdered in front of them as tiny children. Another saw their father and oldest sister murdered. One was abandoned in a plastic bag as an infant. Everyone’s story has some version of poverty, loss, death, HIV, violence, abandonment, fear behind it.
Each of them has had to develop the resilience, focus, desire for a different world that brings them to university or college. Last year, Manoti and Baptiste worked in a refugee camp in northern Uganda for a month. They’re all doing community projects. And they all go to schools that have been named as targets by Al Shabaab.
Every one of the 148 murdered students in Garissa university had a story like this behind them. It’s hard to get a place in university in Kenya, and it’s a struggle for everyone to pay fees. Universities represent a different kind of future for Kenya and Uganda, a future of peace, global connection, economic strength, development.
I’m not going to post the images of what the inside of the classrooms at Garissa looked like after the attack, pools of blood and overturned chairs and bodies. More trauma in a country where trauma is already deep-rooted. Vicarious trauma for the young people in the Niki program, who are moving through their easter celebration in a thick coat of fear.
There has been a bit of an outcry on twitter about the lack of outcry about Garissa, compared to the Charlie Hebdo attack. #Africanlivesmatter. We’ve talked about the disparity in relation to the ongoing Boko Harem attacks in Nigeria. I think very few people would be able to articulate it out loud or really even know what’s at work, but there is a mostly undercurrented sense that “this is africa, this is what happens there.” A detachment, a bit of a shrug. A sense that “the politics there are a mess,” hard to understand, just a kind of primitive fighting.
I first went to Uganda in 2008, and I’m planning to go for the 8th time in May. Someone once said to me “you know, you’ll always just be a white woman in Africa,” and it’s true. I will always be a muzungu, and know that the longer I work on this project, the less I “know.” I had a lot of certainty when I first started this work, and I have very little now. But I do have relationships with each of these people as individuals, as humans, and I have their stories in my heart. We all do. They are brave and wise and selfish and smart and confused and sweet and hurt and curious and lazy and creative and vain and dull and bull-headed and selfless and and and. They are individuals. And every student at Garissa, the ones who died and the ones who will have to take this terror and fear and make a life around it forever, is an individual.
My heart breaks for Kenya, and my heart breaks for each of the kids in our program, living with and charged with adulthood in a world with so much fear.
“We always feel happy in such frightening time when we hear from u.Thanks for your love auntie.we love you too.“
Garissa is why we need the Nikibasika program and many others like it. Garissa is young adults trying to build a different world. #IamGarissa