Kumekucha: It's a New Dawn
Trauma-Informed Conflict Transformation
Kumekucha, which means it's a new dawn in Kiswahili, is a social healing programme designed to promote the long process of community healing and social reconciliation within Kenya's diverse cultural landscape. Integral to Kumekucha are community-wide small group dialogues which are organised by local leaders and led by trained Community Facilitators (CFs).
GSN takes a holistic approach in support of Peace and Prosperity. The populations we serve are also negatively affected by climate change. East Africa has been plagued by drought and deforestation which causes conflict centered on access to water and fertile land. Additionally, Kenya has received countless of environmental refugees from neighboring countries in times of drought. The program promotes a resilience and security that is founded on community, livelihoods and care for the Planet.
Take a peek into Kumekucha with this video clip of the program. The full-version of the documentary is posted further down on this page.
Kumekucha is the Kiswahili translation for "it's a new dawn". In coastal slang, it also means "something is going down". The name was selected in order to symbolise a self-awakening, harnessing the idea of a new, energised beginning for Kenya regardless of our past.
Cultural context matters - Historical grievances: Our whole lives we have witnessed and heard the stories of violence, destruction and despair that come from colonialism. It is no wonder that Kenyans grow up fearing the police and authorities – it’s part of our culture as Kenyans.
Disenchanted youth: The image of the youth rioting and not believing in their future. When this happens innocent by-standers are also greatly impacted, as well as, businesses and private property. All sides feel victimized.
Ethnic profiling: In 2014, Somali Kenyan citizens were rounded up by the police and held at the Kasarani stadium – some for days in order to prove that they were Kenyan. It was terrifying on its own, but combined with the historical marginalization of Somali Kenyans -- the multiple massacres, the yellow identity cards in the 90s, the chemical dumpsites in Northeastern, the ethnic profiling, and the marginalization of their region -- it felt like a targeted attack by the authorities.
Rape and sexual assault: Today the number of cases is rampant – both from people close to you such as, religious leaders, teachers, family members but also strangers. Women feel unsafe outside their homes, in the work place, on the street, in the matatu, etc.
Overwhelming poverty: Being poor brings the cycle of violence to your doorsteps. The cycle of poverty has been defined as a phenomenon where poor families are impoverished for at least three generations, i.e. for enough time for the family to include no surviving ancestors who possess and can transmit the intellectual, social, and cultural capital necessary to stay out of or change their impoverished condition. This vulnerability makes the poor more susceptible to violence.
All of these experiences (and more) have led Kenyans to be a nation of victims. All of us. The poor and marginalized, but also the powerful and the rich. Stress and in particular trauma often lead victims to think negatively about themselves as well as others, which in turn affects their relationships with others. This cycle is often set in motion when healing has not taken place and groups or individuals see themselves as victims who have been wronged.
Trauma which is not transformed is transferred. Our victimhood has allowed us to justify the use of violence, in turn creating and recreating the cycle of violence again with new victims and aggressors.
We mistrust our fellow Kenyans based on the fear of the unknown and our own prejudices of the "other".
How many young men in the crowd have in their minds that they have no choice but to join the “fight” for justice?
Former extremists say they had no choice but to take up arms in order to seek justice. They often claim the system was against them because of their age, religion and other characteristics. It is important to help former extremists see even though they felt like they had no other options, in fact they were making choices to hurt others. The choice to break free from violence is also available to them. Because of the hurt and the impact of trauma they are unable to see choice.
Cycles of violence occur when a person or group choose to respond to violence with more violence. This cycle is often set in motion when healing has not taken place and groups or individuals see themselves merely as victims who have been wronged. The sense of victimhood may come from historic events or from recent crises where their pride, identity and security were threatened. The greater the threat to a group’s security, the more members cling to their group identity.
Kumekucha Objectives: 1. Resolve and prevent occurrence of violent conflict; 2. Reduce deep-seated anger, prejudices among conflicting groups through acknowledgement and acceptance of the past; and 3. Establish positive relationships and common language of peace through communication and cooperative activities.
Biology of trauma: The brain is made up of many parts with specific functions. The main parts are the survival brain (red), the thinking brain (green), and the emotional brain (yellow). Trauma has many effects on those different areas. The survival brain is the primordial brain, the thinking brain is advanced, and the emotional brain links to both of the other two sections. If the survival brain (red) is activated, then the thinking brain (green) shuts down and the emotional brain works overtime
The Kumekucha movement is envisioned for all of Kenya. Targets include:
1. Communities (Women, Youth at Risk, Elders, Religious leaders); 2. Security forces (Police, Military, Correction Officers); 3. Refugees, IDPs/ Squatters; and 4. Prisoners
Program design: We use art as a vehicle for transformation. Paintings, other visuals arts and storytelling are essential to reaching the hearts and minds of participants. We focus on supporting changemakers in their own communities to develop trauma-informed systems and structures. The program is modeled so that women, who are busy with family obligations, are able. Participants commit to telling at least 20 individuals about what they learned. Thus, 15 people quickly becomes 300 impacted.
The format is a 12-week program, led by community facilitators (CF) who are volunteers. Groups meet for 2 hours a week to talk, share, and heal. There are 12-15 participants. The groups are facilitated by two CFs. CFs volunteer for 8 hours a week for four months. The inputs included materials, training for the CFs, and a small fund for 12 weeks, which groups can decided how they wish to use. As groups set their own healing agenda - there is no limit to the new found engagement.
"Transforming our woundedness is transforming the whole system and sometimes, step by step, healing each component -- physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual healing. Healing these different components can be fast or slow, conscious or unconscious. For some it may heal and for some it never will." Dekha Abdi Ibrahim, 2011
"To transform one's own woundedness is one thing, to transform that of others and of the society requires collective wisdom. I have learned two key ingredients: those are the ability to take risks and the ability to have hope and faith in the face of difficulty. This process, in my experience, contributes to the growth of the individual and institutions, from being actors in the conflict to becoming resources for peace." Dekha Abdi Ibrahim, 2011
What helps individuals, families and communities break free? Cycles of violence can be repeated many times, but they can also be broken and transformed. The green string on the diagram symbolizes the idea that we can break free at any time from these cycles and move towards non-violent healing and reconciliation.
Security: This includes physical, emotional, environmental, economic, personal, gender and community security.
Choice: When we experience trauma, we do not have a choice. No one chooses for trauma to happen. These are things done to us, or happening to us, not things that we actively choose. Thus trauma takes away our ability to make choices, to make decisions, and to have some sense of control. When we think about healing, one of the key aspects that we want to work on is regaining a sense of control and our capacity to have choice. For us to be more in control, we need to be able to make decisions.
Positive thinking is a method of overcoming stress, trauma, disappointments and setbacks. A person with positive thoughts accepts life as it comes and tends to be relatively balanced. If these positive thoughts are worked on and become part of the person's life, then they may grow and aid the person in living a happier and healthier life.
Forgiveness: Accepting the reality of loss. Coming to terms with loss or trauma can help victims let go of anger and other negative emotions they may have suppressed. Forgiveness is a choice made by the victim when they are comfortable crossing that bridge. It helps quell feelings of anger, fear and humiliation about the harm done. It allows the victims to forgive themselves, take responsibility of their feelings, and take charge of their lives.
Belief systems: When we have faith or a strong belief system, it stimulates a part of the brain that gives human beings the ability to control the thinking brain. People are then able to control their reactions, behaviour, thoughts and actions. There are some things in life that are beyond our control, but when we have faith or a healthy belief system, then it can empower us to cope where other people may struggle.
Intentional action: It is important to take the kind of action that helps to improve the situation or positively reach a goal, as opposed to taking action that can cause more harm. As we gain confidence in the ability to begin to heal, we realise we have new choices, and that we can start taking intentional action to help our family, community and even nation embark on the healing journey.
Positive leadership: The way leaders view events and frame what is happening either helps individuals and groups heal, or further inflames situations, keeping individuals and communities stuck in the cycles of victimhood or violence. Positive leaders value freedom of speech and the ability to question. They can separate fantasy from reality, help people reconnect to families, clans and other groups, and evaluate realistic dangers.
Spheres of influence promote a way of thinking about the positive influence we can all have in multiple areas of our lives. As victims of trauma and violence, and especially with unhealed trauma, we are liable to negatively transfer our stress and trauma to others. But as resources for peace who are in the process of trauma healing and becoming trauma-wise, we can continue to positively transform ourselves and transform others through our relationships.
The Trauma Informed Resilience Framework, is multidisciplinary with a foundation in peacebuilding and conflict transformation; social work, psychology, counselling, mindfulness and mediation, and African traditional healing practices and methods. The TIR framework supports people to enter into "real" conversations about grievances, injustice and the inability to change the future of their lives and their social interactions within and beyond their communities.
Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)
In Kenya entire generations have endured protracted violence and as a consequence have existed in survival mode for decades. The exposure to violence has long-lasting effects not well accounted for in most peacebuilding initiatives. Extreme exposure to violent conflict negatively affects levels of resilience and the ability of the affected populations to transition from violence to sustainable peace. Persistent insecurity and structural violence result in both individual and collective trauma. Symptoms associated with trauma affects all levels of society including aspects of governance and security. Grievances related to war, colonial pasts, economic inequality, ethnic and religious differences and sexual violence are especially difficult to address in regions afflicted by extreme levels of mental and social distress. Therefore, we believe unresolved trauma is at the root of distorted perceptions of victimhood, acute dependency, micro-aggression, and tendencies to victimize others. These dynamics feed into the cycle of violence particularly during elections. Yet, the majority of peacebuilding / conflict transformation work in Kenya is not trauma-informed.
The Kumekucha movement is driven by local network partners. It incorporates low-resource methods building upon cultural practices and traditions. The methodology uses local folktales, case studies, and artwork allowing participants to easily connect and understand complex ideas. Its success is built upon relationships rather than expertise, as community members form safe spaces where people can explore how to break cycles of violence. The public takes charge of their own healing process. Community leaders and other authorities are also supported through lessons on the relationship between trauma and conflict and trainings on how to address their distress.
Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)
Kumekucha is a community volunteer program which focuses on providing a safe space for participants to explore issues of violence, the effects of trauma, social healing and dialogue. Key participants include: bodaboda drivers, matatu touts, women's groups (chamas), GBV survivors, religious leaders, disabled groups like the hearing-impaired, the business community, and other youth groups. Kumekucha focuses on the transformative power of what is often overlooked - the courage and grace of ordinary people; the communal impulse to be whole again; the will to move past the ravages of violence; and the cultural wealth of traditions and practices of reconciliation. Emphasis is given to narratives which help individuals and groups break the "cycles of violence", developing community led peace initiatives which build on the body's capacity to heal itself. Leadership at all levels is engaged in an effort to support the break-away from a victimhood mentality.
14 minute video of the Kumekucha movement: Focus on the pilot community of Malindi, Kenya.
Community coordinators (CCs) are the key local partners in collaborating with Green String Network. They are generally from local organizations who have an established history of working in the targeted communities and have an understanding of the larger issues facing the communities. Green String Network does not implement the program by itself, but works with local network partners to build capacity for program implementation.
CCs have engaged the public through radio interviews and attending county level forums. The CCs play a multi-faceted role in creating a supportive and sustainable program. They liaise with local government officials. They help in identifying CFs for the community healing groups. In addition, they supervise CFs and lead the weekly debriefing sessions. The CCs are the key people helping with local referrals supporting participants who need more support than the groups provide.
Empowerment: We know that every community there is what we call a "Mama Anisa". The mama who everyone calls when there is an issue at home or in the community. There are not enough trained experts and counselors in violence prone communities to deal with the high levels of distress. Kumekucha works to identify the hundreds of Mama Anisas to support them in their social healing efforts. These mobilizers become sustainable agents of resilience and community strength.
Impact: One CF, Ubah knew things were about to unravel and that like in Kenyan elections of the past, the stakes were high. At any moment, fighting could ensue and families could be displaced. It was August of 2017, a Polling Officer was killed at the polling office and panic was beginning to grip the community. Sensing imminent danger, Ubah mobilized Kumekucha CFs to go door to door to calm everyone and discourage acts of revenge. The spark that could have ravaged the community was extinguished
Impact: Kumekucha participants have gone through individual healing and it is spreading into their families in a positive way which they didn't expect. Nevertheless, some challenges still exist in the community which need addressing. These challenges are beyond the members of the community since are the responsibility of service providers. Thus in the next phase, CFs and CCs will be working to develop trauma-informed working groups, involving service providers (local government and NGOs/CBOs).
Impact: Participants reported changes in behavior related to peace and reconciliation as being an indicator of transformation within themselves. One person reported "I know how to live with people better" Another response related to social cohesion was, "I live peacefully with my neighbors." Some spoke about reconciling with friends or family members . For example one person stated, "after the training I stopped fighting with my husband."
Impact: One participant reflecting on self-regulation stated, "I used to be very angry and violent with my kids, but now I don't beat them and instead found talking to them has made my life easier." Some reported reduction in drug usage among the youth. Others reported witnessing regulation of emotions. For example one respondent reported that, "I live well in the society that is not shouting at the children as trauma has reduced."
Impact: Another participant stated, "[I] have been able to move past previous hurts and sort out difficulties within myself." "I've seen people are more interested in keeping the peace than engaging in political unrest." Another reported, "we have learnt to live in peace despite our differences." Also one person stated that, "people spreading peace messages." Respondents spoke of people coming together. One person stated, "We formed self-help groups."
Impact: Participants were asked how the program changed their interactions with their community. A participant stated, "I am more open to interact with other groups." Another reflected "[I am] more receptive of other people regardless of their background." Another reported "I used to hate my Muslim neighbors but now I see them as my brothers." Another participant said, "I have learnt to avoid jumping to conclusions with other people and not to judge them."
Impact: A participant remarked "I've a renewed sense of hope despite life's challenges and I'm more positive. I'm interacting with more people, formed a women's group to help others." Another stated, "I have changed the way I would deal with things. For instance, I am not vengeful anymore and I don't isolate myself when stressed. I share with others what I'm going through." Another participant shared, "I fully understand myself I even have new life goals,"
Impact: Participants appear to have been motivated to assist others in their communities. For example on respondent stated, "I talked my neighbor's daughter in law out of committing suicide." Another participant spoke about emotional regulation, "Previously when I would get angry I wouldn't even want to see the person who upset me. But now I'm able to interact with people better even if they make me angry and I can talk to them about it, sort it out and move on."
Impact: Social cohesion has increased. One participant stated "My interactions with others has become better as I do so peacefully and with love and support." A few people referred to changes in behavior of members of their community signally that Kumekucha had an impact that extended beyond the participants of the program. For example a respondent stated, " [Kumekucha] has been beneficial in that people are now more cooperative as compared to the past."
Impact: One participant spoke of forgiveness, "I was able to deal with my trauma symptoms and as a result I was able to forgive those who have wronged me in the past and restore relationships".
A Collaborative Framework: County level and national government officials and service providers are involved in the program and are becoming trauma-informed (trauma-wise) as well. As the program continues to expand and grow, the program will intentionally work to support the development of trauma-informed systems, institutions and structures, at both county and national levels, involving civil society, government structures and the private sector.
Volunteers: The third most cited response when asked for suggestions for the program's improvement related to the expansion of Kumekucha was a request for a stipend for participants. However the strength of Kumekucha is its voluntary nature and local ownership. Thus future phases of the program will continue working on the principle of volunteerism.
How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)
Few organizations have developed sustainable, culturally relevant, grass-root trauma-informed interventions. There is a direct link between levels of trauma in vulnerable communities and the challenges faced with justice, reconciliation, security and overall social wellbeing. Violence begins with a thought, yet few interventions focus on the mental wellbeing of at-risk communities. Our approach has had major impact in challenging regions. In Somalia, there was a significant decrease in 9 out of 16 PTSD symptoms post-intervention. Findings also showed that there was less subscription among participants to the belief that fighting is necessary to defend the interests of one’s clan. In Kenya participants reported interacting with people they normally would not engage. Unlike many peacebuilding programs, we have empirical evidence showing the transformation of our participants. We use quantitative and qualitative methods to gauge change in behavior, attitudes and trauma symptoms.
Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)
Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.
Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)
The Green String Network (GSN) is a not-for-profit organization which brings together professionals in the field of peace-building, trauma-informed approaches, sustainable economic development and research. https://www.green-string.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/greenstringnetwork/
By looking at the world's problems through a trauma-informed lense, the community restores hope, one life at a time.
We have decades of collective experience working in Africa. We are a network of likeminded individuals and organizations who work on conflict transformation, Countering Violent Extremism and social healing. Our initiatives are driven by local partners who we support with technical expertise. At GSN, we believe that there is a direct link between levels of trauma in vulnerable communities and the challenges faced with justice, reconciliation, security and overall social wellbeing.
Kumekucha embodies the life of Dekha Ibrahim Abdi. Her story conveys powerfully how she brought about positive change in many personal and public arenas of her life. The Kumekucha and the work of GSN has been developed based on her legacy. Dekha died in 2011 of injuries from a tragic car accident. Her legacy and inspiration live on.
Organization Filing Status
Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.
I worked for USAID on projects in west and east Africa for a decade. The projects were never transformational. Mistrust and violence always reemerged. In 2008, we began to implement trauma healing programs as a foundation for peace and development initiatives. I was in awe of the transformation I witnessed in places like northeastern Kenya and Somalia which suffered from decades of violence and extremism. Social-healing, using a trauma lens is an antidote to hate which is embodied in violence.
Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).
The economic, social, cultural and political spheres of society along with the natural environment form the context in which our program participants engage. Peace and Prosperity are influenced by these different spheres which are inextricable. In Kenya, conflict is driven by economic and political inequality which is exasperated by environmental injustice where marginalized communities overwhelmingly bear the burden of climate change and discriminatory practices of toxic waste disposal (Planet). The growing dissatisfaction over injustices in Kenya coupled with feelings of under representation or outright exclusion within the political and economic realm continue to fuel both national and local conflicts. Over the last decade, the general State response to acts of resistance or expressions of grievance has been to deploy the greater force of suppression through security forces. Rather than mitigating violence, the measures aggravate the sense of insecurity and injustice among citizens.
Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)
Local CBOs, leaders, police officers and communities are involved in the Kumekucha movement. Kumekucha is planning to certify individuals who work in the security sector to expand the program to the police, as well as, community based change agents. All have already been part of our foundational programming and have stood out as agents of change. To establish the official accreditation of the program, GSN will continue to work with educators, facilitators, psychologists and peacebuilders to improve and expand the training modules and instruction in order to support the creation of trauma-informed structures and systems. GSN will work with the facilitators on how to market their new skills so that they can begin to derive an income from offering the training within their own environment. The new facilitators will develop county based trauma-informed working groups, and will be able to engage a wider range of stakeholders compared to having GSN as the sole implementer of the program.
Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)
A mistake that is commonly made in programing is to overestimate the capabilities of outside experts and underestimate local knowledge and skills. Kumekucha builds on the resources and traditions of the communities we serve. The program is driven by members of the communities because they best understand their environment, their cultural and political landscape and the challenges their people face. Also, the trust they have from their peers make them the most effective agents of change.
Kenya. The funds would focus on developing and piloting a 4-level TIR certification program.
How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)
24 months. GSN believes for lasting long-term sustainability it must be an organic and community led model focused on the question “how does the community hold itself together.” GSN will strengthen partnerships between local organizations and the county governments by supporting the capacity strengthening of new trauma-informed practices, resources, and service providers at the county level through the development and piloting of a 4-level TIR certification program for key local Changemakers.
Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)