Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Friend's email

I have got a friend who is working in Kenya for the summer he sent this email to me and several other people.

Hello everyone,

I’ve been in Kenya for three weeks now and I wanted to update everybody. The transition has been smooth, so far. My flight went well, I have a nice place to stay, and work has been great. I want to tell you all about work, but unfortunately the nature of the work I am doing at IJM Kenya keeps me from saying too much. Most of what I am doing deals with child victims of rape. A statistic that I heard before I came to Kenya is that, in the developing world, 40% of women
will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. With a problem this pervasive, we are obviously limited as to how much we can do, but we are working everyday to bring as many perpetrators to justice as we can. There are two stories I want to share with you that really highlight the problems Kenyans are facing as they try to create a more just and prosperous society.

My second week here, I had the opportunity to visit a Kenyan jail. I expected to find dilapidated conditions and overcrowding, which I did. What I did not expect to find was a cordial relationship between the guards and the prisoners. When we walked into the prison there were eight of us; six from IJM, the commandant of the prison, and one guard. We came to a courtyard to find hundreds of prisoners just sitting around, waiting to be taken to court. They were not handcuffed or restrained in any way, and only two guards secured them. I was overwhelmed--the prisoners had the numbers to overpower us and do whatever they wanted with us. The Kenyans, on the other hand, just walked calmly through the mass of prisoners. I later found that the guards were sympathetic to the plight of the prisoners. Backlog is a huge problem in Kenyan courts, so most prisoners can expect to wait one to two years before their cases go to trial. Many were in jail for minor crimes, but they couldn’t afford bail, so they waited in jail until the court found time for them. The guards talked openly about how most of the prisoners had no business being in the jail. The guards even joked around with the prisoners. The facility we visited was built for 2,000 people yet it housed over 5,000, and only 800 of
them had actually been convicted. Somehow, in these conditions, the guards and the prisoners were able to forge a bond that one would never find in an American jail.

The second story comes from one of my trips outside of Nairobi. I went with the director of my office to visit a children’s officer in one of Kenya’s 9 provinces. In this particular province there are 4.5 million people, but there are only 9 children’s officers. That means only one children’s officer for every 500,000 people. In addition, there is only one vehicle between the 9 officers. Many officers have to take buses to get to the victims they are trying to help. There are many
compelling cases about which the officers can do nothing merely because they do not have the means to get to the child. The children’s officer we met had a heart to help every child in Kenya, but was increasingly frustrated because there was so little she could do. She complained about how hard it was to keep a children’s officer because the job was so emotionally overwhelming. Most of the officers leave within one or two years.

As you can see, Kenya faces a lot of problems. But the number of people trying to effectuate change has really struck me. There are so many Kenyans who want to make Kenya a better place; they just need the resources to do it. This email turned out longer than I wanted, but it
could have been ten times as long. I would appreciate your prayers in the coming weeks for me and for the hundreds of millions of people who are suffering from oppression across the world."

God bless,

Cube's friend

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