Could you describe the first moment when you realized you wanted to do this work?
My name is Christine Odera, the Kenyan Country Coordinator for Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (CYPAN)
I have always loved community work. My mom tells me when I was a child, I could always help in the church, or give out my pencils to the kids who had none, I was a smart kid, still is, I loved to help my schoolmates when they struggled with a subject. The official introductory phase to peace building was when I turned 15 years old; I got a scholarship to study abroad in the USA through the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. Which sends young people15-17 years old, from a predominant Muslim population for intercultural exchanges all over the world. The program focuses on intercultural exchanges to promote peace. AFS initially, American Field Service the affiliate organisation, was established during the World War I, as an ambulance that carried everyone who was injured whites, blacks, Jews, Caucasians. It was believed that people killed each other because they did not understand each other. By understanding someone else’s culture, we understand why he or she does things the way they do and we get to understand the diversity. Hence, the need to learn to understand each other’s differences for unity in diversity.
I managed to be among the 25 student’s choses from Kenya, left Kenya in 2010 for the US. I was hosted in Wisconsin, which is in the Midwest. To my surprise, I was the only black student in the entire high school and hosted by a white family. At first it was hard to adjust to my new environment but eventually, I got integrated into the system and I felt like one of them though I looked different. This experience made me learn more about who I was, why I did something’s different and why everyone needs to be exposed to other cultures. I had stereotypes about white people while, I interacted with people who had different perspectives about black people of Africa and that changed with time.
I was exposed to more community work and the zeal just kept growing. I got to understand more issues the community faced, human right issues, marginalisation, under representation, injustices among other issues. I came back to Africa knowing I wanted to come and be the change in Africa. It is so easy to be brainwashed while you are in a different culture and though I did not want to loose my values as an African, I took with me some good values I learnt from the American culture. Africa has been experiencing a number of conflicts ever since I was born in the ultimate of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 every day the news had one to many conflicts . This advised my decision to study international relations with a major in peace and conflict studies to learn more and get the skills to tackle peace issues not only theoretical but also practical by engaging with the people directly affected.
Could you take us through a day of your work? Where do you put most of your time and energy?
My day-to-day work involves working in the grassroots with the community, international students and organisations while using my intercultural and educational skills to help them integrate into the Kenyan Culture while we explore Health, Human rights and urbanisation issues. Holding community engagements activities: talks, trainings, facilitations, sports. Working with the local governments and institutions on information dissemination. Doing projects with the community
What are your key achievements in your work?
My Key achievement would be being a key intersect between different cultures and creating synergy with people who would not meet or interact on a normal day to day interaction and seeing the transformation in the community and individuals.
How does your organization promote inclusive participation of youth from diverse backgrounds?
I believe that peace is a product and not a means. When one works as a peace builder, they are pretty much addressing issues that cuts across the board: accessibility to funds and resources, human rights, injustices, marginalisation, belonging, unemployment among others issues. So we pretty much address all the issues affecting the young and hence create an environment where we can all come with our specific issues and present a stronger case.
What has been your hardest struggle so far, and how did you get over it?
My hardest struggle has been the culture of corruption that has dominated everyone to think that nothing can be done. We have seen in recent times youth standing up strongly to force leaders to resign in Africa. The culture of impunity and big man syndrome has slowly started to be questioned and acted upon in Africa. I believe this is a good start and we shall continue to enlighten the community about their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
What is the biggest challenge you currently face?
Finding solutions for unemployment, Radicalization and marginalisation. These three have been the top most issues that continue to cause conflicts in the world.
What has been your biggest surprise on this journey so far?
The fact that I know so much about so little. You think you are helping other people but they end up helping you understand the world better.
What keeps you going and give you inspiration in your work? What gives you hope?
The fact that everyone (rich or poor) wants to help at some point. Human beings are awesome.
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Meet more people, listen to their stories and empathise with them.
What words of encouragement would you give to women, children, minorities, and other disempowered groups when they are facing rejection because of the prevailing cultural norm?
It is so unfortunate that some of us are given these labels but, we can choose to stand against these labels. As long as we work together to address our issues and putting efforts to make ourselves better and making sure our efforts are supported through policies and practice, and our efforts are amplified online and in our communities, we will be able to be heard. We need to speak up more for sustainable peace and conflict prevention. We cannot choose the families we are born into but we can choose to make ourselves better so take that step.
How can people interested to connect you reach you?( email, blog, website, linkedIn etc).
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Linked in Christine Odera