The Lari Memorial Peace Museum was registered on 29th May, 2001. It grew as a commitment to fight the hatred, suspicion, pain and unhealed wounds in the Lari community since the 1953 Lari massacre. The project started with meetings where the two sides shared their stories. Staff served as volunteers in the peace museum. In 2008, the Museum received its first financial support, from the Mennonite Central Committee, Kenya to support its work in schools.
Waihenya Njoroge founded the Lari Memorial Peace Museum in 2001. It is named after the Lari massacre of March 26, 1953, in which the nationalist Mau Mau attacked loyalists supporting the colonialists, in which more than 150 people were killed. The next morning, the colonial army killed many more in the villages, shooting others in the Kiriita and Uplands forests. Many who escaped death were tortured. The massacre left deep hatred in the Lari Community, and the enmity continues to the present day, handed down from one generation to the next. Waihenya’s grandfather was a key player in the Mau Mau, and Waihenya learned from him and his parents that there could be relationship whatsoever between their family and the loyalist families.
The need to cut this chain of enmity and hatred grew in Waihenya as he became older. He wanted to create a platform for the two divides to tell their story and journey towards a different future, of forgiveness and brotherhood. He faced stiff opposition from his own family. It was not easy facing members of the two divides. The nationalists felt betrayed by the loyalists and said so. The loyalists felt that with independence, they had been largely sidelined by the veterans. There was no way the two would agree to meet. However, the new volunteer Lari staff collected stories from the remnants of the massacre. The stories were narrated during the first memorial service in 2003. In 2004, the media featured the second healing memorial service. This was a major turning point for many who expressed their need for forgiveness. Since then, there has been no turning back and many other projects have been born.
The Lari Museum's objective is to become a leading regional organisation on matters of peacebuilding, through memorialising the Lari Massacre, helping to heal wounds and promoting peace amongst divided peoples with school and community resource centres and social media.
The Museum uses peace education and technology school peace clubs, inter-ethnic youth exchanges and peace training programs, as well as at community healing events and the cycle for life annual event. The main museum has a room with displays and media accounts of the Lari massacre. The organisation also responds to crisis needs: in 2008 it started “The Kenyan Beaded Tree of Peace,” which sought to bring sanity when Kenya was on fire following the disputed results of the 2007 presidential election. During the 2013 elections, it organised peace meetings between ethnic groups.
The Museum's staff includes the a coordinator, programs officer, accounts officer, two computer technicians and a computer trainer. The Board has eleven members, representing both ex-loyalists and veterans.
The Lari Museum aims to deal with ethnic hatred, suspicion and enmity in Kenya and their root causes, including generational divides, divisive politics, lack of community exposure, and illiteracy. Its projects include:
Peace education and technology for peace through schools’ peace clubs
The Museum initiated and supports 97 peace clubs in schools to promote a culture of peace among youth, through peacebuilding storytelling, and the sharing stories of hope and peace. Young people learn practical ways to solve conflict and improve communication among themselves. Each club is visited by staff once a term and guided through a manual. To ensure inter-ethnic bridges are constructed and maintained as part of the peace club’s agenda, it have a “computers for peace” activity. 23 computer labs with eight computers each were constructed, in which 133 school peace club leaders were trained. Students from all parts of Kenya share, interact and exchange ideas on Facebook and the Museums's social forum site, amanikenya.com/forum which promotes peace and inter-ethnic understanding. This comes against the backdrop of a quota system of education that restrains students to their areas of birth and therefore perpetuates a culture of division and an "us against them" feeling among young people.
Inter-ethnic youth exchange and peace-building training program
This project brings together youths from different ethnic communities who visit each other in their rural homes for several weeks during which time they eat, volunteer and socialise together. They learn to understand each other better, as well as being trained in peacebuilding, life skills, and pluralism. The participants go home to form community peace clubs within their own communities.
Community healing events
The Museum holds an annual event to continue the dialogue platform between the survivors of the 1953 massacre. This indigenous healing process involves coming together to plant peace trees as monuments of our journey towards forgiveness, telling our stories and seeking forgiveness.
The Cycle for Life: Build Peace, Stop AIDS annual event
In May 2011, the Lari Museum initiated the idea of young adults cycling from the Western corner of the country (Kisumu) to the Central region, preaching peace and prevention of HIV/AIDS. A team of 37 inter-ethnic peace cyclists drawn from the most polarised areas, officers from the Kenya Administration Police and donors took six days to complete the distance of 700 km stopping in schools, trading centers and Government Administrative Headquarters to talk about peace. This is now an annual event.
Theory of change
The Lari Project's theory of change is simple: If inter-ethnic social interactions are promoted amongst young people, inter ethnic understanding and tolerance among them will be made possible. Interaction is a tool for erasing negative stereotypes and perceptions of ethnicity, and the growing of understanding and respect for others.
This intervention is based on Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation theory as described by John Paul Lederach. This theory holds that societies enter into violent conflict owing to un-addressed systemic factors and relational disharmony. It therefore seeks to find long term solutions to systemic drivers of conflict such as the Lari massacre and other generational inter-ethnic conflicts endemic to Kenya; and to rebuild relationships through enhancing dialogue, negotiation and reconciliation through the peace clubs, social networking, peace exchanges and annual peace events.
In November 2012, the Lari Museum's major donor, MCCK, conducted an external project evaluation. The review team observed the following impact on the target beneficiaries:
- Peaceful school environments and co-existence by students of different backgrounds and ethnic communities.
- Students passing on information to other students and teachers and being innovative in the way they implement the project, with a lot of pride and confidence.
- Community members rising above ethnicity and standing up to be counted as peace builders and keepers.
- School management trusting peace club members to manage and resolve conflict in their school.
- Peace club members mobilising resources to support needy people among them (for example, paying school fees for poor classmates).
One of the Museum's objectives is to promote peace culture within children in schools. The External Evaluation Report collected case study stories of success from school principals and peace club members with whom they discussed the outcomes of the peace work as witnessed in school and in the larger community. These are some of these outcomes, as described by the review team:
Joram Mbui of Mbau-ini Primary school was fighting with another boy in school. Margaret, the head of Peace Club, separated them and went further to help them to settle their dispute amicably. Joram told us that the same day he went home and asked his mother for Kshs 20 for the peace club membership as he was impressed with Margaret’s action.
In Kanjuku Secondary school we met Helen. After gaining conflict resolution skills at the school’s peace club, she talked to her parents who always had wrangles between them. She showed them better ways of handling their conflicts without affecting her and things have since changed for the better in her family.
Evans Njoroge used to instigate other students to fight while Onesmus was a referee during such fights. When the two joined the peace club, the boys completely changed their behavior. This is witnessed by other students who are amazed at the transformation of the two boys. Evans and the peace club chair Francis were sworn enemies. But through the peace club, they have reconciled and serve together in the Club’s leadership. Peace club officials acted as mediators between students and administration when students threatened to riot over uncooked beans. Peace club officials talked to both parties and there was peace in the school.