This is a developing story. Watch for Updates.
I just learned that David Zarembka, aged 77, a very distinguished Friend from Baltimore Yearly meeting, who lived for more than a decade among Friends in Kenya, and his wife Gladys Kamonya, 73 have both succumbed to Covid. Both passed in Eldoret Kenya. Gladys Kamonya died on March 23, 2021; David died on April 1.
Below is his autobiographical sketch published in the book Passing The Torch. More to follow:
David Zarembka, in his own words: From Passing the Torch
I find the world an extremely interesting place and I participate in as many aspects of it that I can. Conversely, I don’t find myself very interesting at all and therefore don’t often write much about my life’s 76 year journey. This article therefore is a major exception.
In order to understand where I ended up, I have to explain where I came from. Although it might seem that my life has been unconventional, it really hasn’t been when one considers where I came from and how I grew up.
My paternal great-grandfather, Mathias Zarembka, came from then Russian-occupied Poland to the United States to work. Those were the good, ole days in the late 19th century when people could just come and go. He stayed in the US for seven years and then went back. He had seven children, six of whom immigrated to the US, while only one remained in Poland. My grandfather, Frank Zarembka, immigrated to the US in March/April 1914.
If he had waited a few months longer, the guns of August which started World War I would have begun, and he probably would have been drafted into the Russian army where the ill-equipped and untrained Polish soldiers were mowed down by the Germans. He left behind my grandmother, Lotti Wilant (notice the German name although she knew of no connection to Germany), and my one-year old father, Richard Zarembka. They were not able to immigrate to the US until 1921 when the family reunification act was passed in the United States. They lived in St. Louis in the Polish section of town. My grandfather worked for St. Louis Coal and Ice and pulled ice from the ground to be cut up in blocks to be put in iceboxes. Even when I knew him as a child, he was physically very strong.
My maternal grandfather was Ernest Elmer Colvin. He was a newspaper man. My Mom, Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, was a great family storyteller so I have lots of old stories. My grandmother was so worried about my grandfather when the Associated Press in St. Louis assigned him to cover the 1919 so-called “race riots” in East St. Louis – it was actually just a massacre of what were then called Negroes. When he retired around 1954, he was copy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. My maternal grandmother, Flora Scott Colvin, died even before my parents were married. She had grown up in Kansas City where my grandparents met. She and her sister, Fanny, started the first kindergarten in Kansas City. Each morning they would hitch up the horse and pick up the kids for school – something that women were not supposed in those old days. So, my roots run deep.
My grandfather Colvin had an unmarried younger sister, Joy Ester Colvin, who worked for the YWCA which was then quite a radical group as it tried to improve the conditions of all the new immigrants. Auntie Joy, as we called her, was our favorite as she would visit us for a week once every year or two from New Bedford, MA, where she was the head of the local YMCA branch. She was a pacifist (she signed the non-violence pledge for the Fellowship of Reconciliation), a suffragette, probably a lesbian, and greatly concerned with social issues. When she was dying in 1972, I told her that my wife, Rodah, and I had agreed to name our expected child, if a girl, after her (a very African custom). So my daughter is Joy Mutanu (meaning “joy” in my wife’s Kamba language) Zarembka. Our son, Thomas Mutinda Zarembka was born a year and a half later.
Even my running off to foreign lands is just a replay. My Mom’s uncle, Don Colvin, had gone to the University of Kansas for two years and then decided to go to Mexico for adventure. He soon became involved in building railroads there for the American capitalists. He stayed through the 1912 Mexican Revolution and then continued on building railroads for the newly nationalized Mexican railroads. Shortly thereafter he was sleeping in a rail car for the night and a flash flood swept the car away and he drowned.
My parents, Richard Zarembka and Helen Jane Colvin Zarembka, were married in 1940. At that time this was considered a “mixed marriage” because my Dad was of Catholic background and my Mom of Protestant background. My mother graduated in math and astronomy from the University of Missouri in Columbia. She commented to me that she was frequently the only female in her science/math classes. My father only took a few college courses. They met while playing violin at the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra. Dad was first violinist and Mom was third violinist. The conductor noticed that sparks were flying so he asked the second violinist if he would change places with my Mom so that my Mom and Dad could share the same music stand. Fortunately for my existence, he agreed.
I suspect that I was conceived as a war exemption. My Dad’s attitude to being a soldier was somewhat on the line that “it was foolish to join the army and be killed.” At the beginning of WWII, only unmarried men were drafted. He was married. When married men were drafted if they did not have children, my brother, Paul, was born in 1942. When married men with one child were drafted, I was born just a year after my brother in 1943. My speculation is that our closeness in age is why I was a result of resistance to fighting in war. During the war my father worked at the Chrysler factory making ammunition. At night he began taking pictures of the soldiers off to the wars and their girlfriends or wives.
This began his photography business that was his occupation for the rest of his life. It was a one-person occupation except during the busy time right before Christmas when my Mom would go to help out. In those days, when taking a picture was still difficult, his specialty was taking pictures of children. He never failed to get a smiling picture of the child – I remember one picture where the child was smiling with tears coming from his eyes. Later when cameras became much easier to use and began snapping shots of their kids, he began taking wedding pictures which he didn’t enjoy nearly as much as taking the pictures of kids. I estimate that he took pictures at 700 weddings.
It always concerns me that, if one is white, one is assumed to come from a prejudiced background. This was certainly not my case. Most Americans are not aware that in 1901 when President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to have lunch at the White House, there was such a negative reaction that no president did it again for 38 years. This was in 1939 when Eleanor Roosevelt invited Marian Anderson to lunch following her outdoor concert after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to rent the hall for her concert. It seems ridiculous now, but before the Second World War, around 90 percent of the white population would not sit down and eat with a Negro. (What were those 1950s sit-ins all about?) Even in those early days before WWI, my Mom told me, her parents would eat lunch together with the Negro help.
Once when Mom was in high school, she sat on the streetcar next to a Negro girl. One of her white friends chastised her for this. Mom says she dropped that white girl as a friend. Note: My present wife, Gladys Kamonya, lived in Pakistan for three years and she told me that in all those years not one Pakistani, male or even female, would sit next to her on the bus. In her usual good humor, her comment was that she always had the seat to herself.
Until I was in the sixth grade, I went to segregated schools. The summer camp that the Clayton School District ran was not segregated so I knew all the colored kids. I was well aware of this inconsistency. When Brown vs the Board of Education ended segregation, my Mom was totally supportive of the case and glad my school would be integrated which it did the next September. When I was first married to an African – only two years after state laws against interracial marriages where outlawed by the Supreme Court – and my parents were at a function where someone sitting at the table complained about interracial marriage, my Mom replied, “My son has done that and I don’t see anything wrong with it.” She then got up and left the table in a huff.
I have one brother, Paul, a year older than me; a sister, Elaine, who is two and a half years younger than me; and a second sister, Arlene, who is four and a half years younger. I am right in the mainstream of my siblings. Paul Zarembka is a Marxian economics professor at the University of Buffalo. If you want to succeed as an economist in the United States, don’t be a Marxist. Be a disciple of Milton Friedman’s school of neo-liberalism. He is also the editor of a book called, The Hidden History of 9/11, which challenges the official government explanation of that event. This also is hardly mainstream America. When he was appointed chair of the economics department at the University of Buffalo, the local paper headlined this with something like “Communist takes over the University of Buffalo.”
My sister, Elaine Belmaker, went to Radcliffe/Harvard College, married an American of Jewish descent, and studied medicine at Duke University. In 1976 the couple moved to Israel where she still lives. She became the head of medical services in the Negev, the desert southern part of Israel. One of her major endeavors was to develop medical services for Bedouin who prior to that had almost no medical services. She first had to just train Bedouin translators, then developed programs to train Bedouin nurses, and after winning their confidence worked on projects to assess the numerous genetic issues among the Bedouin because they only marry within their own small clan.
Lastly my sister, Arlene Zarembka, who attended Swarthmore College and St. Louis University Law School, is a lesbian lawyer in St. Louis. In 1986 she had a ceremony of commitment with Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, a biologist at University of Missouri, St Louis. All our family attended, and my parents had absolutely no problem with this relationship. My Dad’s attitude for this and most everything else us eclectic kids did was, “If that is what makes you happy, then fine.” Arlene and Zuleyma are real political activists.
Then I need to mention that in 1962 when my brother and I were at college and our bedroom was open, for a year my parents hosted a female Japanese foreign exchange student, Michiko Shimizu, who attended our local high school. This was quite bold so soon after World War II. One of my uncles refused to meet her because he had fought the Japanese during WWII. Our families have remained close ever since. This led my parents to host Mrs. Abe, one of the Japanese atomic bomb survivors under a program arranged by Quaker Barbara Reynolds from the Wilmington College’s Peace Resource Center.
As you can see, I am not outside the mainstream of my family background. Therefore, from my vantage point, nothing I have done is particularly unusual.
Let me now turn to myself. I was born in St. Louis, MO, in 1943, but my family moved to the suburb, Clayton, in 1946. They chose to move there because the Clayton Public Schools were considered the best public-school system in Missouri. I attended the Clayton Public Schools from pre-kindergarten through high school. Its reputation was well deserved.
When I was in third grade, 9 years old, I asked my teacher, “If 2 minus 1 is equal 1, then 1 minus 2 is equal minus 1.” My teacher hesitated, looked at me, and replied, “No, no, no. When you do subtraction, you have to put the bigger number on the top.” From her hesitation, I realized that she was lying. I learned early to “question authority”. One should not underestimate a child.
Sometime while in high school, I realized that, if I didn’t spend money, I didn’t have to earn it. If I didn’t have to earn a lot of money for an expensive lifestyle, then I could be myself and do what I wanted. I would not need to join the “rat race.” As part of this I never smoked (as over 50% of the males did at this time), drank, did drugs, gambled, or any other wasteful, self-indulgent activity.
When I was in 9th grade, I took Latin. Near the end of the year, we took a national Latin examination. Our teacher prepped us for about a week before the exam. I clearly remember her telling the class to have a look at pages XYZ concerning gerunds because we hadn’t yet covered that in class. (If you don’t know what a gerund is, don’t worry; it’s unimportant.) I looked up the section on gerunds and found that it was easy to make one in Latin. When the test came, the last question was on making a gerund. I easily figured that one out. When the results came in later, I and two of my classmates received a mark of 96 or more. I got 98, meaning I missed only one regular question. A student who got over 96 points received a certificate of merit. Since the last gerund question was worth five points, I had to have answered this correctly in order to earn the certificate.
Since three of us had received the high marks, the school was awarded a trophy. At a school assembly the three of us were paraded in front of all the other students and teachers and lauded for our results to the pride of our school. The trophy was displayed in a glass case in the hall near the front door with all the other athletic trophies the school had earned. This award solidified my reputation as a bright, outstanding student in the school. As a result in the future teachers had great expectations from me and I responded according, never receiving anything below an A and graduating second or third in my class rankings.
This was a fraud. A few years after taking the exam when I was still in high school, I was talking with that Latin teacher. She told me that she had opened the exam before we took it, realized the gerund question was important, and therefore coached us. Perhaps she had coached us on other questions she knew were going to be asked. She said she did this because Latin was then going out of fashion being replaced by French and Spanish, so she needed to “prove” that Latin was important. I was horrified. I helped win that trophy for the school because she cheated. I didn’t earn it, as I had thought, on my own merits. Yes, I understand that it was the teacher who cheated and not me, but then I had been manipulated in the teacher’s interest. It’s over 60 years later and I am still ashamed that I received inappropriate credit for something I did not do fair and square.
This great, partly unearned, reputation got me into Harvard College. In the early 1960s, Harvard College had decided to diversify from the mostly New England/New York City private school students that were the vast majority of the students at that time. There were only twelve out of 1200 students in my freshman class from the state of Missouri. I was an affirmative action student. I was from the Midwest, went to a public school, and had a non-English last name. I received a scholarship of $1000, my parents put in $1000, and I had to earn $1000 per year for a total of $3,000. It now costs $78,200 per year to attend Harvard College. I graduated from college with no debt to pay off, so I was then free to do whatever fancied me the most.
My classmates at Harvard included a 17th generation of Lowells who had attended Harvard, Theodore Roosevelt, IV, and many others with “proper” backgrounds. There were a few African-American students and some foreigners including a few Africans. During my first weeks at Harvard – I went 10 days early to help clean dormitory rooms in order to help pay my share – I must have been told fifty times that now I had entered the elite world of Harvard students that were superior to other people (including people from Yale) and were destined to rule the United States and the world.
I didn’t believe a word of this superiority complex. I realized that my fellow students were not much different from the students I had attended high school with, some who did not end up going to college at all and many who went to local public colleges. As you can surmise, I didn’t feel that I fit in.
I had no difficulty with the academics – some of those private school graduates, including one of my roommates my freshman year, were as lazy as they could be without flunking out. I hardly ever missed a class because I calculated how much each class cost of that $3000 and didn’t want to miss what I was paying for. My Mom was disapproving when I told her that I had gone to Goodwill and spent $15 to buy a second-hand coat because at Harvard we had to wear a coat for all meals and it would spoil the nice blue suit my parents had bought me when I went off to college.
My expectation of not becoming one of America’s ruling elite was due to something that happened just before I graduated from high school. I was born on May 6 and during my senior year in high school, just before I graduated but after I knew I was accepted to Harvard, I had to sign up for the draft. One spring sunny summer day as I walked across Shaw Park from my high school to register for the draft, I realized that I couldn’t kill anyone and, although I didn’t know anything about it, I signed up to be a conscientious objector (CO).
At least I didn’t remember that I knew anything about conscientious objection. My Mom’s second cousin, Dan Suits, had been a CO during WWII. (He later became a Quaker, an economist, and a member of Ann Arbor Meeting). Since he and his five brothers grew up in St. Louis, I may have met him when I was a child. If so, I don’t remember him. I do remember that his parents, Hollis and Dorothy Suite, and our family often had dinner together either at our house or their house. My Mom had told me about Dan, stating that she respected his decision to be a CO, but that she did not agree with it because the United States had to defeat fascism. My parents did not express any reservations to me about being a CO.
The 1950s and early 1960s when I grew up were the height of hysterical anti-communism. The minister of the Episcopal Church I attended would sometimes preach on how we should kill the godless communists, which wasn’t what I was reading in the New Testament. If I were a conscientious objector, I realized that I would never be a part of the establishment, but a non-conformist outside the mainstream of American life. This was fine with me, even at 18 years old. Looking back, I am satisfied that I realized this at 18 rather than much later when much of the “damage” would have been done.
In 1961, which was well before the Vietnam War interest in conscientious objection, the only people who were given that status were Quakers, Amish, Mennonite, and Church of the Brethren members. My Episcopal Church was hardly a recommendation for CO status. In those days, to become a CO, one had to fill out a detailed questionnaire to “prove” that you were sincere and not just a “chicken” afraid to die for your beloved country.
I realized that I needed to study up. Somehow lost in the mist of my memory, I went to the Book Nook bookstore in town and found Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You. The first chapter includes a discussion of the pacifism of the British Quakers. Since I am now better informed, I recently re-read this chapter and I see that it is not particularly accurate. Yet it was good enough for me to decide to attend the Friends Meeting at Cambridge. I was hooked from the first time I went. No problems with the pacifism, simplicity, equality, and so on. I had already determined these values on my own.
I joined a Quaker meeting for a very bad reason. In 1971 I moved to Pittsburgh and with my then wife, Rodah, began attending Pittsburgh Meeting. When she became pregnant, I remembered that, if the child were a birth-right Quaker, it would be easier for him (if the child were a boy) to become a CO. We applied to become members and were accepted. I have been a member/attendee of Pittsburgh, Rockland, Yellow Springs, Bethesda, St. Louis, and Lumakanda Friends Meetings.
In the end, my Clayton draft board did accept me as a conscientious objector. In 1968 I was in Kenya, starting the Mua Hills Harambee Secondary School. The military sent me a notice to attend a medical induction in Italy so that I could be assigned to alternative service. Wow, what should I do? By this time my sister, Arlene, who was a student at Swarthmore College, was a draft counselor. She advised me to wait until the day of the appointment and then send a letter saying that I would be unable to attend. By the time they would respond I would be 26 years old and no longer subject to military alternative service.
I never heard from them again.
[Note: Excerpt from American Friends Service Committee, Acting in Faith, April 12, 2016.]
And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
— Mark 12:17
While most people have interpreted this verse from the New Testament to indicate that they are required to pay taxes to the government, I have a different interpretation. In 1961 when I turned eighteen, I applied to become a conscientious objector to military service. I did not feel that I should participate in killing other human beings. Shortly thereafter I realized that it would be hypocritical, if I was unwilling to do it myself, to pay others to kill on my behalf. This passage says to me: I must first give to God that which belongs to God. The New Testament clearly states that we ought to love our enemies. When Caesar demands that I should participate in activities contrary to God’s will, then it is my duty to put God first and resist Caesar.
When Jesus was walking and preaching in Galilee and up to Jerusalem, people believed in many gods. There were family gods, town/village gods, and other local gods. But the greatest god was Caesar himself who was a god with temples, statues, and obligations to Roman imperial power – much like our reverence for the United States where we pledge allegiance and support with our taxes. In those days some Jews and early Christian got into trouble because they would not participate in the worship of that Caesar god.
With about fifty years of war tax resistance (WTR) activities, during which my life situation and the tax code has changed, I have had many experiences and I AM STILL ALIVE. When I talk to people about WTR, I find that many of them fear Caesar (the IRS) like an all-knowing, all-seeing god. The reality is that the IRS is a mess and the first rule in dealing with them is to make a copy of all documents you sent to them and take them with you when you visit their office since they probably can’t find a good number of them. Let me review some of my experiences.
During the Vietnam War, there was a 3% telephone tax to support that military aggression. At that point this was the main war tax I was required to pay – I resisted it. I did not feel that I should voluntarily pay for this war making and it was important for me to resist even if interest and penalties were added. After a few years, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) placed a levy on my wages for $39 for resisted taxes, interest, and penalties.
It is clear that it cost the IRS more than $39 to collect this tax so in a sense I took some additional funds from the war-making machine. I also kept exact records of my resisted telephone tax each month and my calculations were that at that point I owed them $84 in resisted telephone tax. In other words that almighty Caesar failed to collect about $50 that I owed. As my war tax resistance continued, I found that frequently they did not collect the amounts that they were legally entitled to. This meant that to some extent my resistance was financially successful in keeping the government from getting what they demanded from me.
I always gave away my resisted war taxes to life-enhancing organizations which, naturally, included many Quaker ones — these organizations benefited from my resistance. One year, due to a quirk of life and the tax code, I resisted over $6,000 and gave it all to worthy organizations – usually it was more like $300 (in my early years) to $1500.
At times I had a regular salaried job and I resisted the war-related part of the taxes which in the 1970’s was about 33% for current and past wars as calculated by the War Resister League each year — now it is closer to 50% as the American Empire has expanded at the expense of domestic needs.
For three years in a row, I was called in by the IRS for a tax audit. Since my income and tax returns were simple – I didn’t make that much money – this was no problem. I was told that this was a randomly generated audit, but then the only other tax resister I knew at that time in Pittsburgh, Marian Hahn, was always called in for an audit at the same time. The second year the agent I met with wanted to disallow one of my deductions which I was clearly entitled to. I filed for a hearing on the issue. The hearing lasted about 30 seconds since the IRS agent at the hearing immediately realized that I was correct. Then after the IRS audited me two years in a row with no change and wanted to audit me for the third year, I showed them the IRS regulation that they couldn’t audit me for the third year. I walked out of the office without being audited. I realized that the IRS did not have godlike qualities.
One year when I was audited, I went in and the IRS agent was clearly quite tense. As soon as I told her that I was a war tax resister, she relaxed. Since my letter on why I was resisting war taxes was not in my file, I had to give her my copy for her to duplicate for my IRS file. After she read it, she asked to be excused and went out of the room for about five minutes. She then came in and asked me if I would be willing to write a check to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in lieu of one to the IRS.
I had ten seconds to think and made one of the greatest mistakes of my peacemaking career. I said, “No.” While this is illegal, I should have said “yes” to see what would have happened with my check and if it would have been credited to my tax liability. If this had worked, there never would have been the need for the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund for us war tax conscientious objectors. I think there are sufficient court cases that determine that this cannot be legally done.
About 1983 I was assessed a $500 frivolous fine for not paying the amount I owed and sending in a letter of explanation. When I told my ten-year-old son, Tommy, about this, his reaction was “You are going to lose.” I asked why and he replied, “The government pays the judges.” My case was taken up by the Pittsburgh ACLU, consolidated with similar cases in Philadelphia, went to court, and we all lost as Tommy predicted.
About this time, I attended the organizing meeting for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) and was its treasurer for a number of years. It is a great organization for those resisting or considering resisting war taxes.
Later I realized that even if I paid some taxes to the IRS, they would still take 33% to 50% of what I paid for war-making. I sometimes lived below the taxable income, stopped filing, and worked as an independent contractor. My contact with the IRS then diminished considerably, although I would sometimes get letters from them in Spanish because I lived in a neighborhood outside of DC with many Latino neighbors.
I always paid my state taxes and gave away my resisted war taxes so that I received no private financial benefit from my resistance.
Now I live in Kenya and I am so below the taxable income that it is embarrassing. The taxable income for someone living overseas is in excess of $70,000, a fortune for my modest income and living standard. The IRS did attach a savings account for some back taxes they say I owed. Since the savings interest rate was .05%, this amounted to about 25 cents per year (again costing them more to collect than they did collect). Nonetheless I closed the savings account. The IRS has also attached 15% of my social security benefits for a past tax liability – I do not know why. I have asked the IRS for an explanation, but they have never responded.
My resistance has not curtailed the expansion of the US military-industrial complex, but that is not why I am a war tax resister. I resist because I don’t want to participate in killing people, directly or indirectly. I have lived the life as I wanted to live without letting the IRS god determine my choices. Quaker simplicity has surely helped out a lot in my resistance.
Let me end with a joke, sort of. I was once at a NWTRCC meeting and a young couple of war tax resisters announced that they were getting married but would have no children because they didn’t want their children to have to “suffer” from their war tax resistance. Wow, I didn’t realize that my kids might be suffering from my resistance. Fortunately for my children, they had already been born and I couldn’t put them back in the womb.
I don’t think my children, or even I myself, have suffered a bit because of my war tax resistance. In fact it has made me a more caring, compassionate person since I realized that I shouldn’t aspire to making a large income. It also keeps me aware that I was an outsider to the so-called “American Dream” as a non-participant in America’s war making that sustains American affluence. Moreover, there is no doubt that my involvement in peacemaking in East Africa is the flip side to my war tax resistance — I not only need to oppose militarism but work to restore peace and reconciliation to places that have been beset by violence and war.
I didn’t want to be cloistered in the Harvard College bubble. Phillips Brooks House was a student-run social service agency founded in 1900. I quickly signed up as a volunteer and was assigned once a week in the afternoon to tutor high school students at a settlement house in Cambridge, the hometown of Harvard College. I continued this for my first three years at Harvard. In my third year I also volunteered for a project at a Roxbury public school that gave away free paperback books to elementary school students.
Two of my fellow volunteers in this project were Alison Liebhafsky Des Forges (later to become the major researcher for Human Rights Watch on the 1994 Rwandan genocide) and Karen Weisskopf Worth. As participants in a Phillips Brooks House program called Volunteer Teachers for Africa, they had spent the previous summer teaching Rwandan refugees in northwestern Tanzania. They encouraged me to apply which I did.
The placement was for a year so I would need to take a year off from college. I was accepted but, since I was then only twenty years old and the age of maturity was then twenty-one years, I had to get the permission of my parents. My Mom sent me a most encouraging response of approval.
I was so grateful for this warm approval. It is only later when I was organizing work camps for the African Great Lakes Initiative that I realized that even in the Twentieth-First century many parents will not agree to have their child go off to Africa. My Dad was accepting with the proviso that I come back after the year off and finish my last year at Harvard. I agreed to this, although I have to admit that this last year at college after my year of adventures in Tanzania was the most difficult year of my life.
I was assigned for the year to teach Rwandan refugees at Muyenzi Refugee Camp in northwestern Tanzania and was paired with Randy Kehler, who later became noted for being a war resister (he sent two years in jail for protesting the Vietnam War), the founding director of the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, and then led a large resistance after his house was seized by the IRS for resisting war taxes.
I considered this a great opportunity to see another part of the world. I wanted to see how people in a remote part of the world lived – that is, remote from the worlds of Clayton and Cambridge. How were they the same? How were they different?
Yet there were deeper questions I wanted to consider. What values did I have that were important, core ones that I could not give up without giving up myself? What values were just superficial characteristics I had picked up while growing up and were not essential to my personhood? I have to admit that after my so safe cultural upbringing, there was a sense of adventure, a sense of wanting to see the unknown, and to discover those places difficult for me to imagine.
As I expected, the fourteen months I spent teaching Rwandan refugees in Muzenzi Refugee Camp in northwest Tanzania were adventurous. Halfway through the year, the UN High Commission for Refugees cut off the rations to the refugees. This led to a famine in the camp and half of my students migrated elsewhere. I have written an un-published book on this called The Unnecessary Famine, but I don’t think I can insert it into this article. While I sent it out to a number of publishers, I didn’t receive even a nibble. I think that this was because, unlike so many books I have read about personal experiences in Africa, my book did not come with the tone of the White knight coming to rescue the primitive Africans from their precarious existence.
After I finished college, I decided to return to the Tanzania by joining the US Peace Corps. I was accepted into a settlement scheme program and was trained for 13 weeks at Syracuse University. Here I learned Swahili.
At that time in order to be in the Peace Corps one had to sign a loyalty oath. I had already decided that I would refuse to sign and see what the consequences would be. We were told that we would be given the oath on our plane ride over to Tanzania. This never happened to I don’t know what would have been the result of this refusal.
At the Rwamkoma Settlement Scheme where I was posted, the camp director was stealing money in every possible way. When the assistant director and I went to the local chief to report on what was happening, the Peace Corps (quite correctly, I think) pulled me out of that placement. I have to admit that I was happy to leave such a negative situation.
This was in 1968 and by this time, relations between the US government and the Tanzanian government were nose-diving. The reason for this is hard to believe these days. The country of Tanganyika had recognized West Germany and the then independent island of Zanzibar had recognized East Germany. When the two countries united to become Tanzania, President Nyerere decided to recognize both East and West Germany. This was verboten to the US government and the relations deteriorated. Among other things, no new Peace Corps volunteers were assigned to Tanzania. As a result, the Peace Corps moved me to Kenya.
In Kenya I finished up my last eight months teaching math at a secondary school. In the meantime, I had run into one of the teachers from my Peace Corps training, Kivuto Ndeti, who asked me to start a harambee (self-help) high school in his home in the Mua Hills. This I did starting in September 1968 with school opening in January 1969. I was headmaster of that school for the next two years. After I left, the school became the Mua Hills Girls Secondary School. It is classified as a national school in the highest category of secondary schools in Kenya.
In May 1969, I married Rodah Wayua Malinda, a local woman from the Mua Hills. By this time it was difficult for a white foreigner to be principal of a school so I resigned and became a trainer for a Peace Corps group. Rodah wanted to go to the United States and I knew it would be difficult for me to find adequate employment in Kenya. We moved to the US in December 1970.
After returning to the United States, I got a job at the University of Pittsburgh designing a computer assisted math primary school program. As a side benefit, this allowed me at minimal cost to get a master’s degree in International Development and Education.
Beginning in 1972, one interesting endeavor I participated in was the Pittsburgh Quaker Community where I was the founding treasurer for the first six years. We borrowed funds from the older, established members of Pittsburgh Friends Meeting, for a down payment on a large, old Victorian house in a transitional area of Pittsburgh. We then rented out the rooms to six people connected with the meeting.
After a year or two the Pittsburgh Quaker Community bought a second house across the street from the first. This one had a room on the first floor which we turned into a bedroom for elderly members of the meeting so that this became an intergenerational house. Three members/attenders of the meeting also bought houses nearby – our house was about a mile away. Addition a few more people rented apartments nearby. When we bought the houses, we had numerous work parties to clean up and paint them. There was a weekly potluck.
Within five years we had paid off the members of the meeting. At the time this housing project was significant and helpful. As Alida Harris, one of the elderly residents, said, “I don’t want to go into a retirement home because I want to be around young people.” A couple of marriages resulted from this project. I was no longer in Pittsburgh when the Pittsburgh Quaker Community was laid down. The houses were sold and netted the meeting about $50,000 in profit – a lot for those days. I understand its interest is still being used to sponsor Pittsburgh Quakers to attend Quaker meetings and conferences.
With the East End Cooperative Ministries, I was Principal of the Penn Circle Community High School for two years. It was an alternative high school in those chaotic but exciting times. Since it depended upon VISTA volunteers for its teaching staff, it was always precarious and lasted about fifteen years. Likewise, I helped found a group home for six teenage girls. It was later bought by a larger organization with many group homes and they changed it to a group home for boys.
In 1977, after Black activist Steve Biko died from injuries suffered while in a South African prison, I became involved with the anti-apartheid movement. I worked through Pittsburgh Meetings’ Peace Center.
From 1980 to 1984 I was treasurer of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting (LEYM) which had its account at Pittsburgh National Bank (then PNC). In 1982, I think, South Africa’s economy was going bankrupt and a consortium of American banks including PNC bailed out South Africa with massive loans. I wrote a letter to PNC objecting to their participation in this bailout and said that LEYM would remove the yearly meeting account to another bank. I circulated copies of the letter as widely as I could. It was well received by the membership of LEYM, but the clerk of the yearly meeting gave me a dressing down by not following “proper Quaker procedure.” I took the “heat” but knew that some things were more important than “proper Quaker procedure.”
In 1985 I was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South Africa embassy in DC. Shortly thereafter I arranged a US speaking tour for Jackie Williams, a colored South African associated with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This was a prelude to the many speaking tours that beginning in 2002 I, as Coordinator for the African Great Lakes Initiative, arranged for East African activists to publicize their peace work in the US and Canada.’
I was also very involved with my children, Joy and Tommy. I coached their baseball and soccer (both outdoor and indoor) teams for years. When Tommy entered second grade at the local racially mixed elementary school, there were four reading classes based on ability. They were named after birds. Although Tommy was then reading the comics and sports pages of the newspaper, the teacher put him in the lowest group. This group consisted of only African-American boys. It was called the “Blackbirds”.
To me the racism was blatant. I went in and complained to the teacher. She “promoted” him to the second from bottom group. I was not satisfied so I complained to the principal and Tommy was placed in the second from the top group.
I separated from my wife, Rodah, in 1985. In order to create QFT, “quality family time”, as Joy called it, in the summer of 1986, Joy, Tommy, and I drove across the country from New York to California and back, taking six weeks. I had an old Dodge Ram van and we put mattresses to sleep on and agreed to eat at McDonalds no more than once every two days. We mostly ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruits.
Each day I would get up as the sun rose during the long summer days, drive to the next site under Tommy’s assessment from the maps, spend the day sightseeing, and then drove some more in the evening before dark and slept in rest stops which you were then allowed to do in the west in those days. It was a great, memorable adventure.
As the kids grew older and went to college, they would work with me in my home repair business during the summers. Joy became great as a painter and Tommy did a better job of cleaning up than I would usually do myself.
In 1985 I left Pittsburgh to become the Business Manager of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack, New York. I visited Nyack for interviews, and in the final interview, I said the organization was sexist and racist. I thought this ended my chances of being hired, but they hired me anyway. I assumed they wanted me to work on correcting these inequalities. Two Quakers who had previously worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) told me that, since it was a mainstream, paternalistic Protestant organization, it was difficult for Quakers to survive in its environment.
They were correct. I lasted less than two years. While the organization gave lip-service to sexual and racial equality, when I implemented programs to rectify this, I lost the hierarchy’s support and was dismissed.
One of my responsibilities at the FOR was to take care of the massive 44-room mansion where it was housed. I soon realized that the people I hired to repair the building were making much more money than I was. Moreover, their time was much more flexible.
When I left the FOR, I needed to earn income and started working with the group I had formerly hired. This turned into my main income source for the next twenty years: repairing houses. Whenever I moved to a new place, I would stand up in Quaker meeting and announce, “Does anyone need their house repaired?”
I never ran out of work. I started charging $10 per hour and, when I ended this and moved to Kenya, I was charging $50 per hour. As my son, Tommy, complained to me, I was undercharging since this kind of work usually cost $100 per hour. Once my Mom commented that I was doing this repair work “between jobs.” I corrected her saying, “No, this was my job.” Clearly my Harvard education was not a prerequisite for this work.
While I easily earned enough to live on in my simple style, the great advantage for me in the home repair business was the flexibility. After I left the FOR in Nyack, NY, a friend told me that Yellow Springs, OH, was as near as possible to the Garden of Eden in the US. So, I moved there for a little over two years. One interesting activity I did was to teach the introduction to writing and English literature at Lebanon Prison as part of Wilmington College, Ohio, a Quaker college sponsored by Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
In 1988, I moved to Montgomery County, Maryland, and moved my membership to Bethesda Friends Meeting.
In 1989, Joy and Tommy suggested we do another QFT (quality family time) adventure. At this point my old friend from my Harvard African experience, Randy Kehler, and his wife, Betsy Corner, were having their house seized for failure to pay federal income taxes as they opposed war-making. There was a constant vigil to keep their house from being repossessed.
I suggested to Joy and Tommy that we could go there for a week and be part of an affinity group from the Washington, DC, area. To my surprise, they agreed. I think it was because they knew Randy and liked him very much. It was a nice week.
One of the adventures I had in 1996 was to spend a month in Boligee, Alabama, helping to rebuild three of the 145 Black churches that had been destroyed by arsonists. The following summer Tommy and I went to South Carolina for a week to help rebuild another burnt Black church.
In 1993 I met Quaker singer Susan Stark whom I had known from Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. I then began distributing her musical tapes for her. Bethesda Meeting also nominated me to the support committee for Patricia Loring’s release from Bethesda Meeting to write her two books called Listening Spirituality. In 1995 I connected with Annette Breiling who wanted to start a Quaker school. I joined her as Chair of the Board of Friends Meeting School. We found an ideal 55 acre lot in Ijamville, Maryland, in next door Frederick County and began classes in 1997. I resigned in 2000 when I moved to St. Louis. The school now goes from kindergarten through high school.
I met Gladys Kamonya, my present wife, at Bethesda Meeting in the summer of 1995. She was taking care of the two children of a doctor couple. The wife was of Indian descent from Kenya and her mother had recruited Gladys to take care of the children. They were attending Sidwell Friends School summer camp and she saw the sign, Bethesda Friends Meeting (Quakers) which met on the Sidwell School campus. Since she was raised as a Kenyan Quaker, she decided to attend the meeting. When Sunday came, she got all dressed up in the usual Kenyan Sunday best and arrived at meeting at 7:00 AM — as they do in Kenya.
No one was there. Fortunately, it was a nice day, so she sat there alone for about two more hours, then went home.
Gladys went again the next Sunday at the correct time. I was not there that day. Mary Holmes, a member of the meeting, whose husband had served in the 1960s in the US embassy in Kenya, talked with her.
She asked Gladys if she had any family in the DC area. Gladys said, “No.” She asked if she had any relatives in the United States and Gladys again responded, “No.” Mary, who has told me this story numerous times, then commiserated with Gladys with not having any family around. Gladys response was, “But you (Quakers) are my family.” Mary thought that was so cute.
This actually indicates a profound difference between Kenyans and Americans. When I once gave a talk at Baltimore Yearly Meeting and related this story, I then asked, “Could you go to Kenya and meet the Quakers there and consider them your family?” I was told by someone in attendance that this was not well received.
Gladys and I married in November 1999 under the care of Sandy Spring Meeting. At that time, I was clerk of the Seneca Valley Worship Group under the care of Sandy Spring Meeting. It was a traditional silent Quaker marriage with somewhat over 100 people attending. Lowell Christy made sure that we had goat (the favorite meat of Kenyans) for the potluck after the wedding.
My Dad had died in St. Louis in January 1999 when I was in Rwanda. My Mom who has Alzheimer’s was put in a nursing home, but she needed attention and care. So, in May 2000 Gladys and I moved to St. Louis to help out. As usual I stood up in meeting there and asked if anyone needed their house fixed. I also renovated the third floor of the World Community Center, the office of most of the peace/justice organizations in St. Louis. And I bought three run-down houses and renovated them.
[Note: By 2007, Dave’s mother had died, and the couple gathered their resources and soon built a house in Lukamanda in western Kenya. Dave has lived and pursued his ministry of peace work there ever since. He notes that in the U.S., their house and its comforts would be considered modest, barely middle class; in Kenya he and Gladys are “rich.” This is one of many sharp contrasts that have been driven home for him in his U.S. — Kenyan odyssey. Others, as shown below, have to do with the Quakerism both countries have, at least superficially, “in common.”]
[Abridged From October 2019 issue of Friends Journal, “Life at Lumakanda Friends Church]
My wife, Gladys Kamonya, a Kenyan, and I, an American, are members of both Bethesda Meeting of Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Lumakanda Friends Church of Lugari Yearly Meeting. When you look at the Friends World Committee for Consultation’s (FWCC) total of Friends worldwide, be sure to subtract two from their total since we are counted twice.
I must admit that I prefer the silent, unprogrammed worship of Bethesda Meeting. On the other hand, as a child, my parents sent me to an Episcopal Church. The programmed worship of that church with singing, prayers, preaching, offering, announcements, marriages, and funerals, was similar to Lumakanda Friends Church. Both sing the same songs: “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”; “Onward Christian Soldiers”; “Rock of Ages” (for funerals); and all the same Christmas carols. The difference is that most of the songs here are sung in Swahili.
The differences between the Quaker church and other churches, though, are important. One major difference is that there are many female Quaker preachers in Kenya, contrary to the other churches in the area. During the 2008 post-election violence, 32 pastors – all male – asked Friends Church Peace Teams (Kenya) to conduct a peace seminar at the local internally displaced people’s camp. Three of its four presenters were women. This astounded those pastors who commented, “We didn’t know women could preach so well.” Women preach at Lumakanda one, two, or even three times per month. Gladys’s sister, Josephine Kemoli, is the pastor at Pendo Village Meeting, one of Lumakanda Friends Church’s village meetings.
Long ago, I learned that theology is quite fluid and changeable while church structure is usually not. Consequently, the Quaker structure is similar everywhere and has not changed much since the original Quaker missionaries came in 1902. There are yearly meetings, quarterly meetings, and monthly meetings. In Kenya, there are village meetings under the monthly meetings because a church needs to be within walking distance of the parishioners. Lumakanda’s monthly meeting is composed of four village meetings. We attend the local Lumakanda Village Meeting which is about three blocks from our house.
Much of the teeth-gnashing about membership decline that happens among American Quakers sounds strange in Kenya. Lumakanda Village Meeting has over 600 members or official attendees including over 200 children. The Sunday school, where we send our six grand-generation children, has 60 to 80 younger children attend every Sunday. There is another class for the older primary school students. High school students mostly attend the service.
To join the Quaker church each person has to join a study class called “Book One” and “Book Two,” which lasts about an hour with instruction after service each Sunday for a year. When a person moves through these two years of study, he or she becomes a member. Every year there are about six to ten people in each class.
In contrast to the United States and Britain, the Quaker Church in Kenya is growing. Likewise, as the church is filled with younger people, there is no worry about the church being attended only by old people.
About 100 people attend the morning village meeting service every Sunday. There are three rows of benches facing the podium; there is no altar as in other Christian churches. The women mostly sit on the left side and the men mostly on the right side. The younger people tend to sit in the middle. Gladys and I are unusual in that we sit together in the middle row. After twelve years in the church, I know many of the people, but because husbands and wives sit on opposite sides, even when I know both, I may not realize that they are married.
In addition to Sunday school, the church is divided up into three groups: (1) Young Friends — which includes people from 18 to 35 years of age, the age range American Friends would call “young adult Friends,” (2) United Society of Friends Women (USFW), and (3) Quakermen. Each group has its own officers, as do the village meeting and monthly. Elections are every two years, and when the new officers are introduced, the front of the church is overflowing with them. They are then approved by the congregation, welcomed, and blessed with a prayer.
Fundraising for the church and its activities is multifold. There is an offering each Sunday that does not produce much, usually about $20 to $25. Then there is the monthly ten percent tithing that raises significantly more. There are also specific fundraisers called harambee, meaning “let us pull together.” This is used for many purposes for example to fill the allocation due to Lugari Yearly Meeting; to make some improvements to the church (this year they are tiling the floor which will cost over $2000); special fundraisers for people in need such as a student from a poorer family that needs school fees; medical expenses; to build or repair a house of a member, and so on.
A few years ago a well-liked pastor, Edward Muluya, wanted to get a master’s degree in theology. He needed $900 for the tuition. The church conducted a harambee for him and in one day they received $1120. They gave him the extra for books and travel.
Another interesting fundraising method is that when the bean harvest and later the maize (corn) harvest come in, farmers are encouraged to make an in-kind donation. Members give up to a 200-pound bag of maize so that the whole front of the church is filled. The harvest is then sold to support the church. Another time the church collected clothes for those parents and grandparents of limited means who were raising children or grandchildren.
Like meetings and churches in the United States, Lumakanda Friends Church rents out its space; since it is one of the largest halls in Lumakanda, this happens often. Another income-generating activity the church began some years ago was purchasing 100 plastic chairs (rented out at ten U.S. cents per day) and a tent to hold 100 people (rented out at $20 per day) to anyone who needs these for weddings, funerals, or other celebrations. Last year, after raising the capital through a harambee, the church put up three metal kiosks at the end of their property and now rents them out for $20 per month each. They are now planning to buy a fourth kiosk.
A major activity of the church is to arrange for weddings and funerals. When this happens, the church appoints a committee which makes the arrangements for the event. Part of their charge is to raise about $2000. Of course, the families involved contribute their share, but everyone in the church donates what they can. For a funeral, the amount needed includes the medical expenses that the deceased incurred before dying. The largest expense I have seen is $20,000 for a prominent Quaker woman who had to be air-evacuated to Nairobi before she died. In the United States, almost half the population cannot afford a $400 emergency expense. Here at Lumakanda Friends Church, everyone can “afford” a $400 expense because the church membership will raise the funds. Since Gladys knows the situation better than I, she is the one who decides and makes the contributions for both of us. We want to pay our fair share, but don’t want the church to become dependent on us. So far this has worked out well.
Lumakanda Quakers never discuss or worry about community, but the church is clearly a community. Since everyone lives near the town, there are frequently out-of-church interactions. We hire church members when we need some service: three members, for example, are veterinarians; another does Gladys’s hair; the clerk of the meeting cares for our bushes and trees; another has a team of oxen we hire when we need to carry sand, stone, or firewood.
As can be surmised from the description above, Lumakanda Quakers are firmly middle class. Many own plots of land. Since this is in a settlement scheme area, people were allocated about 20 acres of land which now sells at $7500 per acre. When we built our house, we bought a very large tree for $250 from the then-clerk of USFW. This was sufficient to make all the rafters we needed for our house. Many church members are teachers, nurses, police, small business owners, and town property rental owners. Others are retired Friends who worked in places like Nairobi and have now returned to their plots near Lumakanda.
What do I not like? Every five years there are elections in Kenya. Then politicians come to the church and to funerals, where up to 1000 people can be gathered, and, for a small donation, are allowed to make a campaign speech.
I am not the only one who is appalled by this activity. Moreover, in some cases this politicking divides the church into opposing sides: there have been yearly meeting splits in Kenya over politics.
Another issue is that almost everyone in the church is of one tribe called the Luhya. Tribalism is the racism of Kenya and people can be intolerant. One wedding included a large contingent of relatives and friends from a different tribe, but the pastor spoke in the Luhya language for over fifteen minutes, erroneously conveying that Quakers are only Luhya. While Lumakanda Friends Church is fairly well gender-balanced, this is not true of Kenyan society as a whole nor of the Quakers at the yearly meeting level, which is almost exclusively male-dominated.
Although there are three Asian Indians who work at a local quarry, I am the only mzungu (stranger, white person) in town. So, if you come to visit, in order to find our house, all you have to do is ask, “Where does the mzungu live?” I have been here for over twelve years, so at the church I am just part of the scenery. If I am treated in any special way, it is not because I am a mzungu but because I am elderly.
As Americans who come to Kenya comment, Kenyans are always friendly and welcoming. In Swahili, the word mgeni means both “stranger” and “guest.” As is traditional for grandparents at this time, we are taking care of three grandchildren (ages 3, 6, and 6), a grandniece (5), and two grandnephews (both 11). One of our daughters-in-law, the mother of two of these children, lives with us also.
Half the world’s Quakers live in East Africa. I find that the division of Friends World Committee for Consultation into continents means that American unprogrammed Friends know little about Quakerism in Africa and do not visit at nearly the rate of FUM and Evangelical American Friends. FWCC Section of the Americas has a great inter-visitation program for the Americans but this excludes Africa. I think this oversight should be addressed. Kenyan Friends will welcome visitors with their usual warm hospitality. Unprogrammed American Friends would greatly benefit from such an interaction.
[End of Friends Journal article.]
When Gladys and I first came to live in Kenya in 2007, I thought of Lumakanda Friends Church as a “tired” church as it was led mostly by the elderly. This has changed in the last twelve years as there has been a concerted effort to have a younger leadership in the church. This means a movement from people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s to those in their 40s and 50s. This has led to a much more lively church with increased activity, more energy, and a yearly improvement to the church property. The Young Friends Association for people 18 to 35 years old are still mostly excluded from the leadership in the church and there seems to be little interest or effort to include them. This, though, is a reflection of the larger Kenyan society at this time.
I have had decades of experience with Quakers in Africa. According to the Friends World Committee for Consultation–World, in 2017 Kenya, at 119,285 adult members and increasing, had the largest number of Quakers in the world. Burundi had 47,600, Rwanda 6,000, Uganda 1,040, Tanzania 3,100, and Democratic Republic of the Congo 4,220. Altogether Africa had 49.45 percent of the world’s Quakers. The yearly meetings in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are affiliated with Friends United Meeting, while those in Burundi, Rwanda and eastern Congo are affiliated with Evangelical Friends Alliance. Once at a Quaker conference in Burundi, I was asked to give a twenty-minute presentation on the four major varieties of Friends in the United States. The first comment I received from my presentation was, “I really don’t understand the differences you are talking about, but can you American Quakers keep your disagreements in America and not bring them to Africa?” (This is not an exact quote but the gist of the comment as I remember it.)
Once I attended the three-hour long service at Kagarama Friends Church in Kigali, the “mother church” in Rwanda. It was not boring at all. Two thirds of it was entertainment with a little kids’ choir, an older children’s choir, another for teenagers, a young adults’ choir, the normal adult choir, a visiting choir, a praise and worship group, and a traditional young women’s dance group. The church was packed with people, most of whom were children or young people. There were not even enough adults to be the parents of all the children. I was one of the few elderly people in attendance.
Another time I was at Kamenge Friends Church in Bujumbura, the largest church in Burundi. It was packed with 700 people for the service. Children were crowding in all the windows and doors to get a peek at the service. Since this church was above capacity, they have built a new church including a balcony around the old church and then removed the old inside church. I estimate it can hold 2000 people. It may be the biggest Quaker church/meeting house in the world.
In the old days it was American and British missionaries who brought Quakerism to East Africa. Today it is particularly the Kenyan Quakers who are expanding Quakerism in the region.
Due to the fact that the Quaker missionaries stressed education even before Kenyan independence, there are about 750 Quaker-sponsored primary school and 250 secondary schools, including some of the best secondary schools in Kenya. During the 1950s and 1960s there were about 200 Quaker missionaries, many retired British teachers who staffed the burgeoning Quaker educational establishment. The result is that many Kenyan Quakers have employment in substantial occupations.
Do not think that Kenyan Quakers are poor. For example, the new Donholm Friends Church in a not particularly well-off section of Nairobi is costing $175,000 and most of the funding is being raised by the local Quakers. The United Society of Friends Women (USFW) is developing a massive center near Kakamega, collecting the funds annually from that very strong Quaker women’s organization. While most Kenyan Quakers are solidly middle class, this is not quite as true in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and eastern Congo. Note, though, that one Quaker businessman in Bujumbura, Burundi (one of the poorest countries in the world), gave a donation of $50,000 to build Rohero Friends Church which cost over $100,000.
This is not to say that everything is perfect. The leadership at the yearly meeting level is almost exclusively male and elderly. This is partly due to the reverence given by paternalistic Kenyan culture to the elderly, particularly males. To be called an mzee, old man in Swahili, is a term of endearment, not abuse. The first female yearly meeting presiding clerk in all those Kenyan yearly meetings was just appointed a few years ago. It has only been recently that yearly meeting officers retired at the end of their two or three three-year terms to be replaced by someone new. Previously they had stayed on and on until they became too old or died or were ousted after bitter in-fighting, or worse, after yearly meeting splits.
As I mentioned above, the Quaker church is the leader in Kenya for female pastors. Like Quakers throughout the world, East African Quakers are also acknowledged as the leader in peacemaking. Much of this has to do with the terrible violence in the region – the genocide in Rwanda, the civil wars in Burundi, the fighting in eastern Congo, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and post-election violence in Kenya.
In 1998 when I was one of Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s representatives to Friends Peace Teams, I suggested that we ought to visit the Quakers in East Africa to see what peacemaking activities they were doing in this region of much violence. This was approved and in January 1999 a delegation of seven people visited the Quakers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and North and South Kivu in the Congo. The delegation found that the Quakers were much involved in peacemaking work, particularly in Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Congo.
To the shame of all varieties of American and English Quakers, we also learned that they were not getting mentoring or support for this peace work from American/British Quakers. This mentoring and support was being provided by the Mennonite Central Committee. We asked the African Quakers if they would like to partner with Friends Peace Teams and this led to the development of the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI).
The first joint endeavor was to introduce Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in the region. AVP continues to be quite successful in the area.
Quaker peace leaders in Rwanda and Burundi told me that both these countries needed individual and societal trauma healing from their conflicts. In 2003, with the support of the American Friends Service Committee, a one-month seminar and training on trauma healing and reconciliation was conducted in Kigali, Rwanda. This led to the development of the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program.
While the experiential methodology was similar to AVP, the content was quite different. Twenty-five HROC experimental workshops were conducted in Rwanda and the program was launched. Beginning in 2007, the African Quaker-developed HROC program was introduced in North Kivu and Kenya. As interest in HROC expanded, beginning in 2011, a three-week training of HROC facilitators has continued with usually two trainings per year.
(If interested, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on the next HROC International Training.)
I consider my involvement in organizing the development of HROC as probably the most important activity I have done in my life. By now thousands of three-day HROC workshops have been conducted for tens of thousands of participants. I still coordinate the HROC-International program. As time went on, we also introduced transformative mediation, listening sessions, community dialogues, and Turning the Tide/Nonviolent Campaigns for Social Change program (from Quakers in England).
This is all an introduction to the theme of this book, mentoring younger Friends. I felt that I needed to describe in detail the situation of Quakers in East Africa since it is so different from that of Quakers in the United States and England. In my peacemaking work in East Africa, I found that my main task was not to implement peacemaking, but this was rather a means to a larger end, to mentor young East African Quakers in peacemaking work.
In December 2011, I addressed the annual Lugari Yearly Meeting’s Quakermen conference. There must have been about 200 older Quaker men present. In my presentation I outlined a system Friends Church Peace Teams (Kenya) (FCPT) wanted to use for the following year’s Kenyan election, namely, the development of citizen reporters and a Call-in Center.
The idea, which I outlined to those present, was to develop an early warning system for violence before, during, and after the scheduled December 2012 election. This was to respond to the any potential or actual violence as had occurred extensively, with many deaths, after the 2007 election. We would train the citizen reporters for a day or two on how to observe and report unrest and pending violence. Those who completed the training were then given the number of our Call-in Center where they could send a text message concerning any potential or actual unrest to alert the FCPT staff who then could respond appropriately.
After my presentation, the first question was, “How much are the citizen reporters going to be paid for this work?” Non-government organizations, the United Nations, and the Kenyan government have a policy to give “sitting allowances”/stipends to people involved in all activities. This has destroyed the concept of civic responsibility. The answer I gave that people would not be paid for this was not well received. As I went home, I was discouraged. I vowed that even if we had only 50 people who were willing to be citizen reporters without any compensation, well, we would go for that.
In the end we trained 1200 citizen reporters. These were not the old men who had come to my Quakermen presentation, but young people mostly in their 20s and 30s who had adopted the cell phone as a life’s necessity. [The next Kenyan national election, rescheduled to 2013, saw less violence than 2017.]
As the various peacemaking programs were introduced in the region, I quickly realized that the audience was mostly young people, many in their early twenties. The oldest was a Quaker pastor in Rwanda who was about 35 at that time. These young people had seen the violence in their countries, were victims of that violence, and were determined to develop a new, better, non-violent world from what was then happening.
I therefore realized that my real job – and I was 55 years old in 1998 when this all started – was not the stated one of developing the various peacemaking programs and introducing them into the East Africa countries, but to develop good, experienced, innovative, dedicated peace makers. As Florence Ntakarutimana from Burundi has said, “People have to have the heart for this work.” My task was to find these dedicated youth and develop their peacemaking knowledge and ability.
There isn’t space here for the story, but a wide range of peace work has since become active. Much of it just developed organically out of the previous work without any major planning or even awareness.
There are many concrete, formal activities that enhanced the peacemakers’ knowledge and experience, academic and otherwise. Just as important, I thought, was the informal mentoring of these young people.
As with all guidance and mentoring, this was tricky, particularly due to the fact that, while I had lots of experience in East Africa, I was still a foreigner. I also had to be careful not to impose my views as an elder, telling the young people what they should do, as is commonplace in the cultures in the region. The youngsters had to develop their own abilities which in turn would give them the confidence needed for this emotionally difficult work.
Another means of increasing the Africans’ abilities was to assign experienced American experienced volunteers to help promote the peacemaking activities. When AVP was introduced in all these countries, at first, we needed to bring experienced AVP facilitators from the United States. We would pair them with African AVP facilitators in order to introduce the program This was quite a challenge for all those who were involved.
Peace work after a genocide, election violence, civil war, and/or armed groups is extremely taxing. The security of the society has been destroyed, a new round of violence could occur unexpectedly at any time, individual and societal trauma was rampant. I found that most of those young peacemakers, like many people in their country, were affected by the violence. Support and self-care of facilitators was an important and necessary condition for people to continue.
This mentoring is also culturally tricky. The cultures in the region vary drastically. The differences between Rwanda/Burundi and Kenya, for example, is much greater than the differences between the US and England. When a person is dealing with such a sensitive issue as trauma and reconciliation, it is essential that the facilitators respect the local culture. This is not something I could do myself or advise others on the details. In other words, these young people had to negotiate the intricacies of their culture.
On the other hand, I couldn’t leave all my own values behind. One of the major ones that was in conflict with traditional society was gender inequality. If I left matters to flow with the culture, workshops would be all or mostly male. Few women would be “allowed” to attend and if a few did, they were supposed to be mostly silent.
I imposed a requirement that workshops would be half male and half female. While this helped some, it still resulted in only one-fourth to one-half women. I needed to make a stronger rule: There would be ten positions for men and ten positions for women in a workshop. If ten women could not be found, then the positions would be lost. If I limited a workshop to only ten men, then ten positions for women were usually also filled. With half women, the women themselves were must more likely to actively participate and speak up. Nonetheless I realized that I was forcing my own value system on the workshops. Was it valid for me to do this? The women sure appreciated this including those who then had the opportunity to become facilitators in the various workshops.
There was another issue, though, that disturbed facilitators from the United States. In the East African countries, each day of a workshop was started with a half-hour worship service. In this case I sided with the Africans. I didn’t think that this was a custom that should be changed since it was mostly an American hang-up and it made the participants more comfortable at the beginning of the workshop to do what was familiar to them.
I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I have been with the “guts” that these young Africans have. For example, in the HROC workshops in Rwanda, the participants would be half victims of the genocide and the other half perpetrators of the genocide. Before the workshop, the victims would sit together, and the perpetrators would sit together. Although they came from the same community and knew each other, they did not greet each other. The tension in the room was immense. The facilitators had to enter that workshop confidently knowing that in three days they would be able to turn this around so that the two groups would reconnect and restore normal relationships as they had been before the genocide. The workshop is so well organized that this invariably happens
After twenty years in East Africa doing this mentoring, the result has been most gratifying. There are now many experienced East African peacemakers, with frankly more experience and knowledge than I have. Those who were once young are now mature leaders in their home communities. Now I don’t even know or only slightly know of some of the up-and-coming new peacemakers because those who I have mentored are now mentoring many more others. The peace network in all these East African countries continues to expand. Excellent.
My strategy in life has always been to jump right in. This includes Quakerism, Africa, peacemaking, war tax resistance, home repair, or any of the other activities I have done. At my age now I can’t jump as high as I used to, but I still jump as much as I can. My latest venture is to write articles on Clean Energy Africa.
Matthew 7:12 states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” I learned, when I was in my 20s, probably the hard way, that this does not work for me. I have not lived the “ways of the world” and have learned that I cannot follow this. If I treat others according to my own value system that those others do not subscribe to, I get into deep trouble. Fortunately, I have never tried to be “popular”, but more worried about being true to myself. Sure, I have had disasters, mistakes, and situations that didn’t work out, but so what? I think my Dad was right with his attitude that people need to take the road that satisfies them the most. I appreciate my Mom’s enthusiastic support for anything that I did. Whatever happens is always interesting.
Postscript: David wrote a weekly blog called “Reports from Kenya.” I now also write another one called Clean Energy Africa. It’s not clear if it will continue, but If you are interested in subscribing, send an email to email@example.com.