Chicago Kenyans fear for relatives in home country

January 3, 2008 3:28:45 PM PST
Members of Chicago's Kenyan community are expressing concern for members of their families who remain in their home country. Kenya has been racked by violence since a disputed election earlier this week.

Kenya's political opposition claims last week's presidential election was a sham. At least 300 people have been killed in subsequent violence and some 100,000 have been displaced.

Symon Ogeto says the violence in Kenya was unexpected. He says Kenyans were looking forward to the election. But as a result, Ogeto says the nation is now a war zone.

Ogeto says the violence has prevented his 85-year-old father from traveling from the countryside to the city to get kidney dialysis treatment.

According to United Kenyans of Chicago, about 5,000 natives of Kenya live in the Chicago area.

When the Peace Corps assigned a suburban woman to Kenya, she was grateful. After all, it was a country where she could make a difference, but it did not have some of the turmoil of other Third World countries. Upon her return, she is seeing another side of the country she loves.

Callie Sorensen shares many good memories of Kenya. She was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years there, teaching at one of the few east African high schools for hearing impaired children in a small village and at an annual camp to unite and empower young women in Nairobi.

"It's a beautiful country and the people are amazingly friendly and so warm and kind," Sorensen said.

Sorensen returned two weeks ago and feels very connected to the problems Kenyans are facing now, in particular the Kikuyu tribe with whom she lived. Accusations of a fraudulent presidential election led to violent protests when the Kikuyu incumbent declared victory. Now the people she knew best could be targeted for political violence.

"My biggest concern is for their safety. They are lighting the farms on fire just because they are from that tribe. So it's kind of scary," said Sorensen.

Sorensen learned that camp in Nairobi where she saw girls thrive and development cross tribal friendships is now a kind of a refuge for Kikuyu. She wonders what will happen next as violence will test bonds and threatens to divide a country.

Sorensen would like to go back to Kenya once the situation is safer. But her next Peace Corps assignment is in Japan.