When Adam Hummel travelled to Kenya in 2008 for a three-week volunteer trip, he never anticipated he’d become the founder of a peace project and author of a book based on his experience.
Yet last month, Hummel, a 26-year-old commercial litigation lawyer, appeared at Toronto’s Jewish Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) to promote his self-published book, Amani Haki Yetu: Peace is Our Right.
“I tried to write a book about what life is like in Kenya, following the post-election violence there in 2008 and how people have reacted to it and what they’re trying to do towards the next elections,” Hummel said, adding that 100 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the book go to funding for projects under the banner of Youth Ambassadors for Peace (YAP), the non-profit he founded four years ago.
He explained that during his volunteer mission to a village in Kenya called Kiptere in 2008, he learned that shortly after the December 2007 Kenyan general elections, a civil war broke out, leading to the murder of about 1,300 people and the displacement of about 600,000 others.
He said the root causes of the violence were tribalism, which is akin to racism, and idleness in the farming communities, where there are no programs in place to occupy the youth.
Instead of throwing money at the problem when his trip ended, Hummel, who had experience running programs as a former Hillel president at York University, committed to starting a soccer tournament in Kenya to bring together rival tribes – Kalenjin, Kisii and Luo – for the first time since the violence erupted following the 2007 elections.
Hummel decided to put a foundation in place to create a shared understanding of history, values and culture between tribes, and help the idle youth turn away from negative influences such as drugs and violence.
By keeping in touch with his contacts on the ground in Kenya and travelling back there twice more, Hummel has built an organization that is responsible for developing an unofficial peace treaty that was endorsed by government officials, a drama club that was created to advocate for peace through the arts, and a poultry project that involves raising chickens and donating the eggs to people who are newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
He also organized a peace workshop, which was run with the help of a friend named Courtney Toretto, to educate the local tribes about their shared values.
Years later, YAP continues to thrive.
“At first, this was a small project based in one area, but we’ve been able to expand into another part of the country… to include more tribes,” Hummel said, adding that the Kikuyu tribe, which is considered the dominant tribe in Kenya, has accepted the organization.
Kepha Nyambegera, YAP’s regional director, was a participant in the first peace workshop the organization held, and he is now running his own peace workshop with the Maasai and Kikuyu tribe members.
The newest initiative, called the Roadshow, is meant to take a proactive approach to the upcoming Kenyan general elections slated for March 2013.
“What [Nyambegera] does is rent a van, put a speaker on top and drive through different towns playing music and trying to get people to come speak to him. The goal of these roadshows is to get people to think about what they will do during the next elections,” Hummel said.
The main goal, he added, is to urge people to resist the calls to violence.
“We want people to start thinking about, what if suddenly violence erupts again and weapons are handed out and politicians start coming around to encourage it?
“In the last election, the youth sort of just went along with it. They were given a little bit of money and encouraged to go fight each other, and that’s how things broke down. So if we can show them that doing that is completely unproductive and would be going backwards, we can give them ideas of what they can do.”
He said many people continue to suffer from the post-election violence of 2008, still living in internally displaced person (IDP) camps.
“It shocked me to see that the people living in the camp were elderly, and that when I asked them what kind of a donation they wanted, they asked for enough sugar for all of them, which would have cost about $15. That experience showed me the true impact of the conflict, the will of these few elderly individuals to push forward, and also how such a little bit of money can go such a long way to helping.”
But Hummel’s approach is to inspire people to avoid more violence rather than work on picking up the pieces following another conflict.
He said the peace treaty they drafted in 2009, which can be found on the YAP website (www.kenyapeaceproject.com) and as an appendix in his book, will be blown up to the size of billboards and will be posted around the towns.
“We’d like to get the leaders and mayors to endorse it and commit to the peace treaty,” he said.
Hummel, who will return to Kenya for a short trip later this month, said he plans to follow up with the volunteers and make sure the programs are running smoothly.
“Sometimes I feel like we’ve bitten off more than we can chew because we’ve tackled so many different things,” he said.
But a main source of motivation for Hummel is YAP’s involvement with the Victory Primary School, a school that serves about 190 kids, most of whom are either orphans or have lost a parent to political violence or HIV and AIDS.
Hummel details his first visit to the school in his book.
He said when he arrived at the school, which was made of “literally just wood and tin,” he was moved by the students’ positive attitudes despite the hardships they endure.
Hummel’s brother, Justin, was even moved to run a fundraiser for the school. He collected $750 from his fellow students, which paid for a new classroom, soccer balls, clocks for each room, books, and a special holiday meal for the students. He also arranged for each student at the school to receive a hand-written card.
“I believe that the Victory Primary School represents a hope and potential for change,” Hummel wrote in his book.
“Despite what these students have endured, and despite their current circumstances of eating a small lunch that is donated, and walking five kilometres to school every day, they smile, they laugh, they’re happy and they have dreams.”