Over the last year, we've shared several stories about Elder's Days at Open Arms Village, where team members helped us host events to serve the often-overlooked elderly in our community. But there's deeper significance to those stories! Today Linda, one of our Kenyan staff members, explains why these events are actually restoring a culture.
Since I joined the Open Arms Village Staff last year, I have been privileged to be part of three elders’ events. I have seen how much it has impacted the community and how its influence grows each time. This fourth one was no different. In my case, it impacted me more than I ever thought it would.
Over 270 elderly men and women made their way to Open Arms. This group was not only larger, but it was also more diverse in terms of ethnicities, tribes and location. They sat in the community hall and made merry amongst themselves. As they sang and made merry, I noticed that they were dancing and giving each other an embrace known as an “ASAI”. Asai is a type of a hug that symbolizes love, joy, respect and peace. I knew in my heart that I was witnessing an incredible moment of peace, reconciliation and love.
In 2007/2008, Kenya experienced one of the worst cases of ethnic violence in decades. Within 60 days, close to 2000 people were killed, hundreds of others were inhumanely maimed, and over half a million people were displaced from their homes. Years of established peace and trust seemed to have been lost in an instant as neighbor turned against neighbor and women, men and children were subjected to horrid types of sexual violence.
I was not harmed during these events, at least not physically. But I saw things that have been burned permanently into my soul. The very memory of these events makes me tremble in fear and break down in tears. I’ve had to stop and catch my breath a number of times while typing this article. What makes me sadder is knowing that I am not the only one feeling this.
But on this day, I felt something different among the elderly. They were peacefully getting past their differences and past events. They were singing a song which translates to this:
Soloist: Who is in agreement about this meeting/ union?
Response: We are!
Every time they responded, they would hug.
Open Arms gave them a safe space where they could come together and reconcile. Somewhere they could forgive and be forgiven.
Sadly, ethnic tensions are still part of the Kenyan society. However, efforts to foster peace are supported now more than before. I am grateful that Open Arms has given the community a place where they can heal.
God is at work in Open Arms Village and the surrounding community! And your gifts make this possible. Thank you!