2017 had an uncertain start. A Chance for Peace, an independent documentary film about the peace efforts that arose following a divisive and hotly contested presidential election in Kenya, had official wrapped in November of 2016. Just one day later, the U.S. experienced it’s own divisive and hotly contested presidential election. Meanwhile, we were submitting to film festivals and getting nothing but rejections. It was clear that A Chance for Peace was meant to live a different life.
Just days after what should have been a celebratory time for Tyler, A Chance for Peace’s founder and the film’s director, he was on the streets with tens of thousands of protestors. From Black Lives Matter sit-ins to immigrant rights marches, and volunteering with the LGBT Center to save Obamacare (three times), the first half of 2017 wasn’t about collecting film festival prizes, it was about taking action.
Looking around, Tyler found a lot of the disillusion and disenchantment to be all too familiar. To a certain extent, he’d been through this before. He found himself calling upon 10 years of quiet, immersive grassroots peace research to put people at ease. So, he reasoned, maybe this is the life A Chance for Peace is meant to live – a tool to promote peace and reframe the divisiveness as an opportunity to join a peace process already in progress.
Then in March, an unexpected opportunity presented itself. At the height of the frightening detainments and deportations of Latin American families in Southern California, Tyler was invited to speak at his friend’s school for career day. That turned into a full month as guest teacher for 200 middle and high schoolers in one of the areas most impacted by the deportations. But it was clear that before we could talk about peace, we needed to talk about what peace wasn’t. This month-long discourse included a screening of A Chance for Peace and culminated into group peace projects, which the students had to create themselves. One of the most important rules of the project: the projects must be actionable peace projects for real causes and organizations in need. The results brought Tyler to tears. Real issues of harassment and misogyny were brought to light and even member of the Bible Club stood up for LGBTQ equality. This would come to represent the beginning of the Peace in Schools program.
From the very start, the intention of A Chance for Peace was to inspire American audiences to think differently about Africans, or in our case Kenyans. But in the summer of 2017, we were proven wrong.
At the time, A Chance for Peace hadn’t gotten into any film festivals. It was just sitting in a hard drive unseen and seemingly unwanted and, to Tyler, 10 years of hard work seemed all for not. Then, Collins Orido, one of the first people we interviewed in Kibera in 2008, reached out to Tyler via Facebook. He told Tyler that a new presidential campaign was underway and had turned divisive once again. Threats of violence were growing anew and people were voluntarily evacuating Kibera in anticipation of a repetition of history. But that moment in history displaced 600,000 people and killed over 2,000. That moment in history is what gave birth to A Chance for Peace and the peace efforts we profiled. It was clear: it was time to bring A Chance for Peace home.
Tyler and Collins set out to create as many public peace events as possible in the lead-up to election day. The events would include a diversity of dancers, musicians, and speakers, and would conclude with a screening of A Chance for Peace. People were asked at the beginning of each event, “Will you commit to peace on election day?” The answer was unanimous: “If the election is free and fair, then yes.” After watching the film, listening to the performers’ messages of peace, and even hearing from the children and elders of the community that took the mic as well, the audience was asked again, “Will you commit to peace?” The answer was again unanimous: “Yes!”
OUR GREATEST SUCCESS
Just days before the election, with already 2 successful events under our belt, it was time to reach higher. Tyler had heard rumors of politicians paying off gang members to incite violence in the name of the opposition candidate. If we were going to make a real impact to avert the kind of violence we saw in 2007 and 2008, then we needed to direct our attention to some of the most feared people in Kibera.
With Collins’ help, we did! To our awe, 250 gang members and leaders showed up. Even two rival gangs, the Mungiki and the Siafu, not only showed up, but watched A Chance for Peace, discussed their differences, came up with actionable peace efforts, and committed to maintain peace during the election, ceremoniously ending the private event with a very public display – holding hands and singing the Kenyan national anthem! If that wasn’t enough, Collins revealed to Tyler the next day that to his surprise, 60 members of the Taliban showed up last minute and, they too, committed to maintain peace.
When the election came, violence erupted in other slums, but only small demonstrations occurred where we did our work in Kibera. Collins went to the demonstrations to monitor the situation and reported that he saw some of the gang members there, but they maintained their promise and silently protested the violence by refusing to take part. Our mission was a success. From 600,000 people displaced and 2,000 dead in 2007 to zero displaced and zero dead in 2017. A Chance for Peace had lived up to it’s name.
But Tyler couldn’t talk about it. Out of respect for the gang members who attended the event and committed to peace, Tyler kept the gathering hush. Then he happened upon a post on a Kenyan Facebook page called Kenya Rising. The post credited the peace in Kibera to the commitments made at our gathering. Today, with Collins’ blessing, our efforts and the peace that followed can finally be made public.
After all that, something still felt like it was missing. Tyler fell into a bit of a depression and couldn’t quite figure out why. He and Collins and the Hope for Kibera team, as well as a handful of Tyler’s friends that donated to fund a couple of the events, had used A Chance for Peace to successfully create a literal chance for peace – more than a chance! When a friend asked Tyler what was wrong, he would’ve never expected to say the next seven words to come out of his mouth: “I need to go back to Kenya.” It was just 8 days after the election and although things were relatively peaceful, the election itself was still unresolved and violence could restart at any moment. But Tyler was determined. “Somehow, it’s going to happen.”
Tyler went to bed that night, woke up the next morning and got a call from a friend that works in commercial production saying, “I have a proposition for you.” She said, “We need someone to hand-deliver shoes to an Olympic runner we are interviewing in Kenya. We need someone who is up on their required vaccinations, knows some Swahili, is familiar with how to get around Nairobi, and who is prepared to leave tomorrow. Are you interested?” “Interested? I’m ecstatic!” And that was that. Moments later, a flight was booked, hotel was reserved, and bags were packed. Somehow, it happened.
The reunion was almost 10 years in the making. Walking into the Kibera, Collins greeted Tyler like an old friend – then quickly walked him over to a crowd of about 50 Kenyan men standing around a tin roof shack in an open area called Olympic. “Ask them anything you want,” Collins said to Tyler. The conversation that would transpire would be about 30 minutes of what Tyler would later call “peacemaker improv.” Apparently some of the men he was talking to had seen A Chance for Peace. Still others were gang members who’d attended the private peace event. And they listened. The quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. to one another, laughed, and challenged one another on the merits of justice and peace. The conversation on peace was alive and well, and Tyler was there to thank everyone personally for hearing the message.
While in Kibera, Tyler sat with the Collins and his brothers and sisters of the Hope for Kibera team. It was clear that we had made an impact, but how do we grow from here? The answer: we must create a generation of optimists, a collective of peacemakers young and old who celebrate their diversity as one people.
Since August, A Chance for Peace has been able to buy a TV to hold more events in smaller spaces. It’s one step closer to our goal of reaching all 200 schools in Kibera. An expansion of our Peace in Schools program is underway with the goal of bringing peace education to every school in Kibera. A curriculum is in development and when 2018 rolls around we want to be ready to approach every principle in Kibera with our plan. From there we want to encourage and support students in each school to form peace clubs, where they can become ambassadors for peace in their communities. With 200 chapters, our little Peace Made Public events and supporting programs are sure to grow.
This is a movement by and for the people of Kenya, and the community really wants to get involved. Always keeping sustainability and self-sufficiency at the heart of our work, we’re ready to empower youth and elders alike in Kibera. We continue to have known criminals and gang members coming to us seeking to be reformed, and we welcome them into the peace process as essential allies in our movement. While we’ve created volunteer opportunities for them at our peace events, we are currently brainstorming how to further empower them and fold them into our efforts as speakers and mentors.