The Bible and the Friend: ACK’s Mission in Garissa.
Kenya’s Garissa town stands about 372kms to the Eastern part of Nairobi. As by the 2009 National census, the larger Garissa county hosts about 119,696 people, mostly comprising of the Local Somali ethnic community. Just as you get into the town, you are ushered in by lush green vegetation that separates the county from Tana River County. Perhaps a sharp contrast from the characteristic dryland that dominates the entirety of the county, this sense of fresh air represents much of the serenity within the town. Local Businesses present a relatively active town. Along the streets, locals go about their businesses without much attention to any tales that may exist about the town. A closer view reveals a multi-ethnic interaction, well shared -and spread. Kenyans from across the country gather here as they try to eke a living out of the promising economy.
For most visitors who visit the town, Garissa is at the very least, a constant mention in Kenya’s media with Violent religious extremism. But these stories remain at being their very nature, myths. The town hosts a number of mosques that are well placed within the town. Occasionally, one would also spot a church tucked within the buzz of buildings here. One such church is the Anglican Church. The Diocese of Garissa hosts the few Anglican Churches within this area. Until late last year, Garissa was a missionary area under the Diocese of All Saints Cathedral. It was under the leadership of the Rt. Rev. Dr. David Mutisya. During the 2018 provincial Synod meetings, Garissa was made a full-fledged Diocese with Bishop Mutisya becoming its first Bishop. He says that Garissa has been an amazing mission field for him over the past 8 years. “You visit Garissa and you can not fail to wonder where are all those negative things you’ve heard about this place?” he notes.
Just as the pioneers of the Anglican Church had it tough in their initial evangelism activities in East Africa, the spread of Christianity in Garissa has not been one without toil. “It took a lot of persuasions for us to start even a church here,” Bishop Mutisya says. The community in this area is conservatively Muslim and recedes not on matters faith. Through the provision of social services such as Education, water and relief aid in times of Drought, the residents now view the Anglican Church as a key agent of change in the region. “We are here not because we want to only preach to Christians but we want to take care of all the members of this community for we are all brothers and sisters,” Bishop Mutisya says.
In Raya Location, 20 minutes ride out of the town, ADS Eastern is implementing a project called the Garissa livelihoods Improvement Program. Supported by Transform AID International (Australia) the project targets farmers who specialize in agriculture and pastoralism. Raya borders the River Tana and most residents have embraced irrigation in their farming activities. ADS Eastern is providing them with motorized spraying machines which they use to spray pesticides on their Mangoes, vegetables and Banana plantations. The farmers are also being trained on good agronomic practices. This is done while linking them to markets, input suppliers and other government services. They are also organized into farmer groups with the aim of strengthening market structures and promoting collective marketing.
For the locals who are engaged in livestock keeping, ADS support them in disease management and diversification and management of pasture. They also get training on milk and meat handling. ADS Eastern is also working on improving water accessibility among the households. This will be through increasing canal networks and tapping water from the nearby River Tana. The Project also seeks to entrench women participation in the project and Development Activities in the area. Through the Project management committees, women are incorporated in the rolling out of programs. Stephen Muli is the team leader at the ADS Eastern Office. He says that all this is aimed at strengthening the community’s capacity to respond to the needs that they have. By strengthening the existing structures in the area, they hope to ensure that the community is involved in the project’s implementation and to create an understanding of the benefits of such partnerships.
Research backed Development.
ADS Kenya has also partnered with the Global The network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNRD) to conduct research on the community’s capacity to respond to Disasters. The project is being implemented in four counties across the country and Garissa is one of them. In the past, parts of the county have been faced with disasters such as Violent extremism, flooding, drought, ethnic clashes among others. The project seeks to use research data in drafting response strategies and advocacy. The local partnering organizing is the Garissa Mediation Council.
Bishop Mutisya says that this is a culmination of a long process that has involved a lot of rapport building. He says that for much of the time that the Anglican Church has operated in the county, they’ve done ‘much of action and less of talking.’ The hard penetration reception into the community is attributed to a variety of cultural beliefs, not least among them, religion. “Residents consider other parts of the country as Down Kenya and any entry into their lives requires consensus.” Initially, the land on which the A.C.K St. Peters Pro-Cathedral, Garissa stands on was a military camp. Later on, the camp was moved to leave the church in the hands of the Anglican Church.
Today, the Church also hosts a Primary School offering quality education to over 380 pupils from the community. Majority of these pupils are Muslim. Bishop Mutisya says that this is because of the trust the community has in the Church. They refer to him as kristo Kubwa, loosely translated to The Big Christian. He notes that the security situation within Garissa town has fairly improved and that explains the surge in the number of people who are acquiring property within the area.
Hussein, a staff with the local Anglican Development Services-Eastern office, says that the community has come to appreciate the Anglican Church for the role it plays in Development. Unlike most organizations which have tried to initiate development projects in the area and left midway, ADS Eastern seeks to leave a permanent mark in the lives of these communities by walking with them in the development journey.