Tears of Pain, Struggle for Hope

by Romano Iluku 
Program Officer, Alternatives to Violence Kenya Trust


Violent extremism and radicalization have been on the rise over the recent past. If the war against terrorism is to be won, we must help people to deal with trauma, which is a key aftermath of violent extremism and radicalization. Trauma brings feelings of hopelessness, bitterness, rage, anger, and eminently a cycle of revenge which is used to justify their violent acts and feelings. Therefore, helping victims of violent extremism to become trauma conscious and resilient is vital to promoting healing and countering violent extremism narratives in our societies.


Alternatives to Violence Kenya Trust is drawn to provide a platform for the victims to become trauma conscious—to learn how to deal with and heal from trauma. The project work targeted families and victims affected both directly and indirectly by violent extremism in Kamukunji Sub County in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. This was done by first helping people feel secure. The Trust understood that if the traumatic situation is ongoing, getting help to make a traumatized person feel safe is a first priority, especially in an environment of self-denial, self-pity, isolation, prejudgment, and discrimination.


Once they felt safe, trauma victims willingly came and talked about their stories of pain, anguish, and anger. They spent valuable time with other participants and facilitators in the workshops doing pleasant things, creating a sense of belonging—the workshops included breathing and relaxing exercises, energizers and activities encouraging people to share in their struggle, which have proved to be successful therapy for healing and encourage resilience among those who were adversely affected by trauma and extremism.


The majority of the people directly affected by violent extremism and radicalization are young mothers. Most have lost their husbands, sons, or daughters to the terror groups or by the hands of a special unit called Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU). Furthermore, the group of young mothers had many other related problems, including being victims of rape, incest, domestic violence, and child neglect, which they said coerced them towards radicalization and violent extremism.


The project, dubbed Promote Psycho-Social Support to Men, Women and Youth in Kamukunji Sub County Affected by Violent Extremism through Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, attracted many participants, who shared personal stories and gained courage as highlighted below:


“My tears of pain and struggle for a sense of belonging are attached to the loss of my son, who died as a suicide bomber in 2015. Life changed. The young boy was very close to me, and the way he ended his life, no parent, especially a mother like me, would wish that to happen to them. With all that, the community still sees me as an informer, accomplice, and sympathizer. I chose to share this for the first time to free myself from the traumatic anger that I have suffered all this time. I also felt that I have never felt more secure and loved the way I have in this workshop, which is why I am encouraged to share my hidden self.”


“I am 32 years old. I was married and lived in Majengo Kamukunji Sub County. I divorced my husband, with whom I have sired children, because of his suspicious activities with the terror group (Al-Shabaab). I moved out of the house and started living with my children. I later learned that my divorced husband joined Al-Shabaab and he was planning to “punish” me by recruiting my own son to join him as Al-Shabaab! This tore me apart. I have developed rage and traumatic anger with any small trigger causing me to react explosively. I share this because I have listened to other people in this training who have suffered just like me and even more than I. I also chose to use the experience of others to heal from my trauma. I similarly chose to become trauma conscious and resilient.”


Visit avpkenya.org or contact Romano Iluku at [email protected] for more information.