A Clarke University faculty member seeks to help start an initiative aimed at enabling communities in her native Kenya to better resolve conflicts.
Mary Gitau, an assistant professor of social work, will work next year with faculty at Kisii University in Kenya, as well as community members from that region, to start the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution. She was awarded a fellowship from the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program for the work.
Gitau and her colleagues aim to create a center where people can learn solutions for issues in and among their communities. Her experiences, in turn, will allow her to broaden the perspectives of her students at Clarke.
“When you have conflict, there’s a lot of instability in many places,” said Gitau. “The goal is, how do we stabilize some of these communities to not be fighting for whatever they’re fighting about and also to bring harmony in those communities?”
Gitau’s efforts build on a 2018 fellowship she received to help Kisii University lay the framework for the center and work with the school’s social work program. With the new fellowship, she seeks to make the center a reality.
“What I will do … is to try to develop, to make it up and running, work with them on establishing the training manuals and whatever else is needed,” she said.
Communities in the region surrounding Kisii University have struggled with conflicts stemming from disputes over land and borders. Through the center, Gitau seeks to help create a space where stakeholders can come together and find peaceful ways to resolve their conflicts.
“The goal is, if we can be able to bring them for the training or workshop … they can be able to go back to their communities and implement these resolutions,” she said.
While Gitau seeks to leave a mark on Kenyan communities through her work, her efforts also help her offer a greater global awareness to her students at Clarke.
Her efforts to develop the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution also put a focus on community development and social justice, both key components of her social work teaching.
“If they are not traveling there to do it themselves, they can be able to understand different ways of engaging in social justice,” Gitau said.
Colleen Mahoney, chairwoman of Clarke’s social work department, said the chance for faculty and students to learn about Gitau’s projects in Kenya helps them understand the importance of different experiences and reflect on handling conflict in their own lives.
“I think that hearing about conflict in a completely different part of the world and trying to understand it and understand what solutions are may give us a different lens that we can look at our own community that way, and that’s really important to social work,” she said.