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Kenyan peacemaker to visit U.S. this fall

Phares Mithamo will speak to Presbyterians about education as part of International Peacemaker program

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

2017 International Peacemaker Phares Nyaga Mithamo. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – Phares Nyaga Mithamo, an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), will speak to U.S. congregations and organizations this fall as part of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program’s 2017 International Peacemakers series. In addition to speaking about interfaith peace building initiatives, he will talk about education programs as tools for peace building and supporting education in the developing world so every child has access to learning opportunities.

Mithamo is an elder of PCEA’s Nairobi Central Presbytery, Eastleigh parish and church, and is director of the PCEA Community Center in Nairobi. Over the past five years he’s worked with vulnerable host and refugee communities to help them access educational opportunities and build vocational skills. Mithamo believes education is a tool for sustainable peace, and he and his staff of 30 at the community center run a primary and secondary school for children. It offers vocational skills training programs for youth and women aimed at promoting peace, and includes measures to counteract extreme violence and radicalization.

“Idle youth are enrolled in vocational skills training and engage in forums for interreligious dialogues,” Mithamo said. “We use active non-violence approaches to make them peace ambassadors.”

Kenya has been described as “the cradle of humanity” but high population, poverty, and youth unemployment are significant challenges faced in modern-day Kenya. Its experienced dramatic population growth since the mid-20th century because of a high birth rate and declining mortality rate. More than 40 percent of Kenyans are under the age of 15, and the rapid population growth strains the labor market, social services and the availability of natural resources. More than 18 million people live below the poverty line.

“Unemployment figures indicate that the number of young people trapped in unending unemployment has doubled the past two years, bringing about a high rate of dependency among the young,” Mithamo said. “Sadly, the vast majority of Kenyan youth are being forced to scale down their aspirations. In turn, those with less skills and qualifications settle for unskilled work and unskilled workers are left unemployed. It’s like a game of musical chairs where there are far too few places to sit when the music stops.”

Mithamo also directs child empowerment programs that help vulnerable children in targeted slum communities. This project works within three thematic areas: education, child rights, and orphans and vulnerable children.

“Our education project seeks to increase school enrollment and ensure children receive a quality education. The main goal of the child rights project is to enhance the capacity of community members to promote and protect children and their rights,” Mithamo said. “And the objective of the orphan’s project is to provide support to orphans and vulnerable children.”

Despite daily and substantial challenges, Mithamo works diligently to make a difference. He has 10 years’ experience as a vocational skills training instructor. The lack of economic opportunities in Kenya force people to travel outside its borders in search of jobs, schooling and religious sustenance, and some return home radicalized by extremist organizations. He believes systems that permit youth to rise beyond the social and economic status of their parents are necessary to prevent hopelessness and radicalization. Mithamo says the church should invest heavily in interfaith peace building initiatives, and that education programs can be champions for peace.

“Today’s technologies make it possible to reach people all over the world, and basic education in the developing world should be given a high priority,” he said. “I consider the Peacemaking program a prime opportunity to interact with diverse experiences on the subject of peace building. Peace is viewed differently between societies so we need to understand the multiple factors that go into that.”

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Mithamo is one of 15 peacemakers who will be visiting churches and institutions across the U.S. between Sept. 22 and Oct. 16. Since 1984, more than 300 International Peacemakers from more than 50 countries have been hosted by Presbyterian organizations.

The International Peacemaking Program is made possible by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.


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