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Trócaire’s Michelle Hoctor writes about Father Patrick Devine, a Trócaire partner working on conflict issues in Northern Kenya.
Roscommon-born Fr Patrick Devine has had many profound experiences during his 25 years working in Africa as a priest with the Society of African Missions. This includes development work in remote areas of Northern Kenya (a region two and a half times the size of Ireland) and teaching about conflict-related issues.
Honoured in 2014 by Roscommon County Council for his peacekeeping work, Fr Devine says “Our work is not about a quick fix, we have put our hands to the plough for the long haul to secure enduring peace.”
Northern Kenya, which is home to Fr Devine, has been seriously impacted by generations of violence.
Millions of people are suffering from the impact of local, inter-ethnic conflicts. These conflicts within communities have been caused by all kinds of issues, ranging from a scarcity of natural resources to differences in peoples’ cultures to neglect by the state to ease of access to small fire arms. “Famine,” Fr Devine says, “is never further than two weeks away.”
He adds: “In conflict environments where people are killed, maimed and displaced, social and religious values such as peace, justice and truth cannot take deep root; people cannot live normal lives or experience true peace.”
Fr Patrick Devine on a recent visit to the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
In 2009, Fr Devine established the Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation which is supported by Trócaire.
The work of the Centre, which includes people of all faiths, has been very positive. It engages with community leaders and others around the root causes of local problems and journeys with them to resolve their issues with the aim of coming to a permanent and positive peace. Its work has been acknowledged not just in Kenya, but internationally.
In 2013, Fr Devine received the prestigious International Caring Award in Washington DC. Previous recipients of this accolade include the Dalai Lama.
“Positive peace,” says Fr Devine, “is all about people seeing the benefits on all sides.”
The need to manage tensions and disputes was particularly evident during the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya.
After the 2013 elections in Kenya, the Centre saw the success of its work in preventing post-election violence. The Centre worked with government, civic and religious institutions to achieve this outcome – “the benefits of which were incalculable,” according to Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire.
The Shalom Centre continues to work with individuals, groups and ethnic communities to examine the root causes of conflict through education. It aims to offer solutions through providing peace-building skills and problem-solving workshops.
The Centre has trained over 120 key opinion leaders from the different ethnic groups on the techniques necessary for conflict prevention.
While continuing its programme – and also research – into the conflicts in Eastern Africa, the Shalom Centre also provides school building materials and solar lighting, underlining the importance of education in the road map to peace.
These schools (because of their solar lights) also double up as evening community centres, giving people the opportunity to come together in a neighbourly way to discuss issues of concern or local needs.
“There is no conflict group that doesn’t want a better future for themselves and for their children,” concludes Fr Devine.