Empowering Communities What practical activities bring the community (both the young and old) together? Among the Digo community in the coast, traditional shrines kayas (home) played a significant role in religion. These were special places that communities visited during calamities e.g. drought, famine, disease outbreaks to seek spiritual intervention from the ancestors. It is imperative to underline the role that religion played and has continued to play in the spiritual nourishment of rural communities. And this is not just restricted to coastal but extends to even Nyanza communities. The kayas have played an integral role in promoting peace and harmony thus furthering social cohesion among the community members. Religious crusades and night vigils organized in the local markets, trading centers, and churches are common focal points where communities interact. Young men and women find marital partners, family problems are shared and mutual solutions identified. Other social events include; inter religious open fora mjadala where Muslims and Christians engage in public debates about religion. In this inter-faith dialogue community often engage in some form of intellectual contest based on religious doctrines drawn from Islam and Christianity. In as much as such meetings can sometimes get so emotionally charged, they often give the followers an opportunity to interrogate and objectively assess the ideologies surrounding their individual religious affiliations. Our government in a bid to disseminate its policies to the citizens organizes weekly public barazas (open meetings) which are convened by the provincial administration (local government operative arms comprised of village elders, assistant chiefs, chiefs, District Officers, District Commissioners, Provincial commissioners and Regional commissioners). Besides the government policy issues, public Baraza are also used to settle and arbitrate over various conflicts and disputes among the community members. The disputes can be as domestic as a man who has failed to meet his conjugal duties in a marriage being openly ordered to undertake the obligation failure to which sanctions can be imposed on him. They can also be as complex as resolving land related conflicts, witchcraft and sorcery related issues. Cases of witchcraft have perpetuated poverty in both coastal and Nyanza communities and have led to people dying from unknown or mystery ailments. During periods of mourning community members gather round the bereaved families to provide the critical solidarity and solace to them during such hard times. Funeral ceremonies just like weddings give community members an opportunity to reconnect with long lost relatives and friends. In the luo community for example, a funeral scene besides the sadness that marks a mourning period is often marked with pomp and dance especially at night as a celebratory mood captures the villagers [â€Ś..men and women, boys and girlsâ€Ś] dance the night away in memory of the life of the deceased. In the same manner, a funeral ceremony among the Digo community (which is predominantly Muslim) is a collective effort where the rural communities pool their resources towards the mutual assistance of the bereaved family. An activity such as digging of the grave brings together both young and old men to share
views and experiences about life in general. Even among the Digo after the funeral ceremony the mourners often gather round to eat pilau as part of celebration, transition and continuity. There are many other activities that bring communities together and these include building construction, farm work, bride price (dowry) paying ceremonies, cultural ceremonies i.e. dances; kayamba, sengenya, Gonda, tsikitsi, koroboi etc. Essentailly, we would wish to note hereby that the spirit of ubuntu cuts across in all activities conducted by many rural communties and these catalsyes tranquility, decorum and harmony in the said communities. It should be remembered that there are a myriad activties that bring people together some of which canot be stated here but only need to be experienced.
Similarly, in the lakeside communities, social events like funerals, weddings, payment of dowry, construction of a new house or home, open crusades organized by religious groups, markets days, night dances (especially during funerals), and government related activities where the community are mobilized by the local government officials (chiefs, assistant chiefs and village elders), community sports events organized by local community leaders or schools, farm work, fishing related activities that bring together all players involved in the fish market chains; fishermen, fish mongers, boat owners, boat operators etc What role is played by traditional institutions (such as church, mosque, village eldersâ€™ council, schools, youth, women groups etc) in this process? Traditional institutions serve to empower the poor by giving them a collective bargaining power with which to confront the powerful economic, social and political forces, which normally interact to maintain their culture of silence and poverty. These institutions provide important factors in education for awareness and exchange of information. They enable groups within rural societies to achieve influence over others, or act as a forum where decisions can be made. Only through the motivation, active involvement and organization at the grassroots level of the rural people, with special emphasis on the least advantaged, in conceptualizing and designing social and economic institutions including co-operatives and other voluntary forms of organizations for planning, implementing and evaluating them. Participation has been identified as â€œan active process in which the participants take initiative and action that is stimulated by their own thinking and deliberation and over which they can exert effective controlâ€?. The concept of participation essentially entails the empowerment of people. That is, the enabling of men and women to take control of
their destinies. It encompasses the distribution of power in the society, for it is power which enables groups to determine which needs and whose needs will be met through the distribution of resources. In the coastal and Nyanza communities’ traditional or local level institutions […..such as church, mosque, village elders’ council, schools, youth, women groups…..] the above institutions play a pivotal role in facilitating and catalyzing community participation in most development processes. Community entry in any rural community is almost impossible unless it is done under the aegis of these traditional institutions. In the coastal region, mosques (the community is predominantly Muslim, as such are governed by sharia law), village elders’ council1 and schools play a primary role in this process. Youths and women are equally important but they only play a secondary role. It is in the mosques, village elders’ council and schools that you can access the youths, women and key community resource persons. In the lake region, the church especially the Seventh Day Adventist church (SDA) underlies the strong religious attachment that this community ahs in matters relating to their faith. Generally, the church and not necessarily restricted to SDA plays a significant role in igniting community participation. Alongside the church is the government (provincial administration), which is a key player as far as furthering of sociopolitical and economic participation of the community in defining their development agenda is concerned. Other institutions like schools, markets, health faculties, youths and women groups have also emerged as central hubs for mobilizing communities towards social action.