February 7, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 26
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Roxy concert benefits
victims of Kenyan violence

Talia Whyte

Nearly 200 people filled the Roxy for a benefit concert Saturday evening to raise both awareness and much-needed funds for victims of the rampant violence that has taken Kenya by storm since the African nation’s controversial Dec. 27 presidential elections.

The impetus for the event was the mounting concern among Kenyans living in the Boston area who felt they needed to do something to help affected family members and friends back home. What resulted was VUMA Kenya!, a nonprofit initiative mostly made up of young Kenyan professionals who want to use their resources and social connections to make a difference.

According to the organization’s Web site, “vuma” is derived from Swahili and has a variety of meanings, including “spread,” “thrive” and “prosper.” In the space of just three weeks, the initiative worked to do all three, booking the venerable Tremont Street nightclub and securing an impressive lineup of African performers and speakers, including Kenyan pop star and Berklee College of Music graduate Eric Wainaina and Peter Kithene, founder of Mama Maria Clinic in Kenya and recent CNN Heroes Honoree. The benefit also included local flavor, courtesy of the poetry of Roxbury community activist Jamal Crawford.

Despite the relatively short period between the benefit’s conception and its targeted date, momentum grew fast thanks to the organizers’ word-of-mouth advertising through social media outlets like Facebook and MySpace.

“A lot of people were really interested in the benefit,” said VUMA Kenya! founder and Harvard Medical School student Karimi Gituma. “There were so many people who wanted to do something for the victims, but didn’t know how to use their energy and resources.”

The initiative is donating funds from the benefit to the Kenyan Red Cross. Gituma said Tuesday morning that a final dollar amount raised was not yet available, though she said she expected to be able to report the total figure on the initiative’s Web site later this week.

VUMA Kenya! is also using its Web site as a resource for Bostonians who want to get in touch with other groups working on the ground to serve victims. One of those groups is Orphan Wisdom Inc., founded by Harvard Divinity School student Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi. Her charity specifically focuses on women and children in western Kenya.

“Most people have been focusing on the politics and the not the victims,” she said. “Children have been traumatized and they don’t have food, clothing and water. We want to make sure people are being taken care of.”

According to The Associated Press, the fighting in Kenya had killed more than 1,000 people and left 300,000 homeless.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan were in Nairobi last week to strike a four-point peace plan between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. However, the plan fell through when a fresh round of violence erupted in western Kenya. After weekend clashes left at least 70 dead, talks were set to resume Monday.

Many of the Kenyan attendees at Saturday night’s benefit carried heavy hearts, as some were directly affected by the violence. Some said that Kenya is going through a “postcolonial moment,” with the tribal warfare an outgrowth of tensions that have been brewing and escalating since Kenya gained independence from England in 1963.

Critically acclaimed Kenyan American singer and benefit performer Shu was in Kenya last August, and said people were excited about voting in the elections.

“It’s a real shame,” said the Kenyan-born artist, whose real name is Mwashuma Nyatta. “There was so much positive feelings and optimism about the elections. This is the first time I have seen this level of violence.”

Célia Faussart, one half of the popular Afro-French neo-soul group Les Nubians, said that although she was born in Cameroon and raised in Chad, she felt an obligation to be part of this concert as a pan-Africanist.

“The Kenya problem is all of our concern,” she said. “We need to get rid of violence and tribalism. I hope my brothers and sisters over there will find a better solution. Peace is always a choice.”

For more information about VUMA Kenya! and its efforts to help victims of violence in Kenya, visit the initiative’s Web site at www.vumakenya.org.

VUMA Kenya!, a local nonprofit initiative, hosted a concert last Saturday, Feb. 2, to benefit the victims of violence following Kenya’s controversial elections late last year. Eric Wainaina (pictured), a Kenyan pop star and Berklee College of Music graduate, headlined the show. (Lara Kimmerer photo)

Célia Faussart, one half of the Afro-French neo-soul group Les Nubiaris, performed at the Roxy concert in support of fellow Africans in Kenya. Faussart, who was born in Cameroon and raised in Chad, said she felt obligated to be part of the benefit because “The Kenya problem is all of our concern.” (Lara Kimmerer photo)

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