February 4, 2008: North Van resident works to restore peace in Kenya

      Monday, February 4, 2008
      Contact: Shelley Kean
      Tel: 604.983.7596

      (NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C.)—With his friends being uprooted from their homes in Kenya, 21-year-old North Vancouver resident, James Haga, is dividing his time between international studies at Simon Fraser University and finding ways to help his extended family overseas.

      Haga returned from Kenya last July before violence erupted there after January’s election. He had spent nearly a year in Kakamega in western Kenya doing impact assessment work through a CIDA-funded internship with the African Canadian Continuing Education Society (ACCES).

      “I could see the potential for trouble,” he said, “especially because Kenya is a relatively new democracy with people in the government who had previously been in power and who are known to be corrupt.”

      Haga explained that most people in Kenya know and care about the political situation in their country and have either a desire for change or no change at all.

      “I became a bit of a political junky when I was there,” he admitted. “The differences in political leaning were quite evident. There are people who support politicians based on regionalism, and then there are those mostly younger people who want a government for all citizens.”

      Haga’s work with ACCES saw him helping to further the organization’s mandate of supporting people in western Kenya through education.

      “Over the last 14 years, ACCES has assisted Kenyans in attending college or university,” Haga said. “Today, more than 800 graduates are now working there for stronger solutions for their country – especially when it’s in crisis.”

      ACCESS also provides basic education for adults, HIV/AIDS programming, gender-based programming, and health care via community nurses who go into rural communities.

      “They’re tackling the root problems to build skills,” he said.

      When Haga’s job placement ended, he travelled the region for about a month with some other Vancouverites.

      “We spent four days in northern Uganda speaking to displaced people living in refugee camps that are supported by the United Nations,” he said. “They had to give up their homes and escape to these places because of the fighting between rebel forces and the government.”

      Since the January election, Haga has been in constant contact with his buddies in Africa.

      “Some of my friends had to evacuate their families to Uganda,” he said. “Others have lost relatives, and another’s sister was recently shot in the leg by an arrow.

      “Some parts of the country are calm,” he added, “but it’s still a tense situation for everyone. People are waiting for something to happen.”

      Haga initially became involved in making a difference in people’s lives through Capilano College’s Global Stewardship program. The Argyle Secondary grad went directly into the two year program after finishing high school in 2004. By the time he graduated from the college with an Associate of Arts degree in 2006, he knew his future was in making positive global change.

      “I left high school and didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work to support others in some way,” he said. “I went to an information meeting at Cap and met Cam Sylvester, coordinator of the Global Stewardship program. He convinced me that there was a role for young people to make change.”

      Haga said his learning experience was “tremendous,” and he made “incredible friends.

      “I still talk to one of my instructors every week,” he said.

      In 2007, Haga enrolled in SFU’s bachelor of International Studies program, taking a minor in Dialogue.

      “This program is about making a difference in the world,” he said. It’s the same philosophy as the Global Stewardship program at Cap, so it’s nice to have a continuation of that.”

      In addition to his studies, Haga volunteers as vice chair of the board of directors for Watari, a youth and family services program based in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. He also sits on a school chapter board for Engineers without Borders, an organization that provides practical sustainable solutions for four African communities.

      “And there is a group of us here and in Africa working together to solve the crisis in Kenya right now,” he added. “We’re called the Kenyan Peace and Solidarity Committee.

      “I asked my friends there what can we do and they just said, ‘Please keep us in mind and try to convince your government that we matter.’ So we’re working in different ways to do that.”

      After completing his formal education, Haga sees himself continuing to work for a better world.

      “I want to go outside of my comfort zone, learn new skills, and travel to other countries – hopefully to east Africa next time,” he said. “I fell in love with the African way of life and it’s one of the places in the world where I feel that I can be most effective.”