By Irene Lamunu
Hilary Halkano Bakuno is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Children Peace Initiative. He was born in 1972, in a North-Kenyan town called Maikona and he grew up in Marsabit, still in Northern Kenya. Like many of the children, in 1979, Halkano begun his education at North Horr Primary school in Marsabit town after which he was admitted at Marsabit Secondary school. In 1992, he was admitted to Consolata Seminary in Nairobi; he had always dreamt of becoming a priest. At Consolata, he got a B.A in philosophy from Urbamiana University in Italy. In the year 2000, he got admission to join Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya and did a postgraduate diploma in education. Halkano’s dream was to become a priest, unfortunately, he did not make it to priesthood but he has served the Lord as a lay man. Half of Halkano’s career life has been with the church. He was employed by diocese of Marsabit where he worked for 10 years. He worked as a pastoral youth animator in his parish in Marsabit. In 2003, he was appointed as a diocesan secretary for Justice and Peace Commission.
In this office, Halkano began his journey of peace building, governance and advocacy. The Justice and Peace commission motivated Halkano so much that he got a wealth of life’s experience through this program. In 2011, his community was involved with a neighboring tribe in a conflict which caused a lot of destruction in both areas. This was the turning point for him. That is when he thought it was time to begin a peace program to be able to help his community and the neighboring communities. That was the time he resigned as the secretary for Justice and Peace Commission and founded his organisation.
Halkano says he was motivated into the peace program because of his background: he grew up in a pastoral community in Northern Kenya and he had been hearing and witnessing so many stories of tribal conflicts and fights with neighbors which always made him sad. The stories and experiences faced while taking care of the family cows also motivated him more. He said his mother had survived death so many times from the rival tribes during her escapades with the cows and added that as a child, he would hear neighbors crying because of the loss of loved ones in tribal wars. This was Halkano’s opportunity to try and create change in his community which he did not fail.
Since he had worked in the church for a long time, preaching peace became easy for him. That also pushed him to work harder to contribute to creating peace in his area. He had won a lot of trust from his own people while still working at the Justice and Peace Commission. In 2009, his community was faced with a very bad tribal conflict from the neighboring tribe that they were forced into internally displaced Camps. At that time, their condition was so bad so students from Taganza University and Catholic University in Nairobi went to Marsabit to visit the IDPs and bring items for the displaced people.
The students from the two universities had programs for the adults and youth but none for the children. While the counselors who visited with the students were engaging the youths and adults, the children were asked to go and play.
Halkano said the university students took the children and engaged them in games and eventually, the children from the two warring tribes were playing together. That is when he saw that tension had reduced because for the first time, the children had brought different people together. Halkano who worked for the Justice and Peace Commission at the time had accompanied the students and counselors to the IDP camp. He was inspired by what he saw. So he thought he could begin a program to involve children in peace building.
His co-founders were university students then but that did not stop them from starting the organisation. In June 2009, they had their first peace camp with two IDP communities of Gabra and Borana in Northern Kenya and it worked so well. As time went by, the peace camps begun picking up and in 2011, Mr. Halkano resigned his job as the diocesan secretary for the justice and peace commission. It was not long before he and his co-founders begun having programs like Heifers for peace where they would distribute one cow to two families of different tribes, they had peace exchange holiday programs for children and parents, homestay program and peace concerts.
When he saw that the programs were successful, he talked to Monica Kinyuah, Jane Wanjiru Kinyuah and Caroline Karani about establishing an organisation that would help make children peace lovers and builders. This program he says has helped many Kenyan communities come together and also reduce tribal conflicts. Today, his organization, Children’s Peace initiative Kenya has crossed boarder to South Sudan trying to bring together kuku and dinka children together to try and create peace in South Sudan.
This program has helped Halkano contribute to a peaceful Northern Kenya pastoral tribes and he says he feels it is the right time to cross the border and extend his struggles beyond Kenya. He is happy that his efforts are bringing joy to many people. He added that the Peace Initiative in Kenya has picked up so much and has played a big role in reducing conflict for eight years in Kenya.
Halkano noted that every year, they connect 150 families, something that brings a lot of joy to him. He noted that it has been a dream come true for him and his co-founders to work with the Comboni missionaries and take the peace gospel beyond the Kenyan border.The soft spoken Halkano says he is a father to three beautiful daughters.
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