GBM Blog

Trees for peace – A reflection on the loss of life at Garissa University

June 27, 2016 - 10:40AM
Published by Communications

Written by Aisha Karanja - Executive Director, the Green Belt Movement

“We are together in this brothers and sisters”, students from Garissa University and the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences (CAVS) plant an olive treeGoing to University is every young man or woman’s dream. When a parent sends their child to the Institution of higher learning, it is to learn, and to be safe and to dream and to find opportunity. These young bright minds join the institutions with the hope and dreams of serving their country and having a brighter future.

On the 2nd day of April 2015, all these dreams were wiped away, 148 young souls were lost through acts of terror.

There is no cause that can justify such brutality. No grievance can excuse such horror. It is an act of horror and cowardice to attack defenseless youth on campus and there can be absolutely no justification for targeting young lives in this way. Institutions of learning must be safe and secure learning spaces. Enrolling and attending an Institution of higher learning should not have to be an act of bravery.

The hearts of the families and those who survived are full of grief, but tomorrow let them not be full of hate. That is what terror demands, and we should not give it that victory. We must respond by standing stronger and taller still, uncowed by such acts towards our youth, the dreams of tomorrow, we must remain unshaken by such cowardice and hatred.

26th May 2016, a solemn ceremony took place – planting of 148 trees in memory of the victims of the Garissa attack. Not just the usual planting but it was a Green Belt Movement (GBM) initiated peace park, situated at the green campus site that will soon be home for the Wangari Maathai Institute, thanks to space donated by the University of Nairobi for this Park.

Listening to the young survivors, their lecturers who came all the way from Garissa, and the students from the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences (CAVS) watching from the neighboring Soweto hall just across, one could not fail but to feel a sense of sadness, and at the same time responsibility.

It was very touching when the students from the Soweto hall were asked to join the event and they did so without hesitation, as if they were just waiting to be told, with one of them giving remarks on their behalf – such silent solidarity with comrades from Garissa!. And they planted a tree together and chatted together as if to say . Surely what separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.

“To you Parents, we ask you not to abandon us just because we have turned eighteen years .Just because we have gone to college does not mean you should leave us on our own” , said one of the survivors in his few remarks.

Truly a lesson for all guardians and all of us who were listening – these young people still need guidance, encouragement, support, love, etc. We still have a role to play in their lives; we must teach them and be united in both our compassion and our resolve. They are our Children and they need us in their journey, along the way as they follow their dreams – We should not ABANDON them, we should not leave them on their own.

It was time to plant 148 trees in memory of the departed souls:

The main reason we like trees is because they are both beautiful and majestic. No two are alike. Different species display a seemingly endless variety of shapes, forms, textures and vibrant colors. Even individual trees vary their appearance throughout the course of the year as the seasons change.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them; whoever knows how to listen to them can learn the truth.  They teach us that we can succeed in diversity if we focus on our commonalities and not differences.

What other better place to have this Peace Park than on the grounds of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental studies (WMI)? Just the right Forum to pass strong messages for our present and future generations:

  • That we must care when our young are being killed,when dreams are cut short;
  • That the 148 youth are gone but their dreams did not die;
  • That the Youth must emerge to carry the torch forward for more education, free from violence or intimidation as ambassadors of peace;
  • That we must appreciate our Youth in their own essence, and empower them;
  • That we should not let fear rule our life, even if we are scared.

Our mettle as peace-loving people shall be sorely tested by such attacks. Whatever we do next, let it be without haste, without hatred. That is a difficult thing to ask, a very tough and narrow path to tread, but it is the only way through, and this is what we will teach our young, our youth – peace, love and unity.