Peace Bringer Spotlight
Sophie Umazi Mvurya
Peace Bringer Spotlight Honoree
Sophie Umazi Mvurya
Mattie said we must “share peace” and we must “make peace a reality, by tending to the basic needs of others, and by reaching beyond one’s own family and community to gently touch the lives of other people who have needs — including the need for hope and peace.” Before she ever heard of Mattie J.T. Stepanek, Sophie Umazi Mvurya of Nairobi, Kenya wrote, “As citizens of the works, it is our responsibility to uphold peace and prosperity in all parts of the world, and not just our individual home countries.”
When she began learning about Mattie’s message during the Three Dot Dash 2012 Just Peace Summit for Global Teen Leaders, she re-shaped her peace mission and advocacy work to reflect Mattie’s “I Am…” mosaic vision in her own peace project, which is now the international “I AM Kenyan Project.” Now, as we celebrate teens who are learning more about the message Mattie shared so that they can serve as role models for peace, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Sophie Umazi Mvurya as our Peace Bringer Spotlight Honoree for our February-March post.
NOTE: Sophie is a 2012 Global Teen Leader through the WAFF Three Dot Dash (3DD) Initiative. She is one of the nearly 150 teens who are currently a part of this international peace project. The anchor event for 3DD is the Just Peace Summit, which is based on Mattie’s “Just Peace: A Message of Hope” book, in which he writes that peace is possible if the basic needs of all humans are tended to and met in an equitable way. The Just Peace Summit is an annual event, during which 30 teens selected from around the world gather for an intense, weeklong training and networking opportunity, followed by a year of peace efforts as a Global Teen Leader with the support of a mentor.
Below are Sophie’s responses
to our interview questions.
What would you like to share about yourself?
My name is Sophie Umazi Mvurya, and I live in Kenya.
I love learning about different cultures to the maximum, so that I am aware of the diversity around me. I love doing this through dance, music, and art — hence I am actively involved in activities that involve the above.
I really love people and I strive to make society better in the little ways that I can. Most importantly I love my country, Kenya, and I would do all in my power for its betterment.
My family and I are actively involved in the I AM KENYAN project. I believe that this is our endeavor towards maintaining peace in Kenya.
On December 31st 2007, the results of the Kenyan presidential elections sparked tribal clashes. The severity of the Kenyan 2007 post-election violence intensified in the 59 days that followed, and by the 28th of February 2008, there were 1500 deaths and over 600,000 Internally displaced persons. Although the immediacy and timing of these clashes can be blamed on the irregularities in the election results, tribal tension can be traced through history where inter-ethnic struggles have stemmed largely from the ethnicization of politics.
To this date, the ethnicization of politics is still being used as a campaigning strategy by a vast majority of Kenyan politicians. As the country approaches the 2013 election year, there is growing concern that this campaign strategy will lead to yet another post-election violence. With the volatile state of the country during this period, Kenya cannot afford further ethnic division at the expense of political gain. Therein lies the need to remind the Kenyan nationals that before they identify themselves by their ethnic groups, they need to identify themselves, and each other, as Kenyan.
The I AM KENYAN project is a Kenyan youth-led reconciliation campaign that uses photography as a unique platform to advocate for countrywide reconciliations and individual responsibility for peace especially during the upcoming Kenyan elections in 2013. The initiative aims to unite all Kenyans from all walks of life, all over the world to affirm their Kenyan Identity in all aspects of their lives and Stand up for Peace. This is imperative for co-existence, economic prosperity and political stability in Kenya. To “Stand Up For Peace,” individuals take a photo of themselves with the caption “I am Kenyan” and upload it onto the project website or Facebook page.
How it works:
Individuals who are willing to participate, are requested to take a photo of themselves on a plain background with the words “I AM KENYAN” written in any language anywhere in the picture making a funny, happy or silly face. Each participant is encouraged to be creative.
The I AM KENYAN project is not limited to only Kenyans, but is open to persons from other nationalities. This show of solidarity will largely be a means to asserting our identity as human beings despite our different places of origin; we are citizens of the world despite our individual uniqueness. Getting this message to Kenyans across the country prior to the elections would be greatly helpful in preventing the “us” and “them” mentality that was adopted four years ago.
If one sends in their picture to the “I AM KENYAN” project as a contribution to promoting peace in Kenya, they are consenting to the use of their photo for the “I AM KENYAN ” project; this picture may also be used, posted or displayed in websites, social media or publications that are aimed at promoting peace in Kenya.
These pictures are blown up to black and white posters that will be posted on various media platforms including social media, newspapers, billboards and television adverts across the country.
This initiative is more than a peace “project” — it is an ongoing process that aims to continue spreading its message of peace by launching school clubs and youth forums. We are conducting talks in both local and international schools and universities, we are very active on social media and we are also planning to further our talks in IDP camps and rural areas. This matters because universal and lasting peace will be achieved once we all learn to appreciate each other and not tolerate each other!
How did you learn about Mattie and our Foundation?
I learned about Mattie at the Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit in March 2012. During the Summit, his mom, Jeni, shared Mattie’s messages of hope and peace with us. Mattie’s poem and message about “I AM…” really touched me and went a long way in inspiring the “I AM KENYAN” project.
I learned about Mattie’s Foundation during the Just Peace Summit in March 2012 as well. And I was very lucky that the “mentor” that was paired with me for my year as a 3DD Global Teen Leader is Omékongo Dibinga. Omékongo serves on the Board of Directors for Mattie’s Foundation, which is how he learned about 3DD. Now, he is like a big brother to me that I can turn to give me any sort of advice.
When I was torn between focusing all my energy on the I AM KENYAN project or my other projects he was there to guide me step by step untill I knew what I had to do. Moreover, he believed in the intiative the first time I told him about it to the extent that he wrote a song for it and for Kenya which was very touching and encouraging. He is truly one of the best mentors that I have ever had!
Why did you choose to join Mattie’s Peace Club Teens?
I chose to become a Peace Club Teen as it is a platform where I am able to meet people like me who are passionate about promoting and spreading peace in the world. During my journey — that is nowhere near completion — I am filled with hope as there is a resonating feeling that very many Kenyans want peace for their country and the world.
We are all human beings before we are Americans, Kenyans or Indian. I believe that in this day and age where the world is so interconnected we are no longer just citizens of one country but citizens of the world.
For my book or poetry reflection that is a part of the Teen Peace Journey, I responded to the third section of Mattie’s “Just Peace” book. The section is called “Just Peace: An Endeavor” and it contains his “I Am…” poem and his mosaic vision for a peaceful world. I was not able to express my reflections on Mattie’s message via spoken word, but I was able to do so through two paintings. Like Mattie writes, “We are a mosaic of gifts!”
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Hahahaha… When everyone asks me this question I tell them I really do not know. This is because I want to always be of service to my nation by uplifting the lives of everyone. At this point, this is my mission through the I Am Kenyan project, but it might be through something else in the future. That is why I do not know what I want to be “when I grow up.”
I am hoping that this Spotlight recognition may help me to call people to action by getting them involved within the campaign. I want people to read this, and then take I AM KENYAN pictures and spread the message — of peace for all people.
Are you Kenyan? Peace is universal and when one part of the world is not peaceful the whole world is then affected one way or another hence I challenge you to stand up for peace in this part of the world.
It is an honor to be given this recognition by Mattie’s Foundation. I am very, very humbled. Thank you very very much! I am excited and very happy! Thank you so much for your never ending support! Peace is possible!
Thank you, Sophie,
for being a Peace Bringer.
NOTE: On March 16, 2013
Sophie will be a TEDxTeen Speaker in NYC.
Click on the links below to learn more about Sophie’s project: