Bombs blasted the city of Jos in Nigeria last month, killing more than 130 people. Local Mennonite Central Committee members Dave and Mary Lou Klassen have been there since 2012 and say reactions to the violence show promise in a place plagued by insecurity.
“This time both Muslims and Christians were at the bomb site, shoulder to shoulder, helping people, and controlling the situation,” said Dave Klassen. “Many are attributing this lack of violence to the peace-building work of MCC partners and others who have been working in the field.”
MCC has been working in Nigeria since 1963, educating and working toward peace. Klassen said their efforts are tailored for each situation. One member works with more than 2,000 women across the country through skills training and job creation. Another member focuses on sinking boreholes and sanitation education in rural communities.
“Our relationships go deep,” said Klassen. “Hundreds of service workers have served in Nigeria from the U.S. and Canada working in areas of health, teaching, development, agriculture and peace building.”
He said other partners address issues of HIV/AIDS through training, education, medication and health support. Some staff also teach peace studies courses in seminaries.
Klassen also noted the organization’s commitment to Nigeria has helped train thousands of people in everything from high schools to seminaries and universities.
“I’ve spoken with Nigerian engineers and doctors who credit their foundational secondary school education to committed MCC teachers. I’ve seen trees that were planted by MCC workers 35 years ago which are producing flowers, fruits and shade for hundreds that have no clue of the history.”
He said over the past dozen years Jos’ reputation of peace and tourism has been lost in ethnic and religious conflicts which polarize city neighbourboods. Despite the tensions, Klassen said he is driven by his faith and love of Nigerian people. He and his wife plan to stay in Nigeria until at least 2015.
“We hope that MCC staff and volunteers will continue to build positive relationships with partners that mutually build capacity and are successful in building sustainable communities that can live together in peace.”
Klassen was born in Congo and spent eight years there. He worked for the Mennonite Brethren in the Democratic Republic of Congo for three years during the early ’80s and spent four years in Maiduguri, Nigeria in the early ’90s. In 1994 he participated with the MCC response to the Rwanda genocide for three months and then represented MCC in Uganda from 1997 to 2004. In total, he’s spent 24 years of his life in Africa, and 16 years with MCC.
People back home can help the cause by contributing to peace-building work through the MCC branch in Kitchener.
Klassen described Jos as a place where almost every day is a perfect spring or summer day. He said the people are filled with energy and hope for the future. But he’s not blind to the challenges still to be faced, including something as simple as driving, which is “crazy and congested.”
The insecurity of the nation leads to road blocks, security checks, and challenges in planning further progress. An example of this is the closing of “viewing centres” after 14 people died at the hands of a suicide bomber while watching a World Cup match at an outdoor centre.
“These are places where people come together, pay a small amount of money and then watch the World Cup or other films,” said Klassen. “Because they can be potential targets for suicide bombers, these centres have been shut down forcing people to either not watch the games, go to a neighbour’s house or buy the technology so that they can watch in their homes.”
But electricity is erratic and undependable and, unfortunately, since the games started most of the electricity has been off, causing real frustration.
He said there is always more work to be done, and through their education and grassroots efforts they hope to bring real peace to the north-east of Nigeria.
“However, it is critical that some of the driving factors be addressed before the unrest and dissatisfaction of people will be reduced,” said Klassen. “High unemployment, corruption, impunity and increasing population are some of the critical issues that need serious attention.”