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Cornell students organize fundraiser to help Kenya heal

Cornell's Kenyan students say they have felt helpless and detached from the political and ethnic strife back home. Now they will help directly through a new Heal Kenya Campaign.

Starting on campus this week, the campaign brings together Kenyans from all ethnic backgrounds to help ease tensions and aid their country's displaced people.

After a long history of peace and increasing prosperity, Kenya erupted in unanticipated ethnic violence in late December following accusations of ballot rigging in the presidential election. More than 1,000 deaths have been reported and more than 300,000 people are displaced, according to the International Crisis Group.

Wananchi Association (Wananchi means citizens in Swahili), Cornell's Kenyan and East African student association, has organized the Heal Kenya Campaign, which is running through March 28. The group, which includes about 30 students and their spouses, hopes to raise awareness about the issues in Kenya and provide funds for the Kenya Red Cross Society. The student campaign is supported in part by the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD), Cornell's Institute for African Development (IAD) and the Africana Studies and Research Center.

"We want to make a statement as Kenyans in the Cornell community," said Amos Kung'u, one of the organizers of the campaign and husband of Jacqueline Kung'u, a Cornell graduate student in nutritional sciences. "We are shocked by the situation back in Kenya and want to get as many people as are interested on board this effort to make a positive impact."

"There is a need for resources in Kenya," said Alice Pell, professor of animal science and director of CIIFAD, which has had a number of Kenyan graduate students and research projects in western Kenya, one of the areas hardest hit by the upheaval. "There are huge numbers of displaced people. [And] people have lost property and livelihoods, so financial help is needed."

The campaign includes a public information effort that includes posters, media articles and a Web site http://ciifad.cornell.edu/getinvolved/HealKenya/kenyaaid.cfm. However, the campaign's primary goal is to raise funds for the nonpartisan Kenya Red Cross, which has set up camps across Kenya. It uses donations for health clinics and medical supplies, proper sanitation facilities, clean water, such food supplies as maize, beans and vegetable oil, and other relief in the form of clothing and blankets, according to Kung'u. The Red Cross is also working with the Kenyan government to reconnect adults and children separated from their families.

Wananchi will hold a fundraising dinner of traditional Kenyan cuisine on March 28 at the Africana Center. Earlier that day, there will be a forum on the Kenyan crisis as part of the New York African Students Association meeting at Cornell. Its focus will be to develop suggestions on how the country might heal. Campaign organizers and faculty aim to formally present the most worthwhile recommendations to the Kenyan government, possibly through the Kenyan embassy in Washington, D.C.

Check donations can be made out to "Cornell University" and designated "Heal Kenya" and dropped off at: CIIFAD, 31 Warren Hall; IAD, 170 Uris Hall; Africana Studies and Research Center, 310 Triphammer Road; and the International Students and Scholars Office, B-50 Caldwell Hall.

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