Willy Lokadio grew up in the Wild West. Another name for the place is Kacheliba, Uganda. Decades ago, this region along the Kenya/Uganda border got its moniker when cattle rustling became common among tribes desperate for the food or negotiable “currency.” If a young man killed a rival while providing for his people, he was tattooed so village women would recognize him as a brave hero.
In this community where ancient customs held sway, there was no such thing as a school for the poor. Only good fortune presented a way out. When his uncle became a cook at a private school, Lokadio was able to begin his education.
Just a few years later, he received a Fulbright to study at USD’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, where he completed his master’s degree last summer. Given the difficulties of life in his village, Lokadio might be tempted to stay in laid-back San Diego. But this selfless, soft-spoken man is heading home this fall to work: making micro-loans to small businesses that will provide food and other resources in the future.
Lokadio and his classmates remain hopeful at a time when violent conflicts around the world dominate daily headlines. These fledgling humanitarians want to use their degrees to work within the system to empower change without violence.
Toward that end, Kioi “Joseph” Mbugua plans to return to the village of Ngong near Nairobi to facilitate peace-building workshops. Shobha Shrestha heads back to Nepal to educate “young leaders, youths, women and marginalized people to advocate for their rights and be responsible citizens.” South African Addila Sabat “would like to work at the World Bank or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees with an emphasis on policymaking and mediation, or for the South African government in foreign affairs.”
Why, one wonders, are these new USD grads so hopeful, when the world’s troubled regions continue to struggle with corrupt government and shortages of food, water, and education?
Doing humanitarian work in Kenya and Ethiopia in 2005, Mbugua was in the area when Kenya’s Borgan and Gabbra tribes engaged in a violent conflict over ethnic and district boundaries that left twelve people dead. Even so, he is optimistic that negotiation and mediation techniques he’s learned will help him show desperate rivals why it’s in their best interest to work together.
“We speak Swahili, which can be understood by a good number of Kenyans,” he says. “We have established district peace committees that bring the two ethnic groups together. We introduce conflict resolution skills and map the conflict together.” The goal is to open lines of communication and guide rivals to their own solutions, rather than imposing them.
Athough Willy Lokadio’s father is an old man now, he’s still revered by his Pokot tribe as a hero. Why? “Because he killed people when they came to steal his cows,” Lokadio explains. “Everybody believed it was all right to kill. They didn’t even use the word ‘steal.’ They said they were ‘going to bring back their property.’ Now, we can show them that it is not cattle that means survival: you can do business to get food. If you steal, you can die, anything can happen, there’s no guarantee you come home.”
Family, friends and neighbors eagerly await Lokadio’s return. “Everybody knows I came to the university for a year, and they respect me for that.” But does he really think there’s a good chance he can help change lives for the better?
“So much,” he says. “So, so much.”