Joab Omondi and Lynn Carter from The Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund.
At Lambeth's May meeting we warmly welcomed Joab Omondi and Lynn Carter from the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund. Lynn is the Director of PoC and explained that it was originally established in 1962 as the relief arm of Amnesty International. The Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund are a separate charity and the only agency in the UK making grants specifically to prisoners of conscience. Their website is here: www.prisonersofconscience.org
Joab is an environmental scientist and geography teacher from Kenya, where he was also an active human rights campaigner. His name is Joab as he was born early in the morning and he was brought up in a village surrounded by nature in western Kenya. When he was young he fell into the wetlands and nearly died. He believes that if nature nearly kills you then you become blood brothers and when he saw that the wetlands were being cultivated and drained he decided to do something about it. He organised peaceful mass protests against the government’s draining and pollution of the wetlands.
Joab was detained several times by the government’s secret agents during the single party era. On several occasions he was a victim of torture, receiving death threats, severe beatings and being held in cells flooded with water for long periods. In 1996, Joab’s environmental organisation (The Lake Victoria Wetlands Team) was officially deregistered and he was expelled from his postgraduate degree programme. The group continued operating secretly until Joab escaped to the UK in 2007.
With the help of a PoC grant, Joab completed a PGCE in Geography at the Institute of Education in 2002 and became head of his department in the school at which he taught. He is very proud of his students. He continues with his environment conservation work and has run several school programmes that enable students to visit other countries and be involved in short-term environmental conservation and management projects. With PoC assistance, Joab is now undertaking a PhD in Climate Change and how it is influencing people’s relationships with natural resources at Anglia Ruskin University.
Asked if there were still issues with the wetlands Joab explained that climate change is forcing people to do things that aren’t normal and the way they engage with nature is changing. He sees climate change as a human rights issue. With time things are getting better but the Kenyan police shot students near the University recently for protesting. There is a free press now though and Joab is going back to Kenya for a pilot study soon then will go back for the proper fieldwork which will be for six months. The group asked if he would be willing to return after six months to report on his findings and he agreed to that.
The group thanked Joab and Lynn for such an interesting and positive talk and for travelling so far to come and see us.