Friday, 29 July 2011

In memoriam: Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, 1964-2011

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi was an ethnic Somali woman, a Kenyan citizen, a remarkable community worker and peace-builder, a devout and very spiritual Muslim woman . . . who found her ‘second spiritual home’ among Quakers at Woodbrooke. Tragically, she died in a car accident on 14 July, along with her husband, as they were on their way to a peace conference. She leaves four children.

Dekha came from Wajir in northern Kenya, an area prone to drought, poverty and conflict. Her brother says of her that she was ‘always a leader’ – even when she was in school. For a young woman to take leadership in such a traditional society was a remarkable thing.

Dekha first came to Woodbrooke, back in the very early 1990s, when she enrolled as a participant on the 11-week conflict transformation course run by Responding to Conflict. RTC has its offices on the Woodbrooke campus and at that time they ran twice yearly residential courses, housed in Woodbrooke. Dekha returned at a later date as a tutor on a similar course, and some years after that worked for a year as a full-time staff member for RTC, based at Woodbrooke.

Along with other RTC people she was instrumental in creating and developing the Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA). 

Her work in her home region was recounted in a training film, commissioned by RTC, called The Wajir Story. The film can be watched online (35 mins), and the accompanying training materials are freely available.

In 2007 Dekha was given the Right Livelihood Award (sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel Peace Prize, and also based in Stockholm). Part of the citation for her award states:
"... for showing in diverse ethnic and cultural situations how religious and other differences can be reconciled, even after violent conflict, and knitted together through a cooperative process that leads to peace and development".
In relation to the award, you can watch a video of Dekha and read a Question/Answer written interview with her.

In 2009 Dekha was awarded the Hessian Peace Prize – another global award (based in Frankfurt).

There are tributes to her on the websites of American Friends Service Committee and Peace Direct. On YouTube there’s a film of her talking about her work, called ‘A Kenyan Superhero’. And she was featured this week on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Last Word’ programme (29 July; she’s the second person featured, about 8 minutes into the programme).

In person Dekha was warm, inspiring, and gave no sense of thinking herself a global superstar. She loved Woodbrooke, visited often, and found there a place of refreshment and rest. Among Quakers she found spiritual ‘cousins’, and one of my strong memories of her is a few years ago when she happened to be at Woodbrooke during Ramadan. Amid her many meetings and other work, and among the normal social mealtimes that are a feature of Woodbrooke’s dining room, she quietly and unobtrusively kept the fast.

Another of my memories is of her talking to a Woodbrooke course group who were spending a week exploring ‘pilgrimage’ (including reflection, discussion, and a day’s pilgrimage walking). Dekha came in one evening and talked about her then quite recent experience of Hajj. It was a powerfully inspiring talk about what had clearly been a powerfully inspiring spiritual experience for her.

If you Google ‘Dekha Ibrahim Abdi’ you will find many more websites than I have mentioned. She was much loved and is greatly missed.

Postscript: there is now (10 August) also an obituary in The Guardian, written by Scilla Elworthy.
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My apologies to regular readers for the long gap since my last post - I've been very caught up with preparations for the imminent Yearly Meeting Gathering at Canterbury.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

More on Quakers and Transition

In last week's post I wrote about some of what we did during the "Quakers and Transition" weekend held at Woodbrooke from 24-26 June. Jenny Shellens, of Bristol Area Meeting attended. She writes:
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I spend too much of my time on the head stuff. And it is true that around the transition to a fair, low-carbon, world there is much to learn, define and debate. But this weekend also gently encouraged us to look at the other stuff: the heart and soul. So, I'll try to chart for you my feelings.

I feel gratitude – for the fellowship, for the sunshine, for Woodbrooke’s abundance of nature right there, just to be in. I feel the familiar, crushing, terror that engulfs me whenever I look squarely at the future – at climate change forecasts and energy supply and the violence with which people and nations are responding to resource scarcity. I feel rage.

I feel inspired by the myriad stories of people making a difference, step by step – a community event here, a local food project there. I feel encouraged by the commitment and expertise and passion and undauntability of the Quakers involved, within a Transition Town, within their Meetings, beyond.

And then I feel I am clutching at straws: the world is burning. And I feel the loneliness of trying to cope with these thoughts in my daily life, among Quakers as elsewhere. I am more than daunted, I am overwhelmed. I haven’t the strength to do this without the leadership of my faith community. I feel despair.

So I try to fix my mind on the vision, on the idea that this time we are living in shall prove to be the great turning. We shall turn away from destructive patterns of consumption and resource use, of growing inequality and injustice, of alienation from our neighbours. We shall build resilient communities and create a positive future, after this interval of massive fossil fuelled consumption.

And we shall do this through action in which Quakers have a particular and wonderful history: through action on equality and conflict resolution and community and justice; through simplicity and some good old Quaker practicality.

I hear that at Yearly Meeting Gathering, in August, there is room for corporate action. I know there are thousands of Quakers doing wonderful things, from energy audits to new economic models to refugee integration, that contribute to the coming transition just as they do to our Quaker ideals. And this allows me to feel a concrete hope – that the 35 of us who happened to be there were representing an enormously larger group; that the Yearly Meeting as a whole may articulate this vision far better than I can. And a hope that our individual actions may be brought together as a true Quaker testimony.
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Many thanks to Jenny for this post.
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Jenny refers to a 'great turning': for more on this, check out
- Joanna Macy talking on YouTube
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If you want to post a comment, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at and I can post it for you.

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