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Paw Paw couple plan trip to Kenya to help with national elecions

By: Gordon Evans
Kalamazoo
September 12, 2012
WMUK

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Listen to the extended interview with Joe and Kathy Ossman (11:12)

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Listen to the interview with Joe and Kathy Ossman (5:46)

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Correction: An earier version of this story gave the incorrect day for the dinner to raise money for the mission. It will be on Friday. 

A Paw Paw couple will spend the early part of next year in Kenya as that country holds national elections. Joe Ossman and his wife Kathy will leave in January and stay for about three months. The Michigan natives moved to Paw Paw after retirement. They had lived and worked in California. Their blog about their mission to Kenya

The Ossmans will leave in January and come home sometime in April. Kenyan national elections are scheduled for March 4th. The Ossmans say they will be working to help prevent violence which has marred past elections and monitor the casting of ballots.

The Ossmans say they’ve been trained in the “alternatives to violence project” that helps people learn about dealing with conflict situations. Joe Ossman says they will also help with monitoring and citizen reporting of the election itself. They will help with a call center where citizens can call or text about any problems.

Kathy Ossman says they became interested in the mission when they were looking for volunteer work that also included travel. She says the alternatives to violence program has been active in prisons in the U.S. Kathy Ossman calls it an exciting way to work with people.

Joe Ossman says next year’s election in Kenya will be historic. He says Kenya is a relatively new country, it became independent in 1962, and didn’t become a multi-party Democracy until 1992. But elections since then have been characterized by violence. Joe Ossman says that came to a head in 2008, following the 2007 election. That led to a new Constitution. He says next year’s elections will be the first held under that new Constitution.

The violence that has followed past elections is on the mind of Kathy Ossman. She says “I go back and forth between thinking, wow we’re working on something very important and it could have a real impact on people and what happens if I see somebody coming at me.” But Ossman says they will be living with a Kenyan Quaker family, and working with an organization that is Kenyan. She says that should help then know if there is imminent danger

Kathy Ossman says she was frightened the first time she went into a prison for an alternatives to violence project. “It seems like when you go in with a caring heart, I believe good things happen.”

Joe Ossman says foreigners have not usually been the targets of the violence. Most of the violence in past elections has been inter-ethnic violence within the country. Much of the politics is tribally-based. That was fueled by the Colonial history of Kenya.

Joe Ossman says over half of the Quakers of the world live in Western Kenya. He says a major missionary effort in the early part of the 20th century helped Quakers settle there. Ossman says Quakerism is not a large religion. But there about 150,000 Quakers in the area where we will be working.

The Ossmans are holding a benefit dinner on Friday, they will make a presentation about their mission. Tickets sold for dinner will are helping to fund the mission. A Facebook page has details

Joe Ossman says they are making substantial contributions to their mission. They’ve also have had contributions from Quaker groups in Michigan and in California. 

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