SDG16+ Champions of Change

The Kenyan activist building peace through storytelling


Champions of Change is an initiative started by the Pathfinders to highlight advocates who have made an impact in their communities and helped to create peaceful, just and inclusive societies (SDG16+). It provides an opportunity to feature individuals, businesses, and organizations doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.

Wevyn Muganda is a Kenyan human rights activist and the founder of the blog “Beyond the Lines”, a platform for peacebuilders and active citizens to tell their stories. In 2019, she was invited to brief the United Nations Security Council on the implementation of the Security Council Resolutions 2250 and 2419 on Youth, Peace, and Security. After the first case of COVID-19 was announced in her country, Wevyn started an online initiative called #MutualAidKenya through which she is distributing food, donations, and organizing community engagement sessions to prevent the spread of the disease. She is a Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow 2021 at Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP).

We spoke with Wevyn Muganda to learn more about her work and what drives her:

What ignited your pursuit for more peaceful, just, and inclusive societies?

I draw my inspiration from all those who came before me who worked to ensure that I can express myself freely and that my voice is heard. Knowing that freedom is possible drives me to ensure that many other people in my country and in the world can also be free.

To achieve a peaceful, just, and, inclusive world, what does success look like to you? And what are the key factors in achieving this vision?

Success looks like: a world in which every human being is free to live the lives that they dream of regardless of their religion, race, socio-economic status or ethnicity. A world where everyone feels a part of a peaceful, just, and inclusive society.

Some of the challenges I have experienced include resistance and backlash from different actors who don’t agree with my work, lack of resources to implement long term projects that can yield more sustainable results, and the systemic inequalities that make it difficult for young people and women to succeed.

How does your work contribute to the SDG16+ goals?

The goal of my work is to advocate for the full enjoyment of human rights by all people. Human rights are the core of the Sustainable Development Goals and are also part of SDG16. I take part in different activities that support my community’s access to justice, as well as its access to information on people’s fundamental rights.

Some of the work I have done includes human rights education for young people; organizing communities to participate in decision making processes; preventing violent extremism through digital advocacy; creating and disseminating alternative narratives to violent extremism for young people on my blog and social media platforms; mutual aid activities during the pandemic; advocacy campaigns against corruption, gender-based violence, enforced disappearance and unlawful killings, etc.

How has COVID-19 impacted your work? Are there any lessons learned from the pandemic that you hope to apply in future work?

COVID-19 has made it difficult for me to conduct some of my community projects involving physical meetings. COVID-19 has also put more young people from informal settlements at risk and increased their vulnerability to infections, leaving them unemployed, broke, and helpless. With limited resources available — most of them directed towards mitigating the virus — there is little left to continue with advocacy, community education, and project implementation. Additionally, when an injustice occurs, it is now more difficult to get help from the relevant authorities as most of the efforts have been channeled towards COVID-19 mitigation. For instance, cases of gender-based violence and child abuse have become more difficult to follow through on while courts operate at minimum capacity.

An important lesson learned [from the pandemic] is that communities need to be equipped with skills and knowledge on crisis preparedness and community health emergency protocols, among others. Another lesson is that during crisis, governments and decision-making bodies need to listen to the community and work collaboratively with community leaders to ensure that efforts are fruitful. For example, when the pandemic hit, it is community health volunteers and grassroot leaders who were at the forefront of community education on the virus, its spread, and the WHO’s preventive measures. Even though there aren’t many community health volunteers, they were able to effectively communicate, sometimes in local languages, something that national health officials could not do. Additionally, most of the mutual aid activities at the onset of the pandemic were conducted by community leaders. The government took up these efforts later. If it weren’t for actions at the community level, many more people would have suffered. Regulatory measures such as curfews would have been more effective if agreed upon collectively with community leaders to ensure that the message reached more citizens. During COVID, I have I learned is that community building is still critical. In this era of digitalization where there is less physical contact, we need to create alternative ways to connect people to other people, as well as to resources that can support them during times of crisis.

Finally, perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from this pandemic is that the world is still grappling with deep inequalities and that we are all interconnected, which is why the suffering of others affects us all. This makes the need for holistic policy formulation and decisions that consider the needs of the marginalized and excluded all the more urgent.

What advice do you have for those seeking to make a difference for a more peaceful, just, and inclusive world?

There is a need to listen to the community and work collaboratively with community leaders to ensure that the efforts are fruitful. Stakeholders do not exist in isolation — their work is highly dependent on people and therefore the people’s voices, needs, and concerns should be the highest priority in decision-making processes.