The Africa Peace and Human Rights Education is a project of the Thomas Merton Center. The Thomas Merton Center is a Peace and Justice organization established in 1972. APHRE was created to promote peace and justice in Africa. Online http://www.thomasmertoncenter.org Tim Vining, Director.
The Africa Initiative
Pittsburgh, PA 15230
2. Why do you do what you're doing (talk a little about your history, experiences, whatever makes you ACT for social justice)?
Peter Okema was born on February 27, 1978 in Gulu, northern Uganda. Okema grew up in Uganda and as a young boy; Okema was able to witness human rights abuses, wars and political instabilities.
Okema trained as a news reporter studying Journalism and Literature at the National University of Uganda – Makerere University. Okema also studied Communications Media at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Okema is currently pursuing a degree in Public Service (concentrating in Government) at the University of Pittsburgh where he will be graduating this summer. Okema will also be receiving a certificate in African Studies and a certificate in Non Profit Management.
Human Rights Experience:
Okema’s journalism experience is focused on human rights in Africa. Okema has also been physically involved in peaceful protests and demonstrations both in and outside Pittsburgh. Last December, 2004, Okema led a group of over 150 protesters for a peaceful rally in front of the United Nations offices in New York city. Okema also organized a peaceful protest in Seattle City, Washington, in the summer of 2004. The protest was against President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who was in Seattle. The protest was to express discontent at Museveni’s neglect for the suffering of the children of northern Uganda and inability to end the war. Okema is an activist and a human rights advocate.
Okema is not new with the Thomas Merton Center. Okema has been involved in Thomas Merton Center projects including participating in Save Our Transit march to Harrisburg to deliver signatures to the Governor’s office. Okema also participated in the Free Getu advocacy to save Getu Tewolde, an Ethiopian immigrant who was arrested and brutalized by Pittsburgh police for alleged terrorism. Today, Okema is focusing on peace building in Africa and the welfare of African refugees. As a former refugee and a current an asylee in the USA, Okema understands more about refugee problems and speaks from practical experiences.
Work Experience and Publication:
As a journalist, Okema worked with Uganda’s only independent voice, The Monitor Newspaper in Kampala Uganda where he was posted as a war reporter in the northern part of Uganda and Southern Sudan. Okema also works as the Africa Correspondent and a regular columnist with Black Star News, New York’s leading investigative newspaper. Okema’s writings have also been published in many newspapers and magazines including The Pittsburgh Pulp, The Black Commentator, ANN News, The Pitt News, RastaSpeaks.com, and The Monitor Newspaper – Uganda, www.Worldpress.org www.kush.co.za The New People, The La Roche Courier, www.trinicenter.com www.africa.com http://www.freewebs.com/africanadvocate and www.africanbynature.com among others. I also worked as a Program presenter with the La Roche online radio.
Okema has held different Leadership positions since his early school days. Okema started by serving as head of prefects in High school, Library and Information prefect, Public Relations Officer for the La Roche College African Students Organization, president of the Ugandan Students Association at La Roche College. Currently, Okema is the President of The University of Pittsburgh African Students Organization. Above all though, Okema’s most loved job is being the Coordinator for the African Trans-Atlantic Initiative at the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
3. Any thoughts on the Thomas Merton Center and why you have partnered with it?
As an activist, I have always been able to work with numerous organizations and individuals as long as they would accommodate my diverse and sometimes, uncompromising views. However, there are very few of such organizations or individuals in this world that can accommodate people like me. The world is becoming dangerous for people with flexible views like me. The Thomas Merton Center has been the only such organization that does not judge me nor is it interested in trying to compromise what I believe in. the TMC’s philosophy of embracing people from all backgrounds attracted me and it has made me find home a way from home.
4. What are your hopes for your project and/or social change in general?
There are a lot of challenges especially when you start a project geared toward peace at a time when everyone seems to go hyper nuts with the excitement for war. These challenges are very frustrating, demoralizing and leaves one completely chastised from the rest of the people around you. It is my believe that I am doing the right thing and my vision that the project will be a success. My hope is that other people will join in by supporting the project, volunteering, participating and where needed, donating material or financial support. With determination, most things are possible.
Anything you'd like to add?
It is my appeal to all Pittsburghers and the American people to get involved in this project and learn how they maybe of help to both the African community in Pittsburgh and the African people in the continent. Sometimes, the little things we do matter the most. God will bless and reward you for a virtuous work.