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Quiet amidst noisy neighbours

NAIROBI, September 23 – At the heart of Nairobi, at the busy, noisy junction of Moi and Haile Selassie Avenues is a beautiful, serene park where people who want to meditate pop in.

But the serenity belies the park’s sad history. Underneath the granite stones, are the grounds where pints of innocent blood was spilled 10 years ago by terrorists who had nothing against Kenya but a desire to flex their muscles.

The names of the 218 people who perished on that fateful morning of August 7 1998 are inscribed on a granite slab on a wall. Five thousand more Kenyans who sustained serious injuries live with the physical and psychological scars to date.

A number of personalities from the private sector got together to build the park in honour of the victims and survivors and to serve as a memorial for the day that left a permanent scar in Kenya’s history.

The US government donated the land and a funds drive was held in April 1999 to raise money to build the magnificent Memorial Park, which was opened to the public in August 2001.

The park is managed and maintained by a Board of Trustees and has received 300,000 visitors so far, at a gate fee of Sh20.

Bill Lay, who is one of the Trustees, told Capital Business that they intend to promote the park as a tourist destination, revealing that a host of commercialisation activities have been lined up to promote the park.

He observed that Kenya’s tourism strategies have not exploited opportunities to market Kenyan products.

“A majority of visitors like coffee and so they could be given a small bag of high quality Kenyan coffee and tea or a Kenyan rose, which they could put in their scrap books and take them home, and market our products in their countries,” he explains.

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Lay also reckons that tour promoters could organize City tours. “We are not trying to compete with Maasai Mara. But we can use this time to take them around the National Museum, the Memorial Park, the Maasai market and the KICC,” he adds.

Funds for the park

He emphasises, however, that gate charges will not be raised in the quest to raise funds for the projects.

Victims’ families and the survivors of the blast get access to the park free of charge. “The Sh20 stays. That is our commitment to Kenyans who wants to come in and spend the day,” he adds.

The park trustees, Lay revealed, are exploiting ways of promoting facilities such as the conference rooms, extensive display areas, art exhibition and visitors areas to generate revenue.

“As we add content and value to the visits, we will feel comfortable charging a little bit more,” Lay says.

“This is such a nice place to have a function,” he says, pointing out that they have a number of events lined up to increase the visibility of the park as a place to have a function.

Among events in the pipeline include “Art in the Park” where every end month, (beginning October) local artisans will have the opportunity to showcase their products.

Other activities include cultural concerts, craft days, story-telling nights and use of the venue as a talk show set.

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“We are also trying to promote weddings, parties and book signings.  We have a great board room, a video room and a multi purposes room that corporates can use,” he states.

Participants in these events are however required to adhere to the golden rules of observing peace and quite.

“We tell them that they should not engage in excessive drinking or play loud music, because this is a memorial park and we don’t like those who come here to enjoy the solitude to be disturbed,” Lay adds.

He says they are also considering implementing some of the suggestions they have received from several quarters, including combining marketing efforts with the National Museum of Kenya.

Peace building

The park managers are seeking funds for a peace and reconciliation program through which they hope to spread the message of peace to Kenyans, particularly children.

In the two-year plan, Lay reveals, they plan to bring primary school pupils to the park for an interactive curriculum of peace building. The process started in August where pupils from two or three schools visit the park on Friday afternoons.

“We want to bring up a generation of Kenyans that know the importance of getting along despite their differences,” he maintains.

Another plan for the park is to use the facilities to generate employment for survivors of the bomb blast.

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“When we are able to raise enough money to do more community outreach activities, we will come up with programs where we can provide engagement opportunities with some of the survivors,” he adds.

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