Hope for Liberia: Trauma healing and reconciliation

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Author
Aloysius B. Nyanti

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 35 Issue 1 Spring 2014

Aloysius B. Nyanti (email: anyanti@lcl-thrp.com) joined THRP in 1998 and has worked on conflict resolution, peacebuilding, trauma healing, and leadership development programs. As Program Officer, he is responsible for program oversight and staff management. More information about THRP can be found at www.lcl-thrp.com.  

A program promoting peace and reconciliation is helping people traumatized by the severe effects of civil war

Civil war began in Liberia in 1989. Although a peace agreement was signed in 1995, war broke out again in 1999. A second peace agreement was reached in 2003, leading to elections in 2005.

Edith Pewee, now 30, was among countless civilians who were victims of Charles Taylor’s rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Abducted when she was just six years old, she was raped and her parents were executed. She gave birth to her son, now 19, when she was only 11.

Edith was forced to spend more than four years in combat and committed horrendous crimes against civilians. Now she says, “I thank God for the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP), which has transformed my life. I am empowered to do something for myself.”

Recovering from war

The THRP, operated by the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), was established in 1998 to promote peace and reconciliation and provide coping mechanisms for people such as Edith, who were traumatized by the severe effects of the civil war.

The civil war in Liberia left many young people who participated in the conflict disillusioned, without ambition, and unsure of their social, economic, cultural, and political values. Treated as outcasts by fellow Liberians, they are viewed as perpetrators of heinous crimes who are still threats to their communities and to national peace and stability.

THRP works with Christian and Muslim communities and ethnic groups that were torn apart by the war. People are encouraged to learn to resolve problems peacefully and denounce violence. One program that focuses on women and girls is known as the “cotton” project. It empowers women who lost their husbands and children during the civil war by providing skills training and micro-credit market initiatives.

Core functions of the Lutheran program include:

  • Helping people to deal with the past, through cultural performances such as song, drama, and dance;
  • Restoring lost values by giving Liberians relevant skills and knowledge to handle conflict nonviolently;
  • Empowering people to take initiatives through the establishment of local Peace Mediation committees;
  • Providing internship opportunities for students from universities and peacebuilding institutions;
  • Providing psycho-social counseling at several prisons for prisoners and corrections officers;
  • Rehabilitating security agencies by establishing the National Security Network for Peace-building to create a pervasive awareness of violations and abuse of power; and
  • Creating an environment in which security forces and communities can meet and dialogue.

Focus on the young

THRP is currently providing psycho-social support and conflict resolution training and counseling workshops to young people in Liberia’s Lofa County in the north. The project, codenamed “Former Child Soldiers Rehabilitation,” is also sponsoring war-affected youths who have expressed the desire to acquire some vocational training. After completing their courses, students are given money and tools to enable them to start small businesses or joint enterprises.

Young men and women have acquired skills in agriculture, carpentry, masonry, and plumbing. Their activities and businesses are monitored by THRP staff to increase the chances of success.

The Former Child Soldiers Rehabilitation project also provides sports and recreational programs to keep participants busy and focused. The intention is not only to prevent former child soldiers and other youths from committing crimes and engaging in violent activities, but to provide them with opportunities to fully develop their individual talents.

THRP describes the program as an “asylum” for hundreds of war-affected youths, because it provides care, support, and discipline. Since its beginnings in 2003, it has transformed the lives of more than 1,000 people. Many testify that the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program has changed their lives. Their new lives demonstrate to their communities that change has taken place and they can contribute much more positively to development.

THRP believes that young people and ex-combatants can be agents of peace and key players in promoting and sustaining peace, reconciliation, and development in post-conflict Liberia. To that end it continues to engage this group through interactive dialogues, forums, seminars, workshops, and recreation programs—teaching them to solve problems peacefully.

Stories of participants

Kabeh Takey, now 24, was eight when she was captured by the United Liberian Movement Organization. She said she was trained as an intelligence officer within the rebel ranks. She was tasked to interrogate and torture women and girls. She admits that she killed many women and drank human blood as a way of exorcising the spirits.

“Since the war, I have been going through lots of trauma and have been experiencing unusual things like talking and shouting to myself,” she says. “Can you imagine, when I was captured, I was forced to kill my father, but Trauma Healing has made a great impact in my life.”

Zubah Pewee, now 36, was adopted by the rebel forces when he was 14. Four years later, according to his account, he was given the rank of commander to head the Special Boys Unit. “I led the unit into several battles. I had a very fearless squad; we did lots of bad, bad things.” Zubah said that, as one of the beneficiaries of the THRP program, his future has been restored, because he has adopted a new attitude and acquired some skills training and is able to survive on his own. He appealed to THRP to expand the program to other regions to benefit more young people.

Korpo Kollie, now 18, says that during the latter part of the war she was adopted along with her mother by Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy rebels. As a young child, she remembers being referred to as “Rebel Baby” by her captors. “THRP has added another value to my life. As a human being, this is a clear manifestation that God created me for a purpose.”

According to program “graduates,” THRP’s intervention has paved the way for their acceptance and reintegration into their home communities. Some said that they are no longer seen as threats. Many more need this help. Reports show that more than 250,000 ex-combatants, mostly child soldiers, have yet to be integrated into formal training programs.

Capacity building

THRP has also been working with community-based groups, youth organizations, religious institutions, and private and public security agencies to build capacity through training and seminars in psycho-social counseling and conflict resolution. Participants learn how to intervene to resolve personal, community, and national conflicts.

Recently THRP conducted a series of training sessions for over 90 senior government officials from six security ministries and agencies, including the Liberia National Police, Executive Protective Service (a special elite force), the Ministry of National Security, and the National Bureau of Investigation. The training gave rise to the establishment of the National Security Network for Peace-building, a conglomeration of security personnel to enhance human rights, governance, and peace among the civilian population.

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has acknowledged the extensive work of THRP in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Liberia. THRP is often called upon by the national government to resolve conflict in local communities.

In 2013 THRP was one of several local and international organizations, including the United Nations Mission in Liberia, that participated in a series of programs and activities to celebrate 10 years of uninterrupted peace in Liberia.

In her peace message to commemorate the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the President (Sirleaf 2013) said, “Many forces combined in this singular achievement, to bring us to where we are today. We celebrate the will and determination of the Liberian people through our women, faith-based institutions, youths and students, and communities, including the Diaspora.”

Reference

Sirleaf, H.E. President Ellen Johnson. 2013. No to War!, August 19.

 

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