Commissioner of Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) has acknowledged the work of Fambul Tok in the country.
Yasmin Fofanah (nee Jusu Sheriff), answering questions from the public on the nation’s TV on October 7, 2010, commended Fambul Tok for reconciling people and communities. She went on to state that Fambul Tok should step in to ensure that Sierra Leoneans dialogue in a family way, put the bad chapter behind and find a way forward for the development of the country.
Commissioner Fofanah emphasized that Fambul Tok is doing the ‘right job at the right time’ as the country is still grappling with those things that caused the eleven-year war that left thousands dead. She referred Sierra Leoneans to Fambul Tok, adding that it creates space for family dialogue.
Mrs. Fofanah is one of the vibrant human right lawyers in the country. She is also a member of the Mano River Union Women’s Peace Network that consists of women from Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.
A farm in Mamuduya
Fambul Tok believes that linking reconciliation with development activities is essential to preserving the new peace. What do those community projects look like? In Madina, Malema chiefdom, Kailahun district, villagers have started constructing a guest house with their own resources. Ndaabu village in Luawa chiefdom, Kailahun will soon complete a court barrie (community center). In Rogbora, Moyamba, villagers have finished the construction of a Traditional Birth Attendants’ house. The list goes on and on.
Fambul Tok walks alongside these communities to support these efforts—but lately, we have to run! People in Koinadugu District are learning so fast. Without waiting for any organization to assist them they have already started community farming. Folosaba, Dembelia and Sengbe chiefdoms have cultivated acres of land and planted cassava and groundnut (peanuts) with their own tools and seed.
Some projects are addressing building and nourishing of a different kind. Seven sections in Koinadugu district have formed Fambul Tok support groups for women: Largo and Kamba sections in Folosaba Dembelia chiefdom, Kongbelefeh and Sokurella in Diang chiefdom, Koinadugu and Upper Kamadugu in Sengbeh and Kaponpoh in Wara Wara Bafodia chiefdom. These groups, called the Peace Mothers, address the unique needs of women affected by the war, and have even begun taking on development projects of their own.
Fambul Tok’s long-term commitment is unique. This encourages communities to come together and embark on development with their own resources, rather than waiting for external support. We believe communities have answers to to their problems and are humbled and inspired as we witness their solutions.
Few stories from Sierra Leone’s terrible Civil War have resonated so deeply or so widely as the personal narrative of Ishmael Beah, author, human rights activist and former child soldier. Mr. Beah’s biographical account, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, has moved, educated and engaged his readers with the plight of child soldiers in Sierra Leone and around the world. Fambul Tok works for peace, but works also to tell individual stories of peace. To have Mr. Beah lend us his perspective and his voice is a great honor.
Mr. Beah has shared his story and his cause on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and with Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton. He has also shared his story here in Portland, at the invitation of the Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture Committee at the University of Southern Maine. Fambul Tok’s own Libby Hoffman screened an early rough cut of Fambul Tok: The Film as part of the evening’s program, and with Mr. Beah took part in a Q&A session afterwards.
Impressed by the film and by Fambul Tok’s impact in his home country, Mr. Beah’s admiration for Fambul Tok deepened during a subsequent visit to Sierra Leone when he met Executive Director John Caulker and observed the program firsthand. He offered to assist with the program in any way he could, and we are grateful for his agreeing to serve on our Advisory Board.
Mr. Beah, who lost his parents and brothers at the outset of the Civil War and who was himself forcibly conscripted at age 13, has a keen understanding of the ravages of war and firsthand experience with the hard work of making peace with yourself and others. After two years of fighting, Mr. Beah was rescued the front lines by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation program in Freetown. He went on to finish high school and came to the United States to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. While he completed his education he came to his life’s work—speaking for all children affected by war.
Mr. Beah regularly returns to Sierra Leone to address the ongoing difficulties faced by child soldiers repatriating into their communities. His insight into war, passion for peace and love of his home country have much to offer Fambul Tok. Mr. Beah has made his own story both indelible and universal in A Long Way Gone. We are grateful for his help in sharing the stories of the people of Sierra Leone—and all they have to teach us—with the world.