How Peace and Reconciliation are Coming to Sierra Leone
17 February 2007

Keith Neal, faculty member of a Moral Foundations for Democracy training programme in Sierra Leone, tells a London audience a remarkable story of rebuilding trust in a war-torn country.

‘History is in the making in Sierra Leone,’ said former Manchester Grammar School teacher Keith Neal, speaking at a Greencoat Forum at the Initiatives of Change (IofC) centre in London, 13 February.

Neal is a faculty member of a ‘Moral Foundations for Democracy’ training programme, run by the non-governmental organisation Hope-Sierra Leone (H-SL) affiliated to IofC-International. The courses bring together police and military personnel, and civil society leaders, to promote healing and reconciliation following the decade-long civil war that racked the West African country till 2002.

In his talk, Building peace in Sierra Leone: a personal perspective, Neal emphasised that a change of heart in individuals can help change a nation. He paid tribute to two people whose dedication to peace and forgiveness has resulted in seeming miracles of reconciliation.

Emma Kamara founded Children’s Learning Services and John Bangura was the founder of H-SL. They show that ‘underneath every event in history, there are decisions made by individuals,’ Neal said.

Mrs Kamara and her family were lucky to escape the murderous rebel forces which attacked her hometown in 1994. Despite her fear, trauma and sense of hopelessness in the years that followed, she gained an inner strength to help children, in a nation where 45 per cent of the population is under the age of 14. In 1999 she began to teach moral and faith-building exercises to 100 children, aged four to 10. (See For A Change magazine April/May 2003.)

In establishing Children’s Learning Services on Christian principles, Mrs Kamara considered two major factors: children couldn’t learn unless they had food in their stomachs; and there was no moral or spiritual infrastructure in place on which to rebuild the country. Neal told how a collection of just £300 from his home town in Cheshire had provided over 1,500 school meals.

With no money, but much faith and prayer and a dedicated group of unpaid volunteers, Mrs Kamara and her team have worked at the grass roots level, using churches during the week as school rooms, and giving lessons in basic numeracy, literacy and peace-building.

While Mrs Kamara has been working with children, Bangura has been working at the political and military levels, Neal said. H-SL had come about following a dramatic transformation in Bangura’s life whilst attending an IofC conference in Tanzania in 1999. ‘Hope-Sierra Leone was borne out of the experience of personal change in one person—an experience of losing the lust for revenge and of finding hope for one life, one nation, one world,’ Neal said.

Bangura had lost nine members of his family in the bloody civil war. He escaped to Denmark, where he was held in detention for 23 months while his status was determined, and finally managed to get his wife and children to join him there. In 2001 he decided to return to Sierra Leone at great personal risk. What he had to offer was his personal experience of change. ‘He had been released from a blinding hatred in his heart,’ Neal said.

Through H- SL, Bangura has brought together members of the warring factions. He commissioned a local blacksmith to make shovels so that former enemies could work side by side digging to plant and harvest rice, a much needed staple food.

‘John isn’t a trained counsellor but he has the secret of listening to the inner voice and, by listening, he has helped people to overcome the traumas they had gone through,’ Neal commented. He holds classes where those who murdered, looted and raped are now sitting side-by-side with former victims.

Horrendous stories have surfaced: one man burst into tears as he told how he had been forced to watch the beheading of his mother; and a group of young girls, used as sex slaves by the rebel insurgents, had turned to prostitution. Bangura decided to help them after been propositioned by one of them. To re-integrate them into society, he provided them with donated sewing machines, to make and sell clothes and uniforms. They are now earning a living and holding their heads up with greater self respect, Neal said.

Bangura and Mrs Kamara know that the future of their country depends upon the trust between the security forces and those in civil society who have to release their fear of the security agents, Neal said.

For this reason, Bangura has brought top army and police personnel from Sierra Leone to the IofC centre in Caux, Switzerland – a neutral location where they could listen to each other’s experiences. One of them urged Bangura to ‘train our people in moral foundations for democracy’. Thus the courses were launched. Following pilot courses, 25 senior army and police officers requested a three-day course and through it ‘one senior lady was reconciled with her bitterest enemy,’ said Neal.

The term R&D was used on the courses – not so much as research and development but as ‘reviewing’ one’s life, by listening for inner guidance, and ‘deciding’ as a result of that inner guidance.

Now H-SL has launched a ‘clean elections campaign’ in the run up to national elections on 28 July 2007. It emphasises ‘don’t sell your vote’; the right to vote for the best person; and encourages everyone to sign a pledge that they will not be corrupt in the way they use their vote.

The country still faces huge economic challenges. The civil war destroyed the infrastructure and the diamond mining—the main export business—and other industries. Over 50,000 died, over 10,000 lost limbs, and over half the population of four million was displaced and left homeless.

Many countries are helping in the country’s regeneration. But individuals and NGOs, including H-SL and Children’s Learning Services, also play a crucial role. ‘Their numbers may be small but their influence is out of all proportion to their numbers,’ commented Neal.

Neil Mence and Mike Smith


COMMENTS

I am trying to track down members of my family and learn about my family history, through dna and research ,i have been told that i am a direct blood line member to the last king of Africa and to legends such as alboa, my dad is a papalli of sierra leone whos name is roy michael abdoul bangura . my grandad was called abdoul bangura. . I would appreiciate it if you could help me find out more about my family history. i am really pleased to hear that members of my family in sierra leone are doing good things with our country, if more people did the same our country would be a better place.
rocky bangura, 17 April 2007


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