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Experiences in Liberia
By Lois Kunkel, Ed.D. and Agnes Struik, M.A.
In a small community of Liberia, West Africa, near the Guinea border, Agnes and Lois sit at a long table at the end of a dusty classroom. Beside them sit two colleagues from the Liberian Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP). Facing them is a roomful of young adults, former child soldiers, now described as "War Affected Youth" (WAY).
Abel begins the roll call with "give me your name, who you fought for and
what you want to study". "I'm Sumo Mulbah. During the revolution time, I first fled to Guinea. I fought with the LDF. I killed my brothers. Later I fought with the MPH in Monrovia. I want to learn electricity." "My name is Flumo Weah. I fought with the Lofa Defense Force. My family doesn't want me now. I want to study auto mechanics." "My name is Esther Kollah. I fought with LURD and with the LDF. I want to study agriculture."
Our THRP colleagues are registering War Affected Youth to obtain vocational training so they can have work and provide for their families. These young adults range in age from their early 20's to mid 30's; their lifetime spent in war, preventing them from attending school.
Liberia descended into a civil crisis in 1989 and only emerged from it in 2004, with a fragile peace that is still being secured and which is challenged by the recent ebola epidemic. These young adults spent their childhoods in war, in refugee camps - easy prey for warlords looking for soldiers. The warlords would force them to become high on drugs and alcohol, traumatize them by rapes and make them watch the movie "Rambo," before putting a gun in their hands and sending them out to kill.
This uniquely designed program is their first opportunity to have some sort of future. The THRP are responding to the crisis of traumatized unemployed and uneducated young adults growing into middle age as the majority of the population. They want the fragile peace to hold, and this demographic is key to a stable and secure Liberia. So they have designed the vocational training program to include trauma healing, psycho- social skills, vocational training and peace-building skills. And they want the WAY to have fun - the fun they missed as children. The THRP believe "we have the responsibility to give them life back, to help them go back as useful citizens in the society. People will look at them with different eyes when these former "ex-combatants" have vocations."
The THRP was founded by the Lutheran Church in Liberia in the early 1990's, wanting to engage in peacebuilding and trauma healing during the civil war. It has gained a respected reputation throughout Liberia and it is called upon by President Sirleaf in ongoing peacebuilding.
Lois, the daughter of missionary parents, spent eight childhood years in Liberia. She returned to Liberia in 2010 as a volunteer along with her sisters and was asked to bring her psychotherapy skills to work with the THRP. They appealed to her to return with colleagues and provide more extensive counseling training. Courageously and enthusiastically, Janice Meilach and Agnes Struik returned with Lois to spend three weeks in April, 2011. This visit was very encouraging for the THRP staff and the relationship has grown and deepened since that time.
We were given an audacious request. Would we find a way to help them send twenty young adults to vocational school? The program is for nine months, includes the vocational training, room and board, post-training accompaniment and costs only $1,250 (US) per student. Upon graduation, each graduate commits to donating to a fund (like a mico-credit) so that the next group of WAY can attend school.
We want to give you the opportunity to respond to this audacious request. You may send your donation to Trinity St. Paul’s United Church – LIBERIA Project, 427 Bloor Street W, Toronto Ontario M5S 1X7. As Thomas Paye, principal of the school told us, "these students will be images of hope and change in their communities."
At the end of the meeting, Agnes and Lois were asked to speak to the youth. They gave the WAY a soccer ball and school supplies. Mr. Howard of the THRP told the youth that they would meet to play soccer and learn how to work together as a team in preparation for supporting each other at school. The youth then stood up and shook hands with each other, saying "I can make it."
Please consider helping them "make it" by making a donation.
(From the Spring 2013 edition of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists newsletter, the PrOSPect).