03 January 2009
Helping the Eager Youth of Sierra Leone Achieve Peace
Quest for Peace: Helping the Eager Youth of Sierra Leone Achieve a Brighter Future
“War and fighting will not solve our problems. We need to band together and make a change at the bottom!”
After meeting so many positive-thinking young people here in Sierra Leone, it has become obvious to me that if real change is to take place here, it must be targeted to the younger generation of this war-torn country.
Though the Sierra Leone’s civil war has been over for six years now, the culture of violence still manifests itself in many ways, especially amongst adolescents. Since many of the teens involved were once child soldiers, their traumatic experiences and violent instincts often manifest themselves without real provocation. Even high school sporting competitions these days are devolving into violent clashes, leaving many seriously wounded or even killed. The problem is there are not enough moderating voices to urge their cohorts not to settle such petty disagreements with rocks, broken bottles and knives. What are needed are ambassadors of peace that are familiar with the Gandhi’s ahimsa philosophy of non-violence.
Just as importantly, young citizens need to voice their opinions and become more involved in the political process, as one of the country’s most serious problems is the culture of political patronage: parliamentarians do anything to get elected, including making pay-offs and big promises, but once elected they cut themselves off from their constituents and direct their “governing efforts” towards delivering jobs, money and favors to their buddies. What is needed is a program that teaches promising students about the political process and encourages them to make their voices heard.
Seeking well-run local organizations that address these needs, I spoke with a Sierra Leonean economist working for the World Bank in Senegal and also met with Sierra Leone’s Minister of Development. Both referred me to CCYA (Council for the Coordination of Youth Activities) who train Peace Ambassadors that then go back to their schools, families and communities to carry forward the positive lessons they learn. This program has proven so effective that one of the young woman that went through this program spoke to the United Nations Security Council about their success.
I met with a few of these ambassadors, all of them high school students from rival high schools, sitting together and seeking ways to convince their colleagues to focus on real solutions to real problems affecting their lives, instead of fighting over one’s school affiliations. The older generation inflicted such widespread suffering upon the population here in the civil war that it is especially discouraging to see the young generation falling into the same senseless cycle of violence. That is why programs such as CCYA are so important. As these kids told me themselves, the country is wracked by so many profound problems, it is the young generation that need to band together to work towards a brighter future. Knowing the effective manner in which CCYA administer their financial resources and after meeting with the directors numerous times, I contributed $500 on behalf of 100 Friends in order to facilitate the training of ten more Peace Ambassadors. That’s ten more young voices that will be motivated to cause positive change here; ten teens that will preach the virtue of non-violence to their cohorts and ten ambassadors that will provide a positive role model to other kids to dream of a brighter future, for themselves and their country.
Meanwhile, I discovered an energetic group of young adults that have formed their own organization called AUCAYD (Artist United 4 Children and Youth development), which promotes a positive message to kids here through art, music and culture. The twenty volunteers are incredibly motivated and very well-organized (with the administrative support of the larger, more-established CCYA). Without ANY outside funding, they have managed to administer outreach projects in schools and hold weekly sessions to teach music, dance, graphic design and art to marginalized kids of Freetown. This jolly collection of souls are such a positive role model to the kids here, I decided to help promote their efforts by providing $500 (to be administered by a local friend of mine) towards buying supplies for their art and music classes and the production of a new song to promote the vision of peace they so successfully promote. With all of the problems affecting Sierra Leone, it is imperative that groups such as this can preach positive messages to these kids, urging them to stay in school, stay away from drugs and embrace non-violence. Only then can this country dream of a brighter future.
Thank you for your support – between these two projects and assisting the war amputees, I know 100 Friends has made a very positive impact here in this wonderful, though troubled country.