Sierra Leone, in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world despite having some of the richest diamond mines. From 1991 its people suffered a brutal civil war between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the government of Sierra Leone. About two million people, one-third of the population, fled their homes to escape the violence, and 20,000 died as a result of the fighting or lack of medicines and food.
After the war
Since the signing of the peace agreement in 1999 the people of Sierra Leone have worked hard, with the help of the international community, to rebuild their country. The United Nations assisted the government of Sierra Leone to stabilise the country, dispose of arms collected from ex-combatants and oversee an election process. Many organisations are helping rebuild trust between people.
Schools as peace-building communities
A Peace Education Kit, funded by the World Bank, was developed for use in schools in Sierra Leone to promote teachers and students as peace builders. The contents have helped students and teachers recover from the trauma of the war, learn new and better communication skills and understand how to negotiate non-violent solutions to problems. They have learnt about the rights of others, forgiveness and compassion.
Taking the learning into the community
Teachers have learnt better teaching strategies. They have stopped doing all of the talking and now involve children more.
A village chief commented, ‘Seeing peace education being brought here in such a worked-out way is very important, and giving people the tools to work with is already having a positive effect.’
One school started a drama club, which has had broader community outcomes. The plays are written by students, drawing on their experiences of conflict and demonstrating peaceful methods of settling disputes. Teachers have arranged performances for the local community. The community has learnt new skills from the children and recognised that teachers are dealing with important issues at school.
The kit has been helpful in addressing problems of bullying and violence in schools. One teacher explained, ‘I have focused on children’s fundamental rights and responsibilities so they now know the rights they are entitled to. This has raised the issue of corporal punishment, which still sometimes happens in our schools and at home, but is no good for the child. This is a case where we do have to involve parents more so it goes into the community.’
Taking peace home
Students have also reported taking their learning home and applying it actively in their family lives. One child explained, ‘My mother and father were always fighting. I took the time to talk to my mother about fighting not being good, as I have been taught. I advised my mother to seek the help of an elder to avoid the fighting. She welcomed my idea and now, when she expects something bad is going to happen, she finds a neighbour who is respected in our community to intervene. Their fighting has now stopped, which not only solves the problem, but also means I don’t feel so embarrassed anymore.’
According to another, ‘I came home from school one day and my two younger brothers were fighting. My mother let them fight and said they should keep fighting until they are exhausted and will want to fight no more. I told her this was very wrong because you can’t know what will happen and one of them could have an accident and be seriously hurt or maybe even die. At first my mother was very angry at my talking in this way, but after a while she realised I was right and she appreciated what I had done.’
Maintaining and growing peace – a ripple effect
The Peace Education Kit has been useful at a classroom level and also in the wider community. When an approach works well there can be a ripple effect, like a stone thrown into a pool creating more and more rings in the water.
It is a good basis on which to grow the peace-building process in Sierra Leone. This commitment to peace building is reflected in Sierra Leone’s national pledge:
I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone
I vow to serve her faithfully at all times
I promise to defend her honour and good name
Always work for her unity, peace, freedom and prosperity
And put her interest above all else
So help me God