Written by Michelle May
Community leaders to train in conflict transformation
Two years after the end of its brutal decade-long civil conflict, West Africa's Sierra Leone is balancing its still-fragile reconstruction and reconciliation with a persistent cry for justice—a cry many are concerned will accelerate into future recriminations. But global humanitarian agency Church World Service, supported by One Great Hour of Sharing is teaming up with West African church and civic leaders this month to avert that recurrence, by forging trauma counseling into a conflict prevention tool for the region.
Church World Service presents its Seminars in Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR) January 12-20, in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The STAR seminar is a lead-in to a comprehensive three-day West Africa Trauma and Conflict Transformation Symposium initiated by the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL). Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ is a founding partner of STAR.
Reports CCSL General Secretary Alimamy P. Koroma, the opening ceremony Jan. 12 was attended by many local press and people wishing to participate. The seminar was expanded to include 46 church and government leaders.
Marking its first training outside the U.S., the hands-on STAR skills seminar comes at the request of the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone and will be led by CWS partner the Eastern Mennonite University's (EMU) Conflict Transformation Program.
STAR seminars train church and community leaders who then carry the skills learned in the seminar to their congregants and communities. The program's curriculum focuses on healing trauma, an introduction to broad justice, security and peace-building issues, and how resolving trauma can promote restorative justice rather than retribution.
In Sierra Leone, communities to which ex-combatants returned need practical, social and psychological support for responding to violence that included amputation, rape, and murder.
The West Africa Trauma and Conflict Transformation Symposium expects to draw attendees from across West Africa, STAR Training participants including men and ten women from Liberia, Guinea, Angola, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
In addition to the STAR seminar's U.S. trainers, the program's faculty will include Babu Ayindo of the Africa Peacebuilding Institute in Kitwe, Zambia.
CWS Emergency Response Consultant Ivan DeKam will facilitate the January 21-23 Trauma and Conflict Transformation Symposium.
"After the atrocities and destruction of civil society the Mano River Region has suffered," says CCSL's Koroma, " people are crying out for a plan that goes beyond UN peacekeeping and the foundational work of Sierra Leone's Peace and Reconciliation Commission."
"You can't deal with trauma without dealing with justice," says CWS' Ivan DeKam, who will represent CWS at the STAR workshop and will facilitate the three-day Freetown symposium. "So we are not training people to treat trauma simply as 'critical incidence.'
"We are talking about healing trauma as a process," he says, "in a way that can actually transform conflict resolution into conflict prevention."
"There is a need for justice in our region now," Koroma adds, "but when some talk of justice, they're really talking of revenge. What we need is a restorative justice that will open up additional avenues.
"We intend to train ourselves and our fellow caregivers so they can go on and provide trauma healing in a way that encourages the kind of restorative justice that permits true reconciliation and supports sustainable peace."
Koroma, a key organizer of the Trauma and Conflict Transformation Symposium, attended the STAR training at EMU when he was in the U.S. last March on a Church World Service-hosted West Africa delegation advocating UN and U.S. leaders for greater attention to the troubled Mano River Union, particularly Liberia.
Church World Service created the STAR trainings initially to respond to trauma needs following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Responding to the same needs on a global level, the STAR seminar has expanded and has hosted over 300 participants from the U.S. and international participants from 38 countries.
CWS Emergency Response Director Rick Augsburger says "Our assessment and research have resulted in this unique program which addresses the resolution of trauma as a key component in achieving conflict transformation in an effort to build a lasting peace." Recognizing that anger and hatred are trauma's results, the Seminars on Trauma Awareness and Recovery transform this cycle to promote peace-building at individual, community and societal levels.
CWS STAR trainings have to date been conducted in the U.S. at EMU in Harrisonburg, Virginia. But Sierra Leone's Koroma, who is also Secretary General of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone, also encouraged exporting the program to his home country as part of the church community's psychosocial and trauma work.
Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war ended in January 2002, leaving brutal destruction. In July 2002 members of a Church World Service delegation to West Africa traveled in Sierra Leone to assess the country's needs and those of its traumatized population. Ex-combatants from the Sierra Leone conflict, defined as "anyone who carried a gun," numbered between 30,000-45,000, said a CCSL staff member at the time.
The CWS STAR Program is sponsored by Church World Service and denominational members of the CWS Emergency Response Program Committee: American Baptist Churches USA, Week of Compassion (Christian Church - Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Lutheran Disaster Response (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (Presbyterian Church USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ/Wider Church Ministries, and United Methodist Committee on Relief. Other funders include the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Mennonite Disaster Service, International Orthodox Christian Charities, and private individuals.
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