|Following their parents' examples, children befriend peers and now hold hands in solidarity.|
In what could be termed “a peace party,”
old enemies are becoming fast friends. Women, many who lived in the same town but would not so much as talk to one another, now dance side by side. Their children, young boys and girls who tentatively showed a passing interest in each other, now hold hands in solidarity. Men, no longer rivals, drum in steeped accord.
This is a forgiveness festival.
CCF-Liberia is working with a number of villages in a peace-building initiative, or forgiveness festivals, throughout war-torn areas of Liberia.
The festivals are designed to promote unity and peace among community members, women affected by fighting forces (WAFF), children who were associated with and affected by the fighting forces (CAFF), as well as ex-combatants. The communities organize the festivals and CCF provides staff and matching-material support in
the form of cultural and recreational materials, rice and T-shirts.
Shuffled into a circle, children perform cultural dances, songs and dramas.
Festival activities include: cultural dances, songs and dramas by the children and women and ex-combatants; keynote speeches on togetherness and forgiveness; football and kickball tournaments with surrounding "rival" villages to promote healthy competition; and the sharing of stories and votes of thanks for peace and survival.
To date, there have been a total of five CCF-assisted festivals conducted in Bong County and one in Gbarpolu County. Three additional festivals are slated for Gbarpolu August 2005. Additional festivals are in the planning stages for Lofa and Bomi counties.
According to CCF staff, meetings occurred in Bong County where two villages that had not spoken to each other in 15 years came together for the CCF-organized festivals. Galai and Kowai communities in Panta Kpaai District, Bong County attended this memorable occasion, attracting nearly 300 people — including town chiefs, elders, school principles, women’s group leaders, and youth who made statements
on behalf of their various communities.
After a series of mediation and consultative meetings at the festival,
these groups joined together to finally resolve ill will.
|No longer rivals, men drum in steeped accord.|
A Propitious Beginning
According to Titty Turay, CCF's outreach worker stationed in Panta Kpaai District, “by the end of the festival, the town chief, elders, and other influential people from the two villages had burst into tears and thanked CCF for bringing them together after 15 years of fighting.”
Tensions included those between two groups of women in the town of Tumuquelle. Prior to the festivals, the women refused to work together.
“As a result of our efforts, the two groups of women now have their own savings club and hold regular Friday night meetings to discuss both personal problems and village-level issues,” said Turay. “They make decisions about the future of their town.”
According to community members interviewed by CCF staff, the festivals have done much to promote togetherness and a harmonious coexistence.