In the summer of 2011, Sierra Leone was in the eighth year of its post-war era. Ours was widely described as a fragile peace as broken infrastructure, legislation, and attitudes that anchor peaceful co-existence were still being put in place. The culture of violence was fading away into insignificance but only gradually, with its effects still visibly lingering in our communities and homes. The war victims—wounded/displaced—were slowly settling down in their new homes and to do whatever could piece together their broken livelihoods.
Sierra Leoneans were gleefully basking in the joys of our first post-war election resulting in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power from an incumbent to the opposition. It was time for peacebuilders to catch up with the dynamic paradigms that contemporary peacebuilding work demands. In Asia-Pacific, in faraway Philippines, the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) was beckoning and whispering “ … Space for mutual learning? No one serves you better.”
Mr. Mohamed Sorie Conteh and I, whose work focused on community peacebuilding nationwide, were supported by the Protestant Church Development Service, now Bread for the World – Germany, to make the trip and participate in two courses each. Our participation in the MPI courses and a two-week study tour of the province of Maguindanao—thanks to Danny Ong—not only gave us the unique opportunity to contextualize the conflict in the Philippines but also helped us appreciate and jealously guard our hard-earned peace and the prevailing religious tolerance in Sierra Leone.
The life-changing MPI experience for Mr. Conteh resulted in the establishment of a psycho-social counseling program for war victims, returnees, and ex-combatants. For me, the training at MPI gave me the tools to strengthen Sierra Leone Adult Education Association’s (SLADEA) nation-wide community peacebuilding network in pursuance of peaceful co-existence among war victims, displaced returnees, and ex-combatants. I was able to successfully negotiate for the inclusion of Peace Education into the curriculum for adult learners in Sierra Leone, a module that has emerged as the core course alongside Literacy and Numeracy.
Our contribution as two MPI Alumni to peace work in Sierra Leone continues to inform the work Civil Peace Service partners do in the Mano River Region to date. Several other Civil Peace Service Partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia have taken various courses at MPI since that famous ‘pilgrimage’ by Mohamed and me.
In the summer of 2019, what was conceived as a private trip to Davao by my wife and me emerged as an exciting reunion with MPI Alumni in Cotabato City on July 23. The one-day gathering was a memorable occasion for experience sharing and network strengthening among MPI Alumni-peacebuilders active in the Cotabato area and beyond. Participants brought along and unreservedly shared their ideas and inspirational stories about their life-changing peacebuilding initiatives. It was also an opportunity for the younger ones to cross-fertilize with those “chronologically advanced.” The special snacks/lunch tables were awash with mouth-watering varieties of Cotabato delicacies typical of peacebuilders’ hospitality—a never to be forgotten lunch in pot-luck style. The rather productive gathering ended with the birth of an MPI Alumni Cluster in Cotabato.
The MPI staff also organized a Public Dialogue with peacebuilders in collaboration with Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia at Ateneo de Davao University on July 24 in Davao City. Serving as guest speaker, I was pleased with the lively discussions on the topic Peace Work in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone.
The endearing experience makes the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute every peacebuilder’s dream for a pilgrimage of a lifetime. Happy 20th Anniversary to MPI, Long Live MPI!
Shecku Kawusu Mansaray is a Sierra Leonean Teacher/Adult Educator working for the national adult education organization Sierra Leone Adult Education Association (SLADEA). He served in the positions of Executive Secretary of the over 600 membership association of adult educators and first Coordinator of Civil Peace Service/Bread for the World Partners in post-conflict Sierra Leone, including the Inter-Religious Council.