Visiting the Student Peace Ambassadors of Sierra Leone

The Fambul Tok Team at Ahmadiyya Muslim Junior Secondary School

The Fambul Tok Team at Ahmadiyya Muslim Junior Secondary School

One of the most significant parts of my trip to Sierra Leone this December was the opportunity to visit with the student member of the Fambul Tok Peace Clubs. We visited schools in Pujehun, Bombali, and Kornadugu districts. The main goals of our visits were to learn about how the Peace Clubs are run, learn why the students were involved and how it affected their lives, and to get to know the students on a personal level to further a connection between the Sierra Leonean Peace Clubs and the US Wan Fambul program. Another aspect of our visit was the Futbols for Fambul Tok program. Through the work of Gabe Hoffman-Jonhson and his teammate Colin Skelly, both varsity soccer players at Darmouth College, each school we visited received a donation of footballs and each Peace Club received shirts for one football team (see the blog post Futbols for Fambul Tok for more information about this program).

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The Peace Club at St. Stephen’s Techological Vocational Secondary School sings about Fambul Tok

Our visits generally began with a school assembly or a meeting with the Peace Club, where we discussed the significance of Fambul Tok to the students and their communities. It was inspiring to hear so many young students express a desire to be Peace Ambassador; I could not help but imagine, what if US students were this interested in peace? What changes could be made if US students took ownership and asked for peace in their communities? Through talking with teachers, principles and students about Fambul Tok in these open forums, it was clear that the Fambul Tok Peace Clubs made lasting positive change in the schools and communities.

Following our discussions, Gabe presented the donations of footballs and shirts, which prompted fun, informal games with the students. This was an excellent opportunity for us to interact casually with the students and get to know them on a more personal level.

Gabe, Colin, and FT staff Bambi play with students from Binkolo Secondary School

Gabe, Colin, and FT staff Bambi play football with students from Binkolo Secondary School

In Pujehun, we visited Ahmadiyya Muslim Junior Secondary School and St. Stephen’s Techological Vocational Secondary School. At Ahmadiyya, the Peace Club president is a young man who was forced into involvement with the war. He shared with us his personal story, telling us how important it was for him to return to school and how the Peace Club directly impacts his life and enables him to move forward in his education.  After the moving assembly, while Gabe and Colin played in a student football game, I talked with many young women about school and their lives. We had a great time and found commonality in dance and hair braiding.

The Peace Club president at Panlap Community Secondary School converses with Libby Hoffman

The Peace Club president at Panlap Community Secondary School converses with Libby Hoffman

At St. Stephen’s we were welcomed with a song about Fambul Tok preformed by the students of the Peace Club. How thought out the lyrics were! It was such a joy to hear, through song, what Fambul Tok meant to them.

In Bombali we visited Binkolo Seconday School and Panlap Community Secondary School.

At Binkolo, the peace club students spoke so eloquently about peacebuilding; one student said he hoped to be a bridge of peace between communities and countries around the world. The students spoke of peace both of peace between families and about peace worldwide, seeing the commonality in both pursuits. There was also a clear consensus from the students that education is necessary for peace.

The Peace Club president at Panlap engaged Libby Hoffman in a great conversation about his ideas about leading in his community. He hoped to lead in bringing electricity to his village.

In Kornadugu, we visited Kabala Junior Secondary School. Here, we had a great meeting with the school principle, Albert Sheku Korio. After sharing with us about his experience during the war, he told us that he was in full sport of the Fambul Tok Peace Clubs. Mr. Korio believed that students were the answer to bringing peace to Sierra Leone and saw the Peace Club as an important tool for positive change.

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The Kabala Junior Secondary School Peace club post football match

Without a doubt, the Fambul Tok Peace Clubs are creating community betterment and building strong student peace ambassadors. I am so lucky to have met with many of these young peacebuilders.

Posted in From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Student Clubs, Education, Wan Fambul/One Family | Leave a comment

Fambul Tok Concludes Training for Peace Coordinators in Kenema

Fambul Tok Empowers 60 Secondary School Teachers

Fambul Tok International–Sierra Leone in collaboration with Catalyst for Peace, a US-based foundation, has ended a two- day training workshop for 60 teachers drawn from 30 schools in Fambul Tok operational districts–Kailahun, Kono, Koinadugu, Moyamba, Pujehun and Bombali. The training sessions were held from December 1st and 2nd 2013 at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone.

Teachers assembled for the training in Kenema

Teachers assembled for the training in Kenema

Welcoming participants and stressing the objective of the workshop, Fambul Tok Programme Officer-Training, Rev. Emmanuel Mansaray underscored the importance of such a vital training for teachers. He urged participants to take it seriously and to share their ideas/skills with children and community members once back at their respective schools.

Executive Director, Fambul Tok International–Sierra Leone, John Caulker said the training was designed to review and evaluate the Fambul Tok Peace Clubs educational school kits, being developed for students in the United States, for Sierra Leonean context.

Executive Director, Fambul Tok International–Sierra Leone, John Caulker speaks at training

Executive Director, Fambul Tok International–Sierra Leone, John Caulker speaks at training

He added that that the educational Wan Fambul (one family) Branch Toolkit started in the US and will be introduced to Sierra Leonean schools this year. He said the idea behind it is a way of capturing the minds of young pupils who were very young or were not even born before the country’s conflict to learn to make peace, forgive and reconcile with their colleagues, community members and even families.

He read the nine core values of Fambul Tok and stressed that the organization does not compromise when it comes to practicing these principles. The Director did not mince words when he stated that if anyone knew that he/she could not meet the expected standards then he/she is free to leave. He said if anyone compromises the values, Fambul Tok needs to completely dissociate itself from that individual. However participants unanimously agreed to expel anyone from being a peace coordinator for the school program if he/she compromises Fambul Tok values. Mr. Caulker also urged teachers to breach the gap that sometimes exists between teachers and pupils, adding they should always work as one family irrespective of students’ region, ethnicity, or gender. He stressed the importance of field trips and exchange program for pupils as these help expose children to other areas. He stated that communities have within them the answers to their numerous problems and that people most impacted by the civil war in Sierra Leone have the potential to lead the reconciliation process grounded in their own culture and tradition. He emphasized that this is a big lesson the people of Sierra Leone are teaching the world.

Mr. Caulker discussed the need for the educational guides, as they will be helpful in many ways to students, teachers and even researchers. He added that, in the near future, Fambul Tok will engage the Ministry of Education for such materials to be included into the school curriculum.

President, Catalyst for Peace, Libby Hoffman said the Fambul Tok Educational Guides were originally developed as an educational companion for Fambul Tok (the film) for schools in the USA about a year ago.  Being aware of the fact that the US audience is different from that of Sierra Leone, Catalyst for Peace and Fambul Tok International–Sierra Leone convened a teachers’ workshop in February 2013 at Njala University campus in Moyamba district in Sierra Leone that brought together twenty teachers from ten schools across the country. The workshop’s purpose was to introduce the Fambul Tok Educational Guide to teachers to see if they thought it would also be useful in a Sierra Leonean context, and if so, to get their input and on how to adapt it to a Sierra Leonean audience. The teachers and Fambul Tok staff went through the Guide page by page, making necessary amendments.  The Guide was then revised and a Sierra Leonean version was published last spring. (see http://www.fambultok.com/for-educators for more information, and to download a copy of the US or Sierra Leonean versions of the Guide.)

President, Catalyst for Peace, Libby Hoffman speaks to teachers

President, Catalyst for Peace, Libby Hoffman speaks to teachers

The current training of teachers in Kenema also included reviewing another educational resource also originally developed for a US audience, the Wan Fambul School Clubs Toolkit, to see if that would also be useful in a Sierra Leonean context if adapted, and if so how it should be adapted.  The Toolkit outlines the process for starting and running a student-run Fambul Tok club in schools (called Wan Fambul clubs), and gives students all the resources they would need to be able to successfully manage a club.  Where the Educational Guide provides background information on Fambul Tok, Sierra Leone, and the civil war, as well as curricular materials for using the material in the classroom, the Toolkit provides process and management support for engaging students in taking the ideas forward in their schools and communities.

By supporting student clubs in its communities in Sierra Leone, Fambul Tok staff hope this guide helps get the Fambul Tok movement’s message out and engages students and school clubs—to encourage students to be positive agents of change in their various communities.

The teachers reviewed the Toolkit page by page, deciding what worked and what was needed in their unique context, and suggesting revisions. They also did many development and training exercises through group work and presentations, and moved forward in charting new activities for their Clubs in the coming year.

A gathering of some of the training participants

A gathering of some of the training participants

President, Catalyst for Peace, Libby Hoffman added, “Sierra Leonean and American children can build strong relationships with each other through the school clubs by exchanging letters or gifts.” The Catalyst for Peace team came with letters and cards from 4 different schools in the US, all of which have Wan Fambul clubs, responding to students from Fambul Tok schools in Sierra Leone.  As a way of encouraging the conversations to continue, Fambul Tok and Catalyst for Peace provided stamps and construction cards to all 30 Sierra Leonean schools to kick-start this idea. Also, the son of Libby Hoffman, Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, generously offered footballs (soccer ball donations received through the Futbols for Fambul Tok program) to the 30 schools.

Meanwhile school clubs, specifically the two pilot schools from each district, had received  earlier in the fall TV sets, DVD players, extension cables and Educational Guides. The schools participating in the new program also received the Educational Guides for peace coordinators and Wan Fambul peace club members.

Posted in From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Student Clubs, Education, Wan Fambul/One Family | Leave a comment

Councilor Willingly Steps Down as Peace Coordinator

Fambul Tok continues to stand by its core values–one of which is being non-political and non-partisan–and it does not compromise any of its principles.

This was demonstrated recently during the training of peace coordinators (teachers) from 30 schools who gathered at the Pastoral Centre in Kenema for a two-day training organized by Fambul Tok in collaboration with Catalyst for Peace from December 1 to December 2, 2013.

During self-introductions, Mohamed P. Kamara, a teacher of the King Fahad Junior Secondary School in Kamalo, Sanda Loko chiefdom, Bombali district in the northern part of Sierra Leone introduced himself as an elected councilor in one of the wards in that part of the country.

John Caulker, the Executive Director of Fambul Tok International-Sierra Leone, reviewed the Fambul Tok core values and did not mince words when he stated that if anyone knew that he/she could not meet the expected standards, then he/she would be allowed to leave, adding that the core values are the guiding principles of the work of Fambul Tok.

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Councilor Mohamed P. Kamara

Councilor Kamara willingly stood up and told his colleague teachers that he is ready to be replaced by another teacher from his school when he returns home. He did not hide his emotions when he said that even though he is a teacher, he is an active politician in his community.

Councilor Kamara was cheered by teachers for his boldness and for respecting the core values of Fambul Tok. He stated that even though he would no longer serve as peace coordinator for his school, he would do everything possible to work with his colleagues to ensure that the school club grows.

Posted in Bombali District, From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Organization, Updates by District | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Teachers in Action

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Listening to the goals of the workshop

On December 1st and 2nd I had the honor to attend and assist in facilitating the Fambul Tok Teachers’ Workshop held at the Pastoral Center in Kenema, in Sierra Leone. The workshop gathered together teachers from thirty schools that house Fambul Tok Peace Clubs from across Sierra Leone (in all 6 of Fambul Tok’s operating districts) to give updates on their clubs’ progress so far and plan how to develop the school clubs program further.

The workshop began by outlining the goals and values of the Fambul Tok Peace Clubs, or Wan Fambul Club program. The main goal identified was to actively involve students in Fambul Tok’s peacebuilding work in communities, introducing peacebuilding at the school level and helping students to learn and lead in their own communities. To teach peace in schools, through my western eyes, is quite a revolutionary idea. But why do not we teach our students peace? Listening to the teachers’ open discussion about the potential of their students, it was clear there was a shared understanding that young people had the ability to bring peace to their own homes and communities. The teachers present believed in the power, and the capability, of students. This establishment of ownership of the students for bettering their community is clearly an excellent place to start the development of a meaningful program and create sustainable community change.

Discussing Wan Fambul values

Group discussion

After outlining the teachers’ expectations of the workshop, which included learning how to show children their power and how to bring back the Fambul Tok values to students and communities, we began updates about the peace clubs at each school. As schools shared about what their clubs had been doing since the program was established in February, it was clear that the amount of motivation and dedication demonstrated by student and teacher alike was monumental. The peace clubs benefited students, schools and communities. Teachers told stories of the clubs helping to decrease violence in schools and communities, and increasing the overall academic performance of the students involved.

Teacher presenting main points

Teacher presenting main points

Additionally, there were stories of students who used the lessons of Fambul Tok to moderate conflict in their lives, between their peers and at home. Students learned lessons of admitting mistakes, apology and forgiveness, and then integrated this knowledge into their daily lives. One student, Memunatu Conteh from Saint Stephen’s Technical Vocational Secondary School, wrote a letter to his peers in the US, about how after explaining the values of Fambul Tok to his family, he helped facilitate a better relationship between his brother and father.

Following the updates, we moved on to looking through the US Wan Fambul Starter Kit to see how it could be adapted for a Sierra Leonean audience. The Wan Fambul Club structure in the US is based on the following action categories: learn, engage, connect, share, and grow. After some discussion, it was established that the peace clubs in Sierra Leone also ran actions in each in these categories. The teachers held a brainstorm and came up with many great ideas for each action category. For example, a ‘learn’ action could be storytelling to teach about culture and tradition; an ‘engage’ action could be putting on a drama or play about Fambul Tok; a ‘connect’ action could be peace letters between schools in different chiefdoms; and a ‘share’ action could be discussing personal experience during the war on the radio. The ‘grow’ category was split between internal and external growth, focusing on large concepts like honesty, peace, empathy, and sharing of knowledge.

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Solomon facilitating a discussion on action ideas

After reviewing the complete Starter Package, it was clear that there are many overlaps between the US and the Sierra Leonean clubs programs. While in very differing conflicts, and facing different challenges, both programs focus on the power that lies within students to make their community a better place.

I believe there is much that can be learned from the passion and dedication Sierra Leonean students and teachers have to community betterment, peacebuilding, and student advocacy. Therefore I hope the connection between the Wan Fambul program in the US and in Sierra Leone is fostered; connections between students of all backgrounds, who believe in peace, will result in a deeper understanding and richer learning of the Fambul Tok lessons.

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Attendees of the Teacher Workshop

Posted in From the Ground: Program Updates from Sierra Leone, Student Clubs, Education, Wan Fambul/One Family | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Futbols for Fambul Tok

Gabe Hoffman-Johnson is a Senior at Dartmouth College. He is a Government Major, with a strong interest in the worlds of finance and non-profit work. Gabe plays in the midfield or defense for the Dartmouth Men’s Soccer team. Below, Gabe introduces his new program: Futbols for Fambul Tok.

Gabe playing for Dartmouth Men's Soccer

Gabe playing for Dartmouth Men’s Soccer

It all started with an idea I had spring of my junior year.  We were discussing the concept of ‘added value’ in my Business Management and Strategy course.  By definition, the term describes the difference between the price of a finished product or service, and the cost of the inputs involved in making it.  In other words, how much value is each input worth?  The concept really struck me as being applicable, not just as a business concept, but also to myself in the ‘real world’, outside of my school and immediate relationships.  I began to think about my own personal added value on a much greater scale, and what major contributions I brought to the table outside of my day-to-day activities.  I couldn’t come up with anything!  This realization is what motivated me to come up with a way to actually make a difference in peoples lives — Futbols for Fambul Tok was born!

At the most basic level, the goal of Futbols for Fambul Tok is to provide soccer balls for young children in Sierra Leone.  However, I believe it is also a great way to educate Dartmouth College and the surrounding New Hampshire community, uniting them for a good cause.  Maybe even motivate others to increase their added value!  My freshman year I was able to get Dartmouth College to host a showing of Fambul Tok the film, which was a huge success!  It opened many people’s eyes to the phenomenal work Fambul Tok is doing in its reconciliation efforts in Sierra Leone, as well as sparked conversation within the Dartmouth community.  With this upcoming event, I am hoping to achieve similar results.  Fambul Tok uses organized soccer matches as an important part of its reconciliation work in the villages of Sierra Leone, supporting community healing after their civil war.  I thought that gathering and donating balls would be a great way to educate the Dartmouth community about how Fambul Tok is working to build peace, and how even here in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire, we can play a role in that, through something that we love–soccer!

- Gabe Hoffman-Johnson

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Flyer for upcoming Futbols for Fambul Tok event

Posted in Student Clubs, Education, Wan Fambul/One Family | 4 Comments