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Involving the Youth in Rebuilding Liberia

4 November 2010 One Comment

Vaiba Kebeh Flomo Photo Credit: Institute for Peace and Justice

Vaiba Kebeh Flomo

Vaiba Kebeh Flomo was featured in the 2008 film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” for her role in the Liberian women’s peace movement. She helped form the Liberian Women Mass Action for Peace, which ultimately played a pivotal role in bringing peace to Liberia.


Before women came together to form the Liberian Women Mass Action for Peace, many of us had already started to forgive the fighters. In order to forgive, each of us had to accept what had happened to us and recognize the need to forgive. In this way, the work of forgiveness starts within an individual. Only after doing this could we come together and start rebuilding our country.

What is needed now in Liberia in order for peace to be more concrete is for the youth to get involved in trauma healing and forgiveness. The armed conflict had a lot of them doing ugly things. This reflects on them and in their attitudes today.

Children were nine years old — in the second or third grade — when they were forced to join the fighting or when the fighting broke out in their village. Most children didn’t have the chance to finish school. Many were involved in or witnessed horrible acts of violence.

Our young generation is full of victims—all of the young boys and girls were either doers or receivers of violence. They all were affected. Leaving that undone without involving them in trauma healing is a problem.

The youth need to accept both what has happened to them and what they have done. In addition to psychosocial support, we need to engage them in rebuilding our country. To just leave them in the streets is a threat.

Most of the time, my work focuses on girls. There has been a lot of focus on women’s empowerment in Liberia. With these new opportunities for women, it has helped to give girls a new perspective. For example, in a family with five children—three boys and two girls—now it is often the two girls who will quickly move ahead. However, I feel guilty for the boys because they also need help. Boys were also direct victims of the war. Both boys and girls have suffered.

Those of us working for peace find ourselves asking, “Are we providing the young generation with what they need to keep their values?”

One of the strategies of trauma healing that I have recently started doing is parent-child dialogues. Because many parents are not in a position to provide the basic needs for their children, children have stopped respecting their parents.  The dialogues are a strategy to address this.

There are very few jobs for the men in Liberia. And when women try to sell their foodstuffs in the city, the sellers are often more than the buyers. A woman’s family depends on the rice she sells, however it is impossible to sell enough to provide for the family’s basic needs. Because of this many children in Liberia are their own supporters and breadwinners.

Once the children start finding their own food and clothing, they tend to be resistant to their parents. Yet, they don’t understand the constraints that their parents are under. The parents, because they are not in a position to provide for their children, tend to be emotional. They know it is their obligation to provide for their children, however they cannot do this. These are the two sides in so many families in Liberia. This is why I have started dialogue programs—to restore understanding and family values. The strategy is to help both the parents and the children to understand each other.

This parent-child dialogue has been a very powerful tool. Sometimes the situation that people are in can bring about grief and emotional suffering. Yet, because of shame, people do not want to say what is happening within them. With our dialogue program, parents have the courage to say, “This is not my fault.” And children can express their suffering.

Right now we need to improve the lives of ordinary people in Liberia. Once we do that, justice will come.


Vaiba Kebeh Flomo is currently a 2010 Women PeaceMaker at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice.

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One Comments to “Involving the Youth in Rebuilding Liberia”
  1. irit says:

    Dear Vaiba,
    I am happy and proud to be a woman every singe time I know about strong and impressive women like you are.
    Thank you for sharing.

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