Peacebuilding in Duo Village

Ye Dua (hello in Mano),

I returned on Saturday from a week-long workshop in Duo village, located in Nimba County, Liberia. This workshop was facilitated by DEN-L’s Civic Action Program (CAP) and focused on peace building, good governance and leadership. Duo has faced some problems in organizing its leaders and representatives for collective action, and has therefore failed to achieve representation at district meetings. DEN-L invited roughly 45 men and women who are seen as leaders (clan leaders, village chiefs, youth and women representatives, etc.) with the intent to not only instill good leadership qualities in the participants, but also to help them organize to attain representation.

Peacebuilding workshop in Duo Village

As was the case with the last workshop I attended, the participants lacked both formal and informal education and were extremely sheltered from outside ideas. When everyone was asked to go around the circle and state their names and something about themselves as an ice-breaker, many of the men said things like “I hate being insulted,” or “it vexes me when people challenge my decisions”—sure signs of authoritative leadership. During the first exercise, we asked the participants to count off by fives in order to form small discussion groups. When they demonstrated difficulty in doing that I thought to myself, “this is going to be a loooong week.” However, as the workshop progressed, I was surprised by how engaged they became and how they were able to relate the exercises and lessons taught to their real life situations.

Me and the women from the workshop

To educate about various leadership styles, we performed a mixture of role-play and discussion. We related good and bad characteristics of a leader to real life examples which were suggested by both ourselves and the participants. We also addressed topics such as team-building, inequality, advocacy and human rights through a mixture of various exercises and discussions. After practicing how to deliver constructive criticism and feedback, we divided the groups up by position (women, chiefs, elders and youth), and they each volunteered aloud the problems that they were facing the community. This is when my colleague Bloe whispered to me, “it’s about to get real interesting…it always does when a group mixed with villagers and leaders voices their concerns about each other.” Boy, was he right. The youth complained that they are not fairly represented and are overlooked by elders. The elders asserted that the chiefs and clan leaders are eating their tax money rather than contributing to development. The women argued that their opinions and suggestions are dismissed and overlooked at meetings. The chiefs insisted that the youth are drowning out the traditional African cultural roots and that the villagers are not contributing to development.

Participants cast stones in an electoral process to address pertinent community issues

Wow. The room got really heated. As facilitators, we encouraged participants to lodge their complaints constructively and suggest solutions to their problems. I was impressed by how defensiveness and anger turned to compromise and reconciliation. Each group was able to sum up improvements that they could make in their actions to contribute to development that would benefit the district as a whole. Then they created plans of action to address the complaints and concerns filed by others (DEN-L will follow up on these plans in the coming weeks). Furthermore, we facilitated a transparent, democratic election so that participants could single out the top concerns at the chiefdom and district levels, which included a lack of youth leadership (this community was the only one lacking any sort of youth representation at the last district meeting), poor roads (a huge problem facing trade, communication and transportation all over Liberia), land disputes, failure of women to organize, etc. We used a method of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) involving a list of the issues drawn on the floor with chalk and the casting of votes by participants using pebbles to single out the top most concerns of the community. Next, we helped participants design plans to tackle these issues. I was impressed by the teamwork and cooperation employed, as well as the quality and feasibility of the suggested solutions. DEN-L will attend the upcoming district meetings and will execute surveys and interviews to follow up over the next few months, so time will tell how effective the established plans prove to be.

Children from Duo Village

My experience in Duo was, all in all, wonderful. Not only did I find the workshop to be interesting and educational, but the villagers with whom I lived and associated during my stay were extremely welcoming and kind. They were eager to teach me a few phrases in Mano (the local dialect), and cheered every time I would respond to them in their language. They quickly started calling me “Kou Sennie,” which means “beautiful first-born”. The name stuck and soon all the children, townspeople, and even the workshop participants adopted it. I took dozens of pictures, which resulted in cheers and jubilation when I would show the subjects of each photo the image I had just taken on my digital camera. I wore a traditional African lappa skirt one day, which was also received with excitement among the village women. I was even called up onto the stage during the local elementary school’s closing ceremony to distribute diplomas!

As I left Duo, I was overcome with gratitude for this incredible experience. I am honored to be a part of the development work that DEN-L does. The relationships I’ve made and continue to foster are eye-opening. I am continuously impressed by how people who live so simply with so little can be so incredibly happy and hopeful. I look forward to the new people and experiences that I face in the remainder of my time spent here in beautiful Liberia.

Zoya Gey (in peace),

Kou Sennie