Helping Rebuild Post–Civil War Liberia
“Since the war, people have had to rebuild their entire society, and part of that is learning how to live alongside people with very different views.”
Ginny Morrison, Liberian Initiative Co-Director
In the aftermath of two violent civil wars, which together lasted more than 14 years (from 1989-2003) and took hundreds of thousands of lives, Liberia was faced with social, political, and economic devastation as it endeavored to mend internal fractures and heal from the trauma of violence.
Rebuilding a sense of community and country was a universal struggle, but reintegration was particularly difficult for those who fought during the war. Among the most vulnerable: female ex-combatants, who were stigmatized for their involvement in the war, and also shamed for the sexual violence that most of them experienced.
“If the community shuns them, they have no practical way of meeting needs for food and shelter,” explained Ginny Morrison, Liberian Initiative Co-Director. “Since the war, people have had to rebuild their entire society, and part of that is learning how to live alongside people with very different views.”
Women Hold Up Half the Sky
Essential Partenrs collaborated with four Liberian organizations as well as the international peace-building nonprofit Mediators Beyond Borders (MBB) to explore how the healing of women could restore community and promote other types of recovery.
The pilot project, “Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” tapped into women’s ability to make change at the community level.
Local partners worked to create conditions in which women ex-combatants could build relationships in their communities while learning permacululture, which would provide them with a consistent livelihood. Meanwhile, the capacity of Liberian peace-building organizations was bolstered by training them in dialogue facilitation and building resilience after trauma.
In helping these women become self-sustaining and reintegrate into society, EP hopes that they will be able to contribute to the rebuilding of their communities.
“There is incredible potential for these women, some of whom have played leadership roles,” remarked project co-director Prabha Sankaranarayan. “Think of what is possible if these women are re-empowered but in a way that makes them a part of their communities. That’s the potential I see.”
The Groundwork to Resolve Conflicts
Following training in dialogue facilitation and leadership, recent trainees immediately put their skills to use in a situation where communication had broken down. They worked together to plan and facilitating two simultaneous dialogues.
Local partners incorporated their new knowledge into the mentoring of community members, who modeled new skills among their towns and villages. By increasing the community’s capacity to support residents, the dialogue training laid the groundwork to resolve conflicts, implement development projects, and reweave the community fabric.
Bill Saa, project coordinator, noted the value of rebuilding relationships in the wake of the civil war: “[The women will] be able to discuss their issues—the issues they face in the community, in their families—and will be able to support each other in finding ways to move through those issues.”