Forgiving the Unforgivable

Civil wars in Africa, Asia, and Southern Europe have left long-festering wounds in communities where victims and perpetrators continue to live side by side with little acknowledgment of crimes committed and no means of achieving reconciliation. But in some places, innovative programs have been created to achieve closure. They blend traditional rituals with 21st century conflict resolution techniques and have achieved remarkable results. This program profiles reconciliation initiatives in war-ravaged societies. Fambul Tok, a community reconciliation program in Sierra Leone, is especially inspiring. The program will feature leaders in organizations that are orchestrating these initiatives and the principal figures in the heartbreaking and heartening story below:

Mariam Jumu escaped the day the rebels attacked her home village of Dabu, a former rebel stronghold in eastern Sierra Leone.  Her 7-year-old daughter Jeika was captured, however, tied to a chair and beaten to death by rebel soldiers. Returning to her home after the war, Mariam lived one house away from the man who had killed her daughter – Michael Momoh. Mariam and Michael never spoke about what had happened, until the March, 2009 day when Dabu held its Fambul Tok bonfire. There, Michael confessed publicly to the killing and apologized to Mariam. He begged her forgiveness – which she freely gave.  In the days and months following the ceremony, they have worked side by side in the community farm, and Michael has looked for whatever ways he can to help Mariam and her family, and the community as a whole.  In the village of Dabu alone, over a dozen others testified that night, breaking down the silent barrier that had kept community members divided and prevented an honest accounting of the events of the war.

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