Dialogue among peace messengers…
By Bill Ivans Gbafore
In early July, The Frontline Women Documentary recognized Messengers of Peace (MOP) – Liberia Inc. Founder and Executive Director Gwendolyn S. Myers as one of Top Seven African Female building peace and a team of choreographers from the Carrot Co., a leading Pan African cultural and photojournalistic media group journeyed to Liberia to capture the work and impacts of Ms. Myers through MOP-Liberia initiatives.
From an interview with the Minister of Youth & Sports Hon. D. Zeogar Wilson, the team joined us during the implementation of our regular community engagements with two underprivileged communities, Slipway and Farah. The activity brought them in close proximity with the harsh realities and challenges youths face in contributing towards peacebuilding. They understood visibly the myriad of obstacles which cut across lack of access to information, inadequate capacities, discrimination, negative stereotypes and others. For us, the aforementioned challenges resulted into a necessity to keep engaging youths for peace actively, particularly considering the vulnerability many face along the margins of society and the fact that they can easily be used to perpetrate violence. Over the years, our work with young people has helped me realize that post war recovery, rebuilding and reconstruction is a difficult yet gradual process as it requires psychosocial and mental healing and reconciliation as well.
At the end of day two in the field, our team of youth peace messengers assembled for a debriefing impact assessment discussion and the delegates from Carrot Co. walked in to capture the session. They were interested in the behind the scene processes of how we do what we do with young people, predominantly taking into account the risks involved in visiting certain hideouts or convincing someone under the influence of narcotics to get involved with community service and apply an essential skill he had acquire time ago to create job for himself and earn sustainable autonomous income. We’ve been working with these people for years, but have made greater strides since the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. We have assisted in rebranding their images positively, encouraged acceptance to some level in various communities, reduced theft rates, empower them to lead multiple community service initiatives, implemented series of intergenerational community dialogues aimed at mitigating violence and promoting a culture of peace, recruited adolescents as benefits of our annual Youth Peace Summer Camp initiative and gave them a sense of belonging to a society they are part of.
We were at the drawing board again at the Institute for Peace Dialogue @MOP-Liberia discussing next steps and possible ways of integrating other suburbs into our plan of action when someone asked, “How do we measure impact?” She was fully aware of everything we’ve been doing holistically in building local capacities for peace, but was much more concerned about individual components of change and not a fallacy of division.
This was in early July, about four months ago; I talked of relevant methods of unbiased evaluation such as generating factual data through assessment forms, impact story sharing, testimonials and tracking critically the conditions of communities under our radar in terms of inhabitants response to conflict and citizens responsible action towards community service programs over a particular length of time to identify major successes and lapses.
But four months later, the question “How do we measure impact” has resonated readily with me throughout every intervention we make at MOP. Today again, I wish to respond to a ‘four-month-ago’ question by telling the story of Prince Tehmeh, MOP-Liberia focal point from Harbel, Margibi County.
I met Prince in 2017, during the heat of the 2017 General Presidential and Legislative elections in Liberia. After a highly competitive process, Prince was selected along with another participant as the official representatives from Margibi County for MOP-Liberia national ‘Dialogue and Mediation’ training programme for 25 young people across Liberia. The Dialogue and Mediation training focused on providing youths a wealth of knowledge on conflict mediation, community dialogue facilitation and peacebuilding. Prince and others after the training returned to their counties and led grassroots actions that contributed immensely towards electoral nonviolence while building peace.
To sustain our impact, we immediately established a network of young peace messengers across the country and began fast-tracking their progress as well as providing technical, moral and physical support. The social media platforms became a home for story sharing, from challenges to impacts. We gave inspiration and energy to participant through direct mentorship and coaching also. Prince began coordinating our Peace Club programs mainly and others in high schools. Through Prince, we started providing basic peacebuilding skills for students to lead conflict mitigation activities, create safe learning spaces for themselves and promote a culture of peace and tolerance.
While leading our Peace Club Activities with students, Prince identified that many young Liberians in the rural settings where he lives lack access to technology. This sprung up from their financial inability to afford smartphones to illiteracy in operating computer systems. In Harbel where Prince comes from, to even boot a computer on or off is a unique challenge for many high school graduates. He recognized that this denied youth access to many opportunities that could benefit them as he’d been privileged to school in Monrovia where he acquired basic skills in Information Technology and Systems Management while schooling.
Prince connected with us through an online process though there were ongoing prints and radio programs, but the benefit he was reaping was unmatched. Prince and a few others were leagues ahead of their colleagues technologically, but having realized the impact of technology in peacebuilding and national development he decided to pilot an initiative to build capacities in his community. We listened to Prince as he narrated his story and his desire to drive change; his passion to strengthen his community was daring. Rewardingly, we partnered with the Beta Computer Training Institute in Harbel to implement what we tagged ‘Technology for Peace boot camp’. The activity spanned three months and directly impacted fifty participants in lower Margibi, free of charge.
While ongoing, we launched the call for application for our annual month-long youth peace summer camp in Monrovia. Interestingly, two of the three selected candidates from the Technology for Peace boot Camp were blindly selected. They’d recently created Facebook accounts, followed applications instructions and the interview process, thus being a true manifestation of the multiplier effect of a single youth involvement in peacebuilding.
We witnessed Prince drilling others through and encouraging them to harness the vast potential of the internet positively; to network, build brands, access opportunities and spread messages of peace.
Few months ago Prince was accepted as one of four MOP-Liberia representatives from rural Liberia for the Conflict Prevention and Leadership Program (CPLP) through an established partnership with the Folke Bernadotte Academy, the Swedish Agency for peacebuilding and development. The CPLP is three-phased module training with an exclusive approach that enables participants to access relevant peacebuilding training in Monrovia and Johannesburg before implementing a local project of their own in their counties of origin.
Every time a young person from lower Margibi reaches out to our office for training programs, the name Prince Tehmeh is mentioned. His work in building a technologically advanced community is exposing many young Liberians from that end to the internet and its opportunities. We’ve been able to gather relevant data on their progress and measured impacts professionally. The role of youth in peacebuilding is outstanding; in 2017 we connected with Prince directly and years later we’ve made greater impacts than we ever imagined, particularly in the area of technology for peace.