A summary article by Robin Orr, University of Vermont.
As the bonfire blazes, a young woman emerges from the darkness. She hesitates, takes another step toward the fire, and begins to tell her story. The crowd presses in to listen as she describes being kidnapped by rebels and raped by 15 men when she was just 12 years old. Strengthened by the warmth of the fire and the support of her community, she concludes by telling the crowd that one of her attackers is here – standing among them. The crowd murmurs, a commotion begins, and a man is pushed forward into the glow of the fire. I cover my eyes to avoid seeing the inevitable violence as the crowd imposes justice on the perpetrator.
Instead, a voice asks the man to explain his actions to the community. The group goes quiet. I open my eyes to watch as he tells of being captured by the rebels and describes his anguish as he was ordered to participate in the rape or be killed. He drops to his knees and begs forgiveness from the victim -- his niece.
She looks directly at his face as she speaks. “I forgive you.”
Fambul Tok, Krio for family talk, is an unprecedented grass-roots reconciliation program helping communities and individuals move forward in the wake of a brutal civil war that killed and mutilated tens of thousands of people and subjected hundreds of thousands of women to systematic sexual abuse.
During the past 30 years, more than 20 countries have established variations of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, the best-known of which was in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid. These commissions have come in different shapes and sizes, with various procedures and legal implications for the participants, but they have all had one thing in common: they all focused on societal reconciliation – urging different factions within the country to move beyond their history and create a new future.
Fambul Tok isn’t focused on societal reconciliation; it’s focused on individual reconciliations, because societies are made of individuals. Until the individuals heal, society can’t be healed. The fact that the leader of a rebel group has confessed to atrocities and sought amnesty from a national commission doesn’t do anything to affect the lives of people who were turned against their neighbors. Until those neighbors can find peace with one another, the community continues to be divided.
When a victim agrees to forgive an attacker it is not the end of the reconciliation process – it is the beginning. Fambul Tok continues to work in communities long after the ceremonies to help them support and sustain the reconciliation through projects that enable newly reconciled individuals to work together for the good of the community that has agreed to include them both.
Fambul Tok was established and is led by Sierra Leoneans, serving other Sierra Leoneans. For more information about the Fambul Tok program, go to: http://www.fambultok.org/
For more information about the movie or to find or host a screening, go to: http://www.fambultok.com/