Violence has no religion and no tribe:
“Few of us knew the term Quaker or anything about their belief system until we met the expert, intellectual, and ready-to-work peace builder, Dr. Nettles … I pray that the Almighty Allah gives her the strength, courage and money to come back.” – Sedekie Kamara, Cuttington University student, and a Muslim Students Association leader
Dr. Harriet Nettles, an educator with Mediators Without Borders and a member of Patuxent Friends Meeting of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, has a mission to instill peacemaking skills and attitudes in young people growing up in the traumatic circumstances of war and violence. As visiting professor of Peace and Conflict Resolution at the newly formed Peace Institute at Cuttington University in Liberia, Dr. Nettles applied for and received modest support from PYM’s Willits Book Trust earlier this year for the creation of a fund, administered by Patuxent Meeting, that enables her to copy and revise her Peace Teaching Manual, a compilation of articles and exercises that empower and inspire young people as peacemakers.
Sedekie Kamara reflected on the impact of Harriet Nettles’ peacemaking trainings, “Even after I explain (to my fellow students) that diversity can be a source of unity rather than a weakness, some people still harbor ideological resentment towards my tribe. But through a discussion aimed at exploring the religious and tribal dimensions of conflict, Dr. Nettles created an intellectual environment in which each of us realized violence has no religion and no tribe – that the best way forward is to view each other not as Christians and Muslims or Mandingoes or Lormas or Kpelles but as fellow Liberians deserving of respect.”
Nettles’ well-attended mediation trainings at the Peace Institute affirm in students the realization that an individual can find the strength within to solve problems and move towards forgiveness and community healing. At a send-off program prior to her departure, attended by administrators, professors, lecturers and student leaders, Dr. Nettles was gowned in African garb and anointed with the nickname Kou – a tribute that in Sedekie’s view is a “further indication of the community’s willingness to move beyond Mandingo-Lorma-Gio-Khran antagonisms to a one-people consciousness.”
Harriett Nettles’ small Willits book grant has contributed to the ever-widening impact of her work. Following her return to Liberia in July 2010, Harriet and Sedekie teamed up to launch peacemaking trainings beyond classroom settings. In Gbarnga, northeast of Monrovia, and a place undergoing renewed religious tensions, the two focused their efforts on young people, typically the perpetrators and victims of violence, thereby reversing the staid dynamics in which community elders become the main focus of peace-building efforts. In Gbartala, where land use disagreements between Christians, Muslims and Traditionalists have intensified religious conflicts, the two convened a well-received Christian/ Muslim/ Traditionalist forum. Additional funds are needed for Harriet and Sedekie to realize their dream of offering trainings in Lofa, Liberia’s largest county – a place bordering Sierra Leone that remains prone to outbreaks of violence.
The Willits-funded Peace Teaching Manuals give young people a “take home” introduction to the fundamental building blocks of peacemaking, and plant the seeds of future trainings. According to Sedekie Kamara, “I can’t imagine how we could easily plan more workshops and forums on mediation, forgiveness, community peace building and diversity after Dr. Nettles without those manuals.”
–Lisa Garrison, Greenwich Friends Meeting