Saturday, September 26, 2009

From Guns and Bullets TO Notebooks and Pens

“Waking up in the morning…with my uniforms…on my way to school, sitting in the classroom taking notes – is something that I really like doing every day.” These are of words of Matthew Jacobs, a former child soldier who fought the Liberian Civil War at the age of eight in 2003.
As part of fulfilling its mission, the Center for Peace Education decided to assist Matthew, now 14, to go to school for the first time in his life. During the months of May through August, Matthew received intensive tutoring at the Center for Peace Education office to prepare him for the 2009-2010 academic year. Today, Matthew can read and he is enrolled as a student at Pamela Kay, an elementary, junior, and senior high school located in Ray Hill Field, District number 13; Montserrado County.
When asked if waking up and going to school is different from going to the battlefront in the morning, without hesitation, Matthew replied with a resounding “Yes – there is a difference.” First he explained that no one forces him to go to school in the morning, unlike going to the battlefront. Early in the morning he used to wake up by the sounds of the guns and without a shower he would jump into a rebel pickup and head for the battlefront. At school, there is no suffering and crying on campus, like on the battlefront where people were always running away from the war.
During the first day of school, when I took Matthew there he was confused. Looking around the place, it seemed the campus atmosphere looked strange to him – including his fellow students. I later introduced him to his 3rd grade class sponsor. The sponsor welcomed him and asked him to take a seat. Matthew took the very last seat in the back, but the teacher encouraged him to move closer and associate with his fellow classmates.
Three weeks into school, Matthew told me that campus life is interesting and full of fun. Everything is done orderly. “In fact”, he said, “I had the opportunity to vote for my class representatives for the first time in my life. There were no beatings, yelling, everyone voted for the person they wanted. In the end the losers and winners joked about the results and we moved on with our class activities.”
When asked about returning to war if rebel leaders came today and asked him to take up guns against an elected government he replied, “I will never be prepared to go and fight on the battlefront. I will never take up guns anymore against my friend. Whenever I hear about war, I will be the first person to run away. I like school. I am very happy to be in school. War can kill too many people.”
Matthew said that even though he is happy to be in school, it saddens him when he encounters some of his former rebel child soldiers who do not have the opportunity that he currently enjoys. He asked if the Center for Peace Education could possibly help his friends out. I promised Matthew, that once funds become available, the Center will do all it can to help his friends.
This is the change that the Center for Peace Education envisioned. A new Liberia, a country in which young people can grow up in peace; knowing that violence is not the way to obtain what one desires.
The Center for Peace Education would like to extend a big and special “Thank You” to the a lot of family members and friends for helping to make this possible. If it were not for their generous donation, I would not have been able to go from tutoring to actually enrolling Matthew in school. Their donation also assisted the Center for Peace Education to conduct its Vacation Peace Education School, which trained nearly 400 students in peer mediation and conflict resolution skills. In addition, because of the quality of work that was done, over 13 schools have asked the Center to teach Peace Education as a subject for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Currently, the Center for Peace Education is teaching Peace Education as a subject in six schools, including Matthew’s school, across the Bushrod Island Community, Montserrado County for the first time in Liberia. This indeed is truly a pathway to building a culture of peace in post-conflict Liberia.

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