On the 18th of March 1996, the people of Kailahun district-a Sierra Leonean district rich in cacao and coffee-were forced to wake up in the midst of sporadic gunfire. This was a sound uncommon to their ears, a sound which startled the entire township. Those who were fortunate that night ran to safety; others were less fortunate and got trapped in by the fighting.
Initially, the people assumed that the firing was a result of raiding gangs. Later, however, they learned that it was the rebels who had struck. The rebels had had crossed through Liberia. They were Sierra Leoneans who had been trained by a former rebel leader named Foday Sankoh. They came to oust the regime of the self-acclaimed “non-democratic” government that had come into power.
The Army of the Republic could not withstand the rebels, who numbered in the thousands. As a result the rebels quickly occupied the whole of the district. The people were then placed under siege. Following the inability of the Sierra Leonean army to control the rebels, civil war spilled over into the rest of the country.
Because the military could not contain the rebels, the rebels ousted the government of the day and took charge of all the operations of the country. The country experienced dark days as the rebels plunged everything into regression. It was also found out later that the military fought in concert with the rebels, betraying the trust of the masses. As “legally wedded” couple, the rebels and soldiers ravaged Sierra Leone and squandered its wealth for over two years unchecked.
Effect of the War on Sierra Leonean Youth
On the 6th of January 1999, a splinter group emerged and raided the capital city with alarming rapidity, which resulted in the maiming, rape, amputation, and mutilation of countless people. There I personally witnessed Sierra Leoneans lighting plastic in the open eyes of their fellows. The victims were forever rendered blind. The original rebels who occupied the capital responded with more indiscriminate killings, burning of houses, rapes, mutilations, and other devilish acts. Things totally changed in my country. We lived in a world where only the strong and the armed could survive.
As the war intensified, Sierra Leonean youth were gradually captured and conscripted into the fighting forces. Child soldiers became so vicious and uncontrollable that they acted upon their own initiatives. We were all terrified of the children. As a family we personally felt the sting of the war following the abduction of two of my blood brothers, who were later forcefully conscripted into rebel armies. They were in the grips of the rebels for years. When they finally escaped, they returned home with stories that cannot even be imagined.
The youth wing of the fighting forces was extremely wicked. They were referred to as the Death Squad. They raped women of any age and often drove around the towns while doped heavily on drugs. Their consciences were so scarred as to be barely alive.
When the war was finally declared over in 2001, certain international non-government organizations and community-based organizations all put their hands to the wheel to support the demobilization and re-integration processes. Previous fighters, young and old, were now pulled from their military lifestyles and re-integrated into the full wing of societal life. The goal was to dissuade them from the unhealthy behaviors in which that had been previously engaged. To a certain extent, the process was a success, but it collapsed before it reached full form, which left the youth in a very vulnerable position.
The children were promised quality education and suitable living conditions, yet they have been overlooked by the adults by all estimates. Reports have been made to several sectors of the government of the unfulfilled and empty promises. Yet this has been to no avail as the government is also responsible for breaking the promises. The state of affairs is unpredictable.
Rather than addressing the plight of the youth, the government and other authorities are slowly succeeding in compartmentalizing the youth by their selfish impulses. They hand out money to the youth in order them to use as tools of political violence. For example, in past elections they have been used to create instability at polling stations.
The government has not been sensitive to the real needs of the youth of Sierra Leone, and it seems that they have already forgotten that many of them were recently fighters in the bush. The reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have not even been debated in Parliament. The tendency to ignore is evident, but they should be careful to protect our beloved country from any further problems.
Against this backdrop, there is a great need to avert future youth breakdown in Sierra Leone. Therefore, the remainder of this Ministry Project intends to employ the holistic approach to meet the needs of my nation’s youth. The Project follows the dimensions below.
Since the reintegration of the youth into society following several years of fighting, many do not feel emotionally secure. In their own opinions they are better than their peers because of the supposed “freedoms” they experienced during the war years. This insecure delusion is intensified by the damage caused to their brains because of the drugs they took. They need somebody to guide them, to help them fully recover from those awful days of theirs.
Their insecurity is demonstrated in the Church. There several young boys who are afraid even to speak of their experiences confidentially to others, pastors or anyone else. They feel stigmatized. Nevertheless, the Church is the best place where their confidence can be enhanced, where they can overcome being so bashful.
So, as part of this effort to restore youth to a confident and normal life, Counseling Centers need be developed where they can voluntarily visit for consultations. It is also critical notice that when a counselor wins the confidence of just one of the youth, that the rest will soon appear and cooperate. What a mighty center for change would it be then? The recuperation process provides opportunity both for the Church and for Society to tell of their wonderful stories.
Teaching the Word of God is another means of ministry to the youth back home. This should be seen as a fundamental step in the right direction. The Bible has to be taught to them so that they visibly see how certain characters of the Bible encountered disgrace, shame, and rejection but also how God never gave up on them. Every youth needs at least one character from the Bible who inspires them as well as a teacher who spurs them on to attempt things.
The Ministry may also seek to assist youth whose former education may experiencing down-turn because of financial constraints. This shall take the form identifying such youth who need to be sponsored and rendering the funds to support them directly to the school on behalf the individual youth. In this connection, the teaching they receive will affect them both psychologically and religiously. They will receive both a good education, and they will know that somebody really cares about them. Ultimately, Jesus becomes the focus of everything done.
Vocational Training Center
The establishment of a vocational training center will become a key factor in a youth recovery initiative. The primary reason for this is that youth who cannot go through formal education will have the opportunity to embark on various trades. They can be employed in hotels, bars, beaches and other businesses to make money. They will be properly engaged instead of misusing their fine young bodies in prostitution and other petty crime as is currently happening in Sierra Leone. After acquiring a skill set they will become more self-reliant, which is a tendency that grows as one gets more and more training.
In summary, the Youth Recovery Initiative (YRI) is expected to transform lives when it is fully implemented. I anticipate that when the future of these youth is saved, then a better, more assured society and a committed church membership will emerge in Sierra Leone. Their souls will be re-kindled and energized to serve the Lord.
Franklyn Macavoray & Jordan Easley
© 2017 CYS