“How do we make a baby!?” exclaims Varbah Flomo, standing on a cement stage before 40 workshop participants. The participants, a mix of Ivorian refugees and members of their local host community, fan themselves in the midday heat. “How is the baby made?”
A regal-looking woman in a bright lapa raises her hand and stands. “When a man and a woman are good together, when they have the connection, they have sex and God gives them a child,” she explains.
The audience laughs, and Flomo smiles. “I’m sorry for making use of the word sex. But that’s how a baby is made. The day you agree to have the baby, you have it? NO! You have to sleep together, you have to wait nine months, you have to deliver!”
The participants nod, and she continues, “The man wants you, but you may say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ See? The baby’s got roots! Just like a conflict. The conflict’s got roots! It doesn’t just happen overnight.”
The participants murmur in agreement. “Oh ma,” Flomo addresses one older woman in the corner, “Tha’ cleah?” Does that make sense?
Throughout Liberia, the Lutheran Church’s Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programme (THRP) conducts two-day conflict resolution workshops like these for communities, law enforcement officers, traditional leaders, and Ivorian refugees and their hosts. In their methodology, the workshops look like those found around the world. The facilitator encourages participants to ask questions and offer constructive comments, each topic is defined and discussed, and participants break into smaller working groups to come up with solutions to hypothetical conflict situations. The participants are community elders, teachers, leaders in women’s and youth groups, and other respected figures.
It is their local twist, though, that makes these workshops unique and effective here. Though THRP receives its funding from the Lutheran Church of Sweden and Sweden’s national aid agency, it is run entirely by Liberians, who use their local knowledge to connect with participants. The examples used in workshops include disputes over land given as dowry, the role of local elders in resolving arguments, parents putting their children to work, and, of course, the parallel between conflict to childbirth – all situations in which participants have first hand experience. Even the language is tailored to the audience. In this particular workshop, in rural Nimba County, the facilitator’s explanations are translated into Gio, a local language spoken there and across the border in the Ivory Coast. Explanations are punctuated with shouts of “women, oh, women!” and “oh ma?”, a phrase ubiquitous on the streets of Liberia that calls for attention. Each time those calls echo around the room, participants respond with vigor.
Locally-run initiatives like these of course have problems, predominantly with securing funding. They lack the resources to reach all the communities in need of conflict resolution training and discussion; in Liberia, only the UN and international NGOs seem to have an adequate, constant cash flow. But what they lack in money, efforts like THRP make up for in their ability to appeal to participants and speak to them in their own language. Tha’ cleah, ma?