How Fambul Tok Works
The Fambul Tok process, inspired by cultural tradition in Sierra Leone, continues to be shaped by the people and communities of Sierra Leone as they journey towards peace. While the catharsis of a truth telling bonfire burns brightly at the halfway point, it should not obscure the many essential, thoughtful preparations and supports made before, and after the reconciliation ceremony:
Community led reconciliation begins with consulting the individuals and communities who will make and sustain peace.
Fambul Tok pilots each new phase of the community owned reconciliation process and incorporates the lessons learned from the pilot as the program expands.
Fambul Tok empowers community stakeholders through customized, targeted training in reconciliation, conflict mediation and trauma healing.
- Reconciliation Ceremony
The reconciliation ceremony is at the heart of Fambul Tok’s approach to community owned and led peacebuilding efforts.
- Follow-Up Activities
From football (soccer) to community farms, the follow up activities of Fambul Tok strengthen community and help sustain the peace achieved through consultations and reconciliation ceremonies.
[ return to top ]
Each new phase of Fambul Tok begins with consultations with the impacted communities. Rather than present communities with instructions for replicating a predesigned program, Fambul Tok practices “emergent design,” drawing on local perspectives and responsive to ongoing assessment and reflection, allowing each community to shape its own process, and readily adapt to real-world events and social change.
Fambul Tok in Sierra Leone officially launched in December 2007 with regional pre-consultations in the cities of Kenema, Bo and Makeni (in the eastern, southern and northern regions of the country, respectively). With representation of Sierra Leonean civil society organizations and national stakeholders, this initial testing of the waters to assess community needs and interest verified the need for extensive, district-level consultations in each of the country’s 14 districts (12 districts, plus Western Urban and Western Rural).
Next, a round of district consultations held across the nation from January to March 2008, engaged a wide spectrum of participants—traditional leaders, women’s groups, youth groups, community stakeholders and local government officials, among others—to discuss the process of facilitating reconciliation in their respective communities. To ensure total participation during the consultations—a key Fambul Tok value—participants were divided into groups to discuss questions such as:
What is Reconciliation?
What is Forgiveness?
Are we willing to reconcile?
Suggest possible/preferred methods of reconciliation
What do your communities need for reconciliation?
What is already available in the communities?
How can Fambul Tok support community initiatives?
The stakeholders in every district overwhelmingly articulated the need for genuine reconciliation, and suggested that the process focus on traditional methods of reconciliation. Some consultations recommended what could be termed mass reparations, such as memorials, reburial of mass graves, and symbolic monuments, as helpful first steps for reconciliation in their communities.
The consultations culminated in nation-wide approval for Fambul Tok and the formation of the initial district structures to help design and facilitate the process.
One common theme throughout the consultations was the need to make the Fambul Tok process accessible to all. A common complaint about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings was that they were all held in the district headquarter towns, and for a maximum of five days, thereby limiting participation to those who could afford to travel. Although it was initially envisioned that Fambul Tok ceremonies be held at the chiefdom level, even this was seen as potentially limiting people’s access and ability to participate. As a result of the consultations, the decision was made to hold reconciliation ceremonies at the sectional level (sections are composed of between three and nine villages) to ensure universal access.
[ return to top ]
Implementation is “emergent design” in action. At Fambul Tok we regularly pilot new phases of each program in order to learn important lessons from the practice context before systematizing a component.
How? Piloting in Kailahun District
Kailahun District—the district where the war began and ended in Sierra Leone, and one of the most impacted by the war—was chosen for the pilot phase of program implementation. After the consultation there in early 2008, national and district staff began immediately working with the people of the district to choose representatives from every chiefdom, one male and one female, to be the main contacts for Fambul Tok, ensuring full geographical representation. This group, which formed the initial District Executive body, received extensive training in Fambul Tok values, reconciliation, trauma healing, mediation, and restorative justice.
The district-appointed Contact People, with input from community elders and other sectional stakeholders, chose representatives at the sectional level to form Reconciliation Committees, which helped familiarize their communities with the goals and values of Fambul Tok and worked with them to design their ceremonies and prepare their communities. To ensure full representation, these Reconciliation Committees included a youth leader, a mommy queen, the section chief, an imam and a priest. They mediated ongoing conflicts between victims and perpetrators (or their families), and worked to ensure the sustainability of the project after the ceremonies.
Youth Outreach Teams, composed of five youths from different villages within each section, were also mobilized to spread the word and educate communities. They played a vital role in Kailahun in allaying fear of prosecution from the Special Court.
The Reconciliation Committees and Outreach Teams also received training to better engage with their communities. These sectional level structures helped to ensure community ownership of the process and to ground the reconciliation work at the most localized levels.
[ return to top ]
Fambul Tok trainings illustrate how emergent design adapts to changing circumstances and community needs. The Fambul Tok training program responds to on-the-ground needs and realities identified by staff as they work in the communities. Different trainings target different groups, but the overall training components include the Fambul Tok values; approaches to reconciliation; communication in conflict situations; mediation; and trauma healing.
The initial training in Kailahun was designed and facilitated by leading international experts from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) at Eastern Mennonite University (USA) working with national Fambul Tok staff from the very beginning. CJP-trained staff continues to consult on the design and implementation of the training program.
In addition to the core training given to volunteers charged with implementing Fambul Tok in their communities, Fambul Tok also trains representatives in the districts to conduct trainings themselves. Ongoing mentoring and regular interaction with national and district staff provides critical support, expands and deepens the local knowledge base, and further empowers communities to own the Fambul Tok process.
[ return to top ]
“I see it as necessary to tell my stories, so that the tension will come down. The trauma will reduce. The stress will reduce. That’s why I decided last night to tell my story,” said the son of the former town chief of Kongonanie (in Kailahun District), who had been brutally tortured and killed by rebels during the war. Speaking of his testimony at the bonfire the evening before, he reiterated: “I am talking on behalf of our family. I am saying from the bottom of my heart that we have forgiven those that did the act, even though we will not forget it. I decided we should forgive [because] the act has been done, and if we say we are going to revenge, then there will be no peace in our community, there will be no development. So we have decided to forgive them, because when we forgive we will live together as brothers in our communities.”
The initial focus of Fambul Tok in the districts of Sierra Leone is preparing communities for village-level reconciliation ceremonies. The ceremonies are unique to each community, but the general outline is the same. Drawing on the tradition of truth telling around a bonfire, communities host a bonfire in the evening, where victims and perpetrators have an opportunity to come forward for the first time to tell their stories, apologize, and ask for, or offer, forgiveness. The communities then sing and dance in celebration of this open acknowledgement of and resolution to what happened in the war.
The next day, the communities hold cleansing ceremonies that draw on traditional cleansing practices as well as traditions of communicating with the ancestors and pouring libations. These cleansing ceremonies culminate in a communal feast.
Dozens of reconciliation ceremonies were held throughout Kailahun, Moyamba and Kono districts through the fall of 2009. Coming soon: A detailed map of all the places Fambul Tok has held ceremonies, and for information on those places and events.
See pictures of reconciliation ceremonies in Sierra Leone.
[ return to top ]
Understanding that reconciliation is a process and not a one-time event, Fambul Tok staff works with communities on a long-term basis, supporting reconciliation activities and continuing to support local reconciliation structures until they are strong enough to support themselves. The ceremonies are only the beginning of the reconciliation process.
“Unity is stronger than money. Fambul Tok has united us as most families were divided after the war.” S.W. Folleh, Section Chief, Kuudu, Kailahun district
Following the ceremonies in Kailahun, the communities and Fambul Tok staff worked together to identify activities to further the reconciliation process, and to build on the social capital created within the community. While the following examples are unique to Sierra Leone, they demonstrate the rededication of shared space and the rediscovery of shared interests that will sustain peace in these and other communities.
Fambul Tok communities select a peace tree and construct benches around it for the community. The location functions as an ongoing meeting spot, a place to settle community or individual disputes, or simply for leisurely gatherings.
Radio Listening Clubs
To popularize the Fambul Tok concept nationwide and to address communal issues in an ongoing way, Fambul Tok has facilitated the formation of radio listening clubs in each section in Kailahun where a ceremony has been held. The clubs are open to all members of the community, but managed by youths. The community selects one day a week to discuss issues pertaining to reconciliation or development and records the discussions. The cassettes are collected regularly, and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service or other radio networks broadcast selections.
In this way, the clubs provide an ongoing mechanism for public reconciliation with fellow Sierra Leoneans nationwide.
Football for Reconciliation
To encourage all members of the community, especially youths, to be part of the reconciliation process, Fambul Tok teamed up with Play31, a US-based partner that provided the equipment and uniforms, to facilitate football matches between communities within a section that have undergone the healing ceremonies. Communities organize all the games and ensure collective participation. There are male and female games, food, and a late night disco afterwards. The footballs and jerseys are donated to the town via the chief and are accessible to all the youths in the community on an ongoing basis. In the spirit of Fambul Tok, communities work out conflicts that arise during the matches without quarreling or fighting.
To provide an ongoing opportunity for all community members, especially victims and offenders, to work together, many villages in Kailahun have established community farms —an old tradition, but one that has been dormant since before the war.
Whether they grow cassava, or rice, the farms have become rich resources for the communities. Several villages that cultivated rice agreed that some of the harvest would be used as food for subsequent ceremonies, while the remaining seeds would be given to needy community members on loan, payable after the next season’s harvest. Other communities that planted cassava planned to process it into garri (a popular tapioca-like food) to be sold at the local market, the proceeds from which would be used to open a community account.
Several of the communities in Kailahun have reported record harvests from their community farms, often crediting the cleansing of the land that came out of the reconciliation ceremonies. Many report that for the first time since before the war, they do not have to import rice.
Thousands of women were raped or abused during the war, and they have largely born their burden in silence. Rape is a taboo subject in Sierra Leone, and many rape survivors are shunned. Yet at virtually all of the Fambul Tok bonfires, women come forward and tell the story of their sexual abuse and accuse their perpetrator, in public. That takes an extraordinary amount of bravery.
These conversations can also take a toll on women. To address their unique needs—not just the survivors of rape, but all women who have survived the war and its aftermath—the women of the villages have started support groups. They call themselves the Peace Mothers, and Fambul Tok walks with the women setting up these structures. Within these protective circles women are reclaiming their voices and their strength, and changing their lives and their society in new and wonderful ways.
See photos of the follow-up activities in Sierra Leone.
“Gradually, gradually development is coming on. You see victims and perpetrators coming together, forming groups, going into communities, making farms – Oh, it’s really wonderful! You see them coming together, doing joint labor – which is actually a sign that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because these people were far apart, they were pointing fingers, it’s you who did this, it’s you who did that – you burned my house, you killed my father. But now they are coming together, they’re coming together to rebuild communities again. They are not talking about ‘We want you to incriminate these guys,’ they’re talking about coming together and rebuilding their communities and the district as a whole.” — James Fallah, Journalist, Kailahun
“When we come together, the country, or the district will develop. But it we don’t come together, this community won’t develop. It you don’t come together, that community will not grow. For the benefit of the community you have to come together. Yesterday, we went to this community, you see people harvesting – perpetrators, victims, doing things together. That’s why their community is now changing.” – Chief Maada Alpha Ndolleh, Kailahun town chief and Chairman of the Fambul Tok District Executive in Kailahun, after spending the day in Bunumbu.
“[The] crime rate in Kailahun has reduced drastically. Fambul Tok project continues to complement the efforts of the Sierra Leone Police.” Karefa Keita, former Local Unit Commander, Kailahun town
[ return to top ]