Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wrapping up my Fellowship: Liberia TRC Project

As I wrap up my fellowship as an Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow working specifically on the Liberian TRC Project, I must say it was a great experience, and I look forward to such experience in the future. My fellowship began on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 and will end on Tuesday, July 31, 2007.

For the past three months working on the Liberian TRC Project, I was mostly involved with outreach for potential statement-givers. Statement-giving is one of the cardinal points of the whole TRC excercise. It entails both the victims and/or the perpetrators telling their story or their experience about the Liberian civil war. Sometimes this process is charcterized with mixed emotions and painful memories, and literally outburst of tears. It sometimes renders difficulty to both the volunteer statement-givers and statement-takers. That is why Minnesota Advocates put in measures such as volunteers who are trained in handling traumatic experience and who can also provide counseling to victims of trauma, train volunteer statement-takers, and has an array of advisory committee members to advise on the political and cultural aspects of the statement-taking process.

The month of July is declared, "TRC Month." What this means is that we design progressive outreach strategies to beef-up our number of statement-givers. We identify specific events and sites, including churches, mosques, soccer games, local Liberian associations' meetings, informal gatherings, among other strategies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Part II:Liberia TRC Project & Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

The weekend of May 11-13, was characterized by extensive outreach, from the various African stores in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, to worship area. On May 12, 2007, Team Liberia was act the African Food Market & Deli (famously called Kwaku Store) to conduct outreach exercise. At the store, we had two of our team mates, and three volunteers to help with outreach.
Basically, we greeted customers as they came into the store, and asked if they have heard about the Liberia Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Many if not all, did not know about the TRC. But through our conversation with the customers, twenty (20) persons signed up to give statement or tell their stories about their ordeal and experience about the Liberian civil war. Twenty persons signing up is a huge success given the fact that not many people know anything about the TRC. Many people signed up to give their statement on Saturday, June 2, 2007 at the Park Haven Apartment Complex. The story about our outreach at the African Food Market was carried in the African News Journal, an idea that was meant to boost the TRC awareness in the Diaspora, particularly Minnesota.

Part III

For the the month of May, the Liberian TRC Diaspora project conducted by Minnesota Advocates had been so far elaborate. On May 12, a team of Minnesota Advocates and TRC Liberia, met in Ghana, on Budumburam Refugee Camp to conduct outreach and collect statements from Liberian Refugees. According to team members, this exercise produce the kind of result expected-people come out to learn about the TRC and the future of Liberia. The almost two weeks event brought Liberian from different demography together-the elders, community and religious leaders, students, ex-combatants, etc.

While in the U.S., our TRC team was equally engaged in several outreach related activities, to include but not limited to: the Bong County Association National Conference, held on Saturday, May 26, 2007, the Old Timers Soccer Tournament, on Saturday, May 26, 2007, the TPS Know Your Rights Forum, held on Wednesday, May 29, 2007, the June 2, TRC Statement Taking event at the Park Haven Apartment, in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, among others. These were extensive outreach activities in addition to the visit at the different African stores and churches within Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, that were conducted by our TRC team.

The Statement Taking process is one of the vital components of the Liberia TRC Project, both in Liberia and the Diaspora. It involves the victims telling his or her story about what he or she experience during the Liberia war. It also involves the perpetrator telling his or her story or experience about he war as well. This process also extends to non-Liberians and Liberians who were either living in Liberia at the time of the civil war or who had family member(s) living in Liberia during the Liberian conflict. Essentially, it provides an opportunity for everyone to be heard about what he or she knows about the war. Yes, I too gave my statement to the TRC diaspora statement takers, on Saturday, June 2, 2007 at the Park Haven Apartment. It was a great experience and it symbolized my commitment to the TRCprocess. It gave me the opportunity to say what I want for my country (Liberia).

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Liberia TRC Project & Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

Today, May 17, 2007 makes me two weeks and two days old on my Fellowship with the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, specifically working on the Liberia TRC project. I officially started my Fellowship on Tuesday, May 1, 2007. However prior to my official start date, I worked on the National Advisory Committee of the TRC.

As a human rights fellow, first and foremost I enjoy the prestige and honor of the name Human Rights Fellow. I observe when ever I introduced myself to someone as a human rights fellow, I see this great look of admiration on the person's face and the attention that comes along. Yes, it is a great feeling.

Since my start as an Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow with Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (MAHR), I have been involved with outreach and visitations with identified community leaders, from local Liberian churches to professors, soccer players, the African stores and Deli, customers at the African stores, and other institutions such as the Center For Victim of Torture (CVT). Basically, our visit has been about asking these leaders to help inform the general public about the Liberia Truth & Reconciliation Commission and how they(the leaders) can get involve with the TRC project, especially with the Statement Taking Process.

Minnesota Advocates, mirroring the TRC's work in Liberia, is coordinating an effort to collect statements from Liberians living throughout the United States. Minnesota Advocates helps train volunteers who will conduct interviews with Liberians in the U.S. who voluntarily come forward to give their statements to the TRC. Most statements are taken at identified statement locations or sites, but since in fact this is a voluntary process, statements are also taken at the choosing of the statement givers. Yet, at every statement site, a team of trained statement takers and counselors are there to provide service.

At the Minnesota Advocates, we have a team of staff that work specifically with the Liberia TRC Project. The team is named, "Team Liberia," which include: the Executive Director Robin Philips, the Deputy Executive Director Jennifer Prestholdt, Wellstone Fellow Laura Young, Women's Rights Staff Attorney Rosalyn Park, Administrative Assistant Kim Babine, Immigration Attorney Michelle Garnett McKenzie, Program Associate Ahmed K. Sirleaf, and of course me Upper Midwest Fellow Seyon Nyanwleh.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I love my mother and may the Lord bless my family.