Film & Discussion: The Fight to Forgive
Emerging from a long and brutal civil war, Liberia has endured one of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 people and displacing countless refugees. Liberia was established by the American Colonization Society as a new home for freed slaves from the United States. In addition to facing horrendous hardship, those returning slaves subjugated the indigenous people there, creating a chain of multigeneration trauma that caused ethnic friction, corruption and civil war.
THE FIGHT TO FORGIVE is the story of young men from Liberia who were forced to become child soldiers or refugees. As they re-enter their communities after years of trauma and isolation, they discover that their future and a lasting peace for Liberia depend on one final personal battle--the fight to forgive both themselves and the adults who forced them to kill and to assist their communities in finding that forgiveness as well.
Today, with the hands-on sponsorship of the non-profit peacebuilding organization everyday gandhis and years of intense personal healing, the ex-combatants call themselves Future Guardians of Peace. Through photography and community outreach activities, these young adults are rediscovering themselves and reconnecting with their communities. As grassroots peace-builders, they are organizing soccer games for peace, environmental clean-up campaigns, and peer mentoring workshops dedicated to building healthy, peaceful relationships
With unprecedented access to young ex-combatants and their former commander built on years of close personal relationships, the film follows the group for five years of life after war. Mohammed, who saw his father shot and was forced to become a killer, now focuses his considerable photographic skill reconnecting with people on the streets; Lassana a self-described former “killing machine,” is now dedicated to becoming a journalist; Morris, who wants to become a professional peacebuilder; Ezekiel, who would have become a traditional healer but was kidnapped by rebels instead, learned rudimentary first aid on the battle field and now plans to become a doctor; Varlee, forced to become a refugee at the age of 8, looks forward to becoming an engineer; and Akoi, a walking miracle, who survived a head injury from a rocket-propelled grenade and now seeks to become a specialist in trauma healing.
Former rebel commander General Leopard, who once commanded some of these young men, now calls himself Christian Bethelson, and has committed his life to peacebuilding. He has risked his life speaking out about what he experienced in the war. Bethelson and the boys work everyday to make amends for their past. For all of them, the hardest fight is to forgive themselves and their commanders for the atrocities they were forced to commit and endure during the war.
International aid workers estimate that 20,000 children, some as young as 8, were recruited as child soldiers by both government and rebel factions. By United Nations estimates, 250,000-500,000 are active worldwide, with uncounted numbers of former fighters who remain traumatized and vulnerable to being re-recruited. One can’t help but wonder what hidden gifts of peacemaking lie in the hearts of the tens of thousands of ex-combatants like the boys featured in the film.
Woven from their stories and artful photographic reflections of post-conflict life, the film teaches us that peace is possible, and that resilience, compassion, wisdom and creativity flourish, even – and especially - among the most traumatized, divided and marginalized people places.
THE FIGHT TO FORGIVE is a lesson on the hard, personal work that peace requires and offers an inspirational model for grassroots peacebuilding across the world.