For the Human Rights Defenders class on February 12th, I chose to address the topic of Liberia’s civil wars. I began the session showing the students the image of the Liberian flag—did they recognize it? One conjectured that it was the American flag but quickly realised that it wasn’t, because it had only one star and not fifty. When I told them it was the Liberian flag, they claimed to have heard of the country but did not know anything else about it. Giving them a brief overview of Liberia’s history, we moved to the main focus of our session: the impact of the civil wars, which I complemented with topical Al-Jazeera news clippings.
ccccThe first clip I shared was on the child soldiers who were forced to fight in the war. This short clip piqued their interest, drawing gasps when horrific photographs of children inflicting violence were displayed. I occasionally paused the clip to discuss the problems these former soldiers faced as they grew older and attempted to integrate with society.
ccccThe next clip I showed was on the challenges of providing mental health care for Liberians, many of whom suffered from PTSD after the war. The students listened keenly as a girl not much older than them described her symptoms and a doctor talked about Liberians’ short temper and aggressive demeanour despite being a friendly, fun loving community. The students wanted to know more about PTSD, an idea they were not quite familiar with.
ccccThe last clip I showed them was on Liberia’s efforts to rebuild its democracy, institutions and public infrastructure. We talked about how wars have end dates but the effects last much, much longer. One of the students observed that she had never thought about how war-torn countries have to rebuild basic infrastructures like tap water, electricity, roads etc. I concluded the session by asking them to consider when it is that genocides end. Do they end when our history books tell us they do?