Over the past few years, most of my research and conversations have been with Canadian and American veterans, but several years ago, I learned the story of a young Liberian man named Morris living in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana. Morris’s story (told in When Blood and Bones Cry Out by John Paul Lederach and Angela Jill Lederach) is another example of the ways that farming and gardening can provide an important outlet for healing and support to many former combatants.
Becoming a Child Soldier
When Morris was 13, his father was murdered by rebels, and soon after Morris became a child soldier in the Liberian civil war. Later he also trained other child soldiers to fight in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Eventually, when struck by the realization that his fighting had turned him into an empty shell and that he no longer felt human, Morris escaped to the Buduburam Refugee Camp. As part of his own healing—from both his roles as victim and perpetrator in the Liberian civil war—and to give back to the community in the refugee camp, Morris assembled other child soldiers also living in the camp, and the youngsters built a farm together.
Today, approximately 200 former child soldiers grow and harvest fruits and vegetables in the camp. All of them, including Morris, continue to carry the stigma of their former roles as combatants and many others in the refugee community continue to see them as rapists and murderers. Accordingly, the healing and recovery process for these young people is anything but easy. They have lived through horrific violence, and many have committed unimaginable acts. As Morris remarked, “It is so hard . . . All you have in your mind is violence. You have been living in violence for so long . . . It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s embedded in you. And it is creative. You can do unimaginable things, terrible things with this creativity, because you have seen so much violence. It takes willpower to transform that. Some of us are working hard to change.”
And so as they work to change themselves, and to overcome the community stigmatization, the former child soldiers continue to work the land and work toward their own healing. The youths find comfort in both their relationships with one another and in cultivating new life together, and carry hope that the others in the refugee community will see that they have the power to change, to do good, and will one day accept them again into the community.
Lederach, John Paul, and Lederach, Angela Jill. (2010). When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing And Trauma. Oxford: Oxford University Press.