THIS WEEKEND WORKSHOP WAS INSPIRED BY MANY THINGS, BUT MOSTLY BY THE STRUGGLES OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE WHO GO THROUGH THE MADNESS AND HORROR THAT CIVIL WAR AND GREED FOR RESOURCES INEVITABLY CAUSES.
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“We’re here in Sierra Leone, a place torn by civil unrest and violence. Located in western Africa, control of the government is currently being disputed between the Revolutionary United Front and the Momoh government. Already, thousands have been killed over control of alluvial diamonds and the RUF has taken over much of the eastern and southern parts of the county in their campaign of blood. I’m standing with my friend Abubakarr in a small town in the Kono District, which is in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. Tell us what has happened to your town.”
“Yes. Terrible things happen.” The African man spoke in broken English, as he began to tell the tale of his broken town. “Men come from other country, they come here to murder and steal. We have nowhere to go. Soon they will come here too and take everything from us.”
“That’s terrible.” I said, making sure the camera got a close-up of the emotion in his eyes. The networks loved that.
“White men are not safe here, they will kill you for being here.” He went on, looking around desperately for any sign of the men he was referring to.
“We know that, and we’ll be leaving soon, but we had to make sure your story was told.” I assured him. He nodded and stared off into the distance. I put my hand on his shoulder and continued my report.
“This is the fear that the RUF has instilled in local population of this once peaceful town. Many African countries are plagued with what is widely referred to as the ‘resource curse’. Countries, rich in diamonds, are often burdened by the corruption of their leaders who use the resources to further their own agen-“
Before I could finish the sentence, gunfire erupted from somewhere on the eastern side of town. Abubakarr began shouting in his native language to one of the villagers as he ran by us, who shouted back and continued on his way.
“What’s happening?” I asked, looking from my shrugging crew to Abubakarr for an answer.
“They are here!” he shouted and began running with blinding speed into the thick jungle in the opposite direction.
Screams began to fill the village, and my crew took it as their cue to move and began hastily packing their equipment so we could get the hell out of there. I completely agreed with them.
“Come on, just throw it all in and go.” I urged them as men in uniform began to appear in the village, beating or shooting anyone who got in their way.
“They blocked the road.” Our driver announced from the front seat of the van. “We’ll have to hoof it.”
“We can’t lose the tape, this footage is too valuable!” I protested.
“Our lives are more valuable!” he shot back as he exited the vehicle and began to run into the thick jungle with the fleeing villagers. The remainder of my crew looked back at me impatiently for further instruction... shooting glances longingly at their fleeing companion.
“Follow him,” I ordered. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Without hesitating, they began to run – not daring to look behind them as the rebels advanced towards the edge of the village. I jumped into the back of the van, located the camera and pulled the tape from it. Then, just before I decided to make my run for it, I stopped… realizing that this could be my chance to really capture the true violence of this civil war and convince people that something had to be done about it. So I grabbed the camera and locked the van, pressing it against the tinted window to get a good view of the action taking place.
To my shock and horror, the men invading the village weren’t men at all, but children. I watched as they marched through the village, holding weapons and wearing clothes that barely fit them, beating and shooting people who were old enough to be their parents. It was heart-wrenching. I never would have thought that children who could barely hold the weapons they carried were capable of the violence I witnessed.
These weren’t children… not anymore. They had been turned into the monsters at the hands of a corrupt military that sought to further its own selfish agenda above anything else. They mimicked the acts of violence the RUF had imprinted on their susceptible minds ruthlessly, and without mercy – torching houses, beating men with pipes, and the older ones even raping women two or three times their age. They had been stripped of their innocence and turned into cold-hearted machines; tools of the RUF. I had come to this county for a shock story that would boost my career as a war correspondent. What I got, was first-hand experience of just how cruel this world can be.
They eventually found me, and took me hostage. I was forced to travel with them for months until the Sierra Leone Army pushed them back to the Liberian border and I was rescued. During that time, I learned more about human violence and its limitless than I had ever imagined and hoped to be possible. When I had been rescued and made it back home, I was praised for my bravery and offered the promotion I had been hoping for before my capture. But the experience had changed me forever, and from that day forth I became a humanitarian. I never again took for granted the things that most people do every single day and instead began to fight my own war for peace.
Too long have wars been named for the places, times, and ideas for which they took place. I am a soldier in the Human Civil War, and this is my call to battle. We are at war with ourselves, and it’s time for us to pick a side.