THE MAO MAO SOCIETY
It was a great pleasure for me to represent MARWOPNET in a seminar on youths transforming conflict in Freetown, Sierra Leone from April 18 to 29, 2004, attended by over 45 youths from all over Africa. The seminar was a follow-up of an on-line training course sponsored by the United Network of Young Peace Builders (UNOY). We were able to share ideas exchange experiences and learn new skills in conflict transformation, which we have promised to take home and implement in our communities and organizations.
As part of the training we made field visits to important places like youth development centers to learn from our fellow youths in the host country.
One such place was the Firestone Community Development Center. This place was once a daytime hideout for notorious criminals and bandits, yet today, it boasts a remarkable transformation and represents hope for youths of not only Sierra Leone but Africa in general.
Getting it from one of the young community members, also a member of the Mao Mao Society, who revealed his story:
I was born at this place and I am 30 years old now. My grandfather was one of the notorious thieves in this country. He married my grandmother, a fellow thiefs daughter, and they had children. My father grew up in this same community and became one of the notorious criminals. All the people here by then were criminal-based citizens in one way or the other. Their children grew up following in the footsteps of their parents and only death was their final retirement from the game. I also grew up in this same community as a criminal. We would go out in the night for action and retire in the daytime here, smoking our marijuana and drinking alcohol, but thank God because today I am a changed and responsible citizen.
After the war, we the youths, while smoking marijuana in our ghetto one day, started discussing and decided to change our attitude and community. I cannot really tell how God used us to start thinking positively from that day.
We started planning and raising funds among members. We got a teacher and transformed our ghetto hut into a schoolhouse. The teacher, also a youth, volunteered to teach our children. We started some community development programs by learning carpentry, soap making, and so on. It was not easy to change this community but today the school is having over one hundred pupils not only from our community but also from other communities, even though at first people who were not part of our community feared to come to our community or send their children to our school.
I presently do washing and pressing of wears that I demand a little cost for from their owners. I live through this and support my little family. My wife is doing soap making for sale. I have three children and the eldest is seven and now going to school.
I was shocked when we were taken to a small building that was their meeting place, The Mao Mao Society House, as they called it. This house he said is only entered by their society members and is always commemorated every 1st of January.
This brought me back to school days when we were taught about The Mao Mao Society. In brief, this society was formed in Kenya during the black rule of the UHURU Movement that advocated for Kenyan independence. Kenya, under a full black government, tried to overthrow not only the white masters, but also white settlers who had taken Kenyan land and tried to integrate in Kenyan society as white Africans.
They operated under a guerilla movement that can best be described today as terrorism against white people in Kenya, although the Mao Mao members who carried out such activities were deemed to be patriotic Kenyans.
Now, on the other side of the African continent, a different kind of Mao Mao Society has emerged in the Firestone Community Development Center in Freetown. The name Mao Mao at the Firestone Community Development Center expresses in heart-wrenching reality the determination and will power of an abused group of youths to change from the negative of human existence to the positive through hard work and selfless work for a better society.
As the Firestone Community shows us, building a culture of peace is a gradual process that requires dedicated and committed young people. Youths such as these former bandits can be a menace to society, but if given the proper tools, education and encouragement, they can also be asset to society because of their willingness to learn, their ability to adapt to new ideas, and their optimistic and resilience in the face of danger.
Conferences such as the seminar I was privileged to attend in Freetown help to ensure that youths play such a positive role in society. Youths are the basic ingredients of development, not only in the general sense but also in the sense of nation building that has done so much for third world countries.
-Sallay Bayoh, Sierra Leonean refugee & MARWOPNET- Guinea member
ON MY LIFE
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