Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Unthinkable atrocities

Until two weeks ago, my answer to the question “what is the worst problem in the world?” would have been “poverty,” without any hesitation. Since I first looked it in the eye in Mexico City’s sprawling slums more than a decade ago, grinding poverty has moved me more deeply than any other issue on the planet. The inhumanity of millions of families living in, quite literally, the scraps of human existence -- in miles of slum dwellings made of squalid refuse, in impoverished rural communities barely eeking out a subsistence living – has been the driving force in my career path and current studies in international development.

And yet Liberia has confronted me with an even more shocking face of inhumanity: violent conflict. It turns out that war sucks. Really, really badly. Not exactly earth shattering news, right? But for me, during these past two weeks as I’ve delved deeper into Liberia’s bloody history, it actually has been.

The personal stories I’ve heard from the mouths of survivors have caused me to seriously question the human race, and the male gender in particular. Family members being brutally murdered, raped, and tortured. People repeatedly fleeing as refugees to Guinea, Sierra Leone and the United States. Living in terror without food for days on end. Losing a decade of education. Even more disturbing are the stories printed daily in the newspapers here of Charles Taylor’s alleged war crimes -- so gruesome that I can barely process them as fact, and not the fictitious script of the most violent horror movie in Hollywood history. Women being forced into sex slavery with rebel leaders, children being forced to kill - or even eat - their parents, widespread amputations, and absolutely horrific rapes (that continue unabated to this day).

Thankfully Liberia is peaceful and stable, at least for now -- 15,000 UN peacekeepers will do that to a country -- and there is so much rebuilding and bustling life in the streets that it is hard to believe that this country just went through hell. But it did, and I am amazed by people's resilience in looking ahead to the future and not to the bitterness of the past.

Yet I can’t help but wonder: just how thin the veneer of calm is. How a society so ripped apart by unspeakable atrocities can possibly forgive, heal, and move on. How the small, incremental improvements along the very slow road to rebuilding will be enough to quell the urge of former combatants to return to chaos. How an entire generation of youth schooled with guns and not pencils can ever believe in their future. And how on earth we can stop this from every happening again.

** A fantastic read on this topic is the book "A Long Way Gone," a memoir of a remarkable former child soldier in Sierra Leone.**


Liz said...

Hey Molly

I'm glad you're keeping the blog--reading it is a wonderful way to procrastinate and delay the real world after graduation!

On a more serious note...I take your point about war being the worst problem in the world, but do you think poverty might be the root cause of it in this situation? Or others? Perhaps war is just a symptom of the root cause and therefore, poverty is still the worst problem in the world.

On a light note, I think you might owe me a micro dinner!

Can't wait to read more!


Kusi said...


Your blog is great! kudos, and thank you for emailing me to share it with me =)

I feel your heartfelt sympathy/sadness in the words you wrote. There is a lot of development related research on conflict and development. If this interests you check out: http://people.iq.harvard.edu/~rbates/papers/Chap7_RB.pdf

There are also many others...you can look into them next year. Or just ignore and continue to soak up the experiences of being there. Have a great time!

Brian said...

Hey Moll - these few paragraphs are touching. I'm excited by the work you’re doing there, and to see that your eyes are being opened to the atrocious remains of Charles Taylor's regime. I heard on the radio the other day that he's boycotting his war crimes trials? Is that true? He sounds like a real ass. Let's not be so harsh as to take it out on the entire male population though, ok? (snaps!) :) But seriously, it really is great to read your blogs which are bringing a little more context and color to those of us on the other side of the planet like me, who hadn't even heard of Liberia before our Molly set sail for her summer internship there. Reading this section of your blog made me wonder about the concept of 'hope' in Liberia. When we were in India last year, you made a comment about despite the poverty and dire circumstances of so many of the Indian people, there is still a huge sense of hope and possibility there. Do you have a sense of that in Liberia? Despite all the pain and trauma the people experienced during Taylor's regime, do you feel a sense of hope for the future among the people or the government?

Dan Walsh said...

Dear Molly, I'm way behind on your blog,but just wanted to wish you a happy 4th. Also married my niece at ND last Saturday and thought of you. I have a priest from southern Sudan living with me so I'm in a African mood. LOVE-FORGIVENESS-PEACE, Fr Dan

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