Women Leaders Who Are Transforming the World

How could the mainstream U.S. media possibly have overlooked a powerful
movement occurring today around the world?  Those of us paying attention
are witnessing the emergence of transformative leadership on the part
of women.  They are engaged globally in making social change, both at
the grassroots level of rural villages and at the highest level of their
As I had mentioned in my August post Uniting Distant Stars Has Gone Supernova, I am dedicating this one to some incredible women who have defied the inequalities and injustices in their nations. Though these women did not meet the criteria of Forbes The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, they are a force to be reckoned with.
What excites me about these women leaders, is that they are championing the issues of gender inequality, poverty and war in some of the toughest patriarchal societies in Africa and Asia. This post will highlight the eight women that were included in my June presentation to the Miss Liberia Contestants of Minnesota. Furthermore, this post will close with a special recognition of one special young day who has inspired a generation of girls.

1) Immaculée Ilibagiza, Rwandan Genocide Survivor

Immaculée has inspired me since I heard her share her incredible story of survival in Liberia in 2009 and then read her books “Left to Tell” and “Led by Faith” when I returned home in 2010. This young Tutsi woman spent nearly 90 days in a three by four foot bathroom with seven other Tutsi women in the home of a Hutu pastor. When these women emerged from their cramped quarters, they were sleep-deprived, wasted from hunger, and overwhelmed with grief for the loved ones that had been killed. For Immaculée, she lost her parents, two of the three brothers, and countless friends and family. It was from this terrifying ordeal that she found her faith and the capacity to forgive.

In finding refuge by reading the Bible, she was struck by the words that Jesus said up on the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” She saw how this statement rang true for those committing the senseless butchering of their neighbors. This gave her the reason to forgive the killers of her family. After some time of mourning and securing a job at the UN, she went to the prison to forgive the killer of her mother and one of her brothers. The Tutsi man in charge of the prison became so outraged with her and questioned why she did it. Being apologetic, she explained that she was just one Tutsi so if she was wrong then there was nothing to worry about (Immaculée). 

Surprisingly, one year later this same prison official came to the UN to meet with her. She was taken aback by his visit and wondered why he wanted to talk to her. She was overwhelmed when he started off by thanking her for changing his life. He then shared how his wife and children had been killed, and how this consumed him with so much hate that he would beat the Hutu prisoners daily to get some temporary relief. Yet, he repeated this same cycle every day. So it was her example that allowed him to forgive and let go of his hate and sorrow. This gave him the peace and freedom to move on with his life, which he was now remarried and they were planning to have children (Immaculée).

Zarifa Qazizadah, Afghanistan’s First Female Village Chief

Zarifa is one who puts a smile on my face, because she fulfilled a promise that secured the vote of men in her village. One may not believe that this woman had the capacity to be a leader. She was married at age 10 and had her first of fifteen children at age 15. She was destined to be a housewife and servant to her husband’s family. However, with some personal sacrifices she was able to provide a necessary service to her village–Naw Abad–that exemplified her leadership capabilities (Hegarty).

It all started in 2004 when she was seeking political office. Zarifa made a promise to the village men that she would connect the village to the electric grid. They of course laughed at her believing that this was impossible for woman. She did therefore lose the election, but kept her promise. So, she re-mortgaged her house and borrowed money to buy the posts and cables needed to connect to the main electrical supply. She succeeded that same year in supplying every house with electricity (Hegarty).

This 50-year-old grandma of 36 grandchildren, was voted in as chief by the same men who shunned her. One of her male supporters explained his reason for voting for her, “she does the type of work that even men are not capable of doing.” As chief she has taking on some other initiatives such as sponsoring the building of the first Mosque where both men and women can pray together. She also heads the local women’s council and encourages other women to follow her example. Zarifa is no ordinary woman, because she owns and rides a motorcycle [1], and uses a gun to protect the people in her village (Hegarty). This formidable woman has started the process of change in her nation.

Dr. Hawa Abdi, Somalia’s 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

Dr. Hawa is another inspiring woman who shares her property with approximately 90,000 refugees just 15 miles from Mogadishu. In order to accommodate the people seeking refuge, she has transformed her one-room clinic on her property to a two-story hospital to serve the people. She also added an 800-student school and adult education center. She opened some of her land to families to farm and purchased a small fleet of fishing boats as a means to feed everyone (Ibrahim and Gettleman).

Dr. Hawa’s sacrifices have not gone unnoticed by the people she serves. On May 5, 2010, 750 armed Al Shabaab [2] militants surrounded her hospital. The commanders held her at gun-point for several hours while their minions, mostly teenage child soldiers, ransacked her hospital and tore up records. She was enraged by their unwelcome occupation that she told them that she would not leave and then yelled, “You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society? (Ibrahim and Gettleman).”

Consequently, she was placed under house arrest for the next five days forcing her hospital to close and causing two dozen malnourished babies to die who were left in the bush by their fleeing families. Suddenly, hundreds of women living on her property gathered together to protest against the militants along with many Somalian expatriates that forced them to relinquish control. She then insisted that they apologize in writing, which they did begrudgingly (Ibrahim and Gettleman). It is amazing how she got these young men to apologize, so I wonder if she used the certain motherly tone that makes children stop in their tracks.

Manal al-Sharif, Saudi’s Founder of Women’s Right to Drive

Manal really impressed me with her bold action in starting the Women2Drive campaign. In May 2011, this divorced mother of one son risked it all by driving around Khobar while being video taped in a nation that forbids women drivers. Her creative protest did not go unnoticed by the police, because she was arrested the next day and then held with no charges for nine days. Luckily, she was finally released after a great deal of international pressure (Sutter).

Her public protest was not centered on women having the right to drive, but on all the gender inequalities in her nation. Women in Saudi Arabia need their male guardians’ permission to “get married, leave the country, go to school or open bank accounts.” She believes that if women defy one of these unjust requirements such as driving that they would have the courage to speak up and take appropriate action (Sutter).”

Regrettably, her work has come at a cost both professionally and personally. She was forced to quit her job and her six-year-old son has been harassed and bullied by his classmates for her public activism. Though she was not able to find the right words, she tried to explain to her son why she was doing this and that some day he would be proud of her. For now she is saving the clippings and awards she has received, so that when he is older he can decide whether is mom was making a difference or a “sinful, dangerous woman (Sutter).” Manal has created the spark that is lighting the fire of other women in her nation to take a stand for their rights.
President Joyce Banda of Malawi, Africa’s 2nd Female Head of State

President Joyce Banda is clearly a woman to watch. What piqued my interest about her, is how she was able to stop a coup d’état with one simple phone call. The former President Bingu wa Mutharika had suddenly died of heart attack in April 2012. Mutharika had planned to have his brother Peter succeed him as President instead of Joyce the Vice President who had been voted in and the natural successor as stated in the constitution (Smith).

On April 7, the cabinet ministers, parliament members along with the chief justice and some other judges were waiting at Peter’s house for the court order to swear him in. Knowing that this meeting was occurring, she called the army commander, General Henry Odillo, and asked if she had his support. He answered yes. This phone call forced the hand of the ministers and parliament, who quickly left Peter’s house to avoid any appearances of treason. The chief justice, a staunch supporter of Mutharika, protested her swearing in by saying he did not have his wig or robe, but a car was sent to fetch him to perform his duties (Smith).

Since becoming President, Joyce has taken her role seriously as Southern Africa’s first female head of state. She made this point clear when she said, “It’s heavy for me. Heavy in the sense that I
feel that I’m carrying this heavy load on behalf of all women. If I
fail, I will have failed all the women of the region. But for me to
succeed, they all must rally around (Smith).” She definitely has her work cut out for her and it will be interesting to see how she transforms her nation.

Major Liu Yang, China’s First Female Astronaut

Liu’s triumph makes me think that girls may be becoming more valued in China than we thought.  As her parents’ only child, her accomplishment may significantly change the status of girls in her nation (Grammiticas). We have all heard about the China’s one-child policy and the “missing girl” factor. That has caused us to over-generalize this nation’s vast population. We must acknowledge the fact that there are other parents like Liu’s who appreciated their daughters and believed in their potential.

Another exciting aspect of this story is how Liu was vying with another woman of the same age, Captain Wang Yaping, for final position on the three-person crew. Both of these women were revered as heroines by their fellow citizens, because they were proud of what they represented in the history of their nation (Grammiticas).

Remarkably, her success in becoming China’s first female astronaut has helped women surpass a famous old Chinese maxim “women hold up half the sky (Branigan).” Without a doubt, Liu has reached the stars and will be an inspiration to other girls in her nation. She made this clear before the launch in June when she told the reporters, “I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honoured to fly
into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese
citizens (Branigan).” We will need to pay closer attention to what effect her achievement will have on the next generation of girls in China.

Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna, Liberia’s Straight from the Heart Center Founder

Agnes is the one leader that I talked to personally in May 2012. Though we had never met, she contacted me after reading my comment on Leymah Gbowee’s (Liberia’s 2011 Nobel Laureate) Facebook post about President Taylor’s conviction and how more work was needed in the rehabilitation of the former child soldiers. My comment was about my willingness to work with these young people because I had interacted with them during my first trip in 1998 and then worked with a few during my first year of residence in 2007/8. So Agnes sent me a Facebook message asking me to read her book “And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation” and to let her know my thoughts when I finished reading it.

From the very first page, I was captivated by her story. She skillfully started each chapter with a personal narrative from a war victim and/or perpetrator that was interwoven with her own experiences of the war. Since she had seen first-hand the atrocities of war and those who committed them, she was able to create the perfect avenue for victims and perpetrators to tell their stories as a means for healing and reconciliation. As an experienced on-air personality, she produced a radio program called “Straight from the Heart [3]” that first focused on the victim stories. After some coaxing from her producer, she started talking with former child soldiers (males and females) and soon discovered their dual roles as both victims and victimizers.

Her compelling story helped amplify the voices of the countless people whose lives were forever changed by Liberia’s long and gruesome war, which blurred the line between victim and perpetrator. So it was an honor to meet with Agnes when she came to Minnesota from New York to attend a graduation in May. We spent an hour or so talking about her book and experiences working with former child soldiers. From that moment, we formed a sisterhood and knew someday we would be working together in some capacity.

Leymah Gbowee, Liberia’s 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Leymah had a simple dream that materialized into a non-violent peace movement of women who ushered in the end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war. Surprisingly, I was not aware of this renowned  women’s peace movement from all the personal and scholarly research on Liberia that I had conducted. It was right before I left for Liberia in January 2009 that I heard about the award winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” that would be playing in U.S. theaters while I was gone. Gratefully, my Mom had received a copy from a friend that I could watch when I returned in January 2010.

I have watched this documentary several times and have recently read Lehmah’s book “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.” There is no doubt about her leadership in this successful peace movement that brought Christian and Muslim women together upon realizing that a bullet does not discriminate. She, like the other women, were tired of the war and what it was doing to the children of Liberia (Disney).

Throughout this movement, they faced many challenges including operating on limited funds. Regardless of these obstacles, Leymah was able to organize the women in holding sit-ins in both Liberia and Ghana where the peace talks were being held. She held fast to her convictions as they maintained their mission even when the fighting increased or during the faltering peace talks in Accra (Disney). It was her leadership that showed the rest of the world how a powerful group of women could take one dream for peace and make it reality.

Malala Yousuzai, Pakistan’s Child Advocate for Girls’ Education

Young Malala’s courageous story has captivated the hearts and minds of countless people around the world, including me. In 2009, when it became clear that the Taliban would force her to quit school, this 11-year-old girl started an anonymous blog–Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl–to speak out about her rights. She was one of the few girls who were brave enough to protest about the injustice, because they had witnessed the destruction of over 150 schools in 2008 (Malala Yousafzai: Portrait of the girl blogger). So, the young girls felt that the only way to stop this madness was to stand up for their rights.

This young girl did not give up fighting for her right to an education even when she and her father–Ziauddin– were facing death threats. Her father runs the local private school that she attends in Swat Valley. He is also the strongest supporter of her activism. Her work soon received international attention when she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by The KidsRights Foundation and awarded the National Peace Award [4] by her government (Malala Yousafzai: Portrait of the girl blogger).

Sadly, this girl, now 15, was shot in the head by the Taliban on October 9, while heading home on a bus with others. This was definitely an assassination attempt, because her activism was threatening their oppressive hold on her community. These radical militants failed to realize  Malala’s resolve. She is recovering and has already requested her school books. Her strong spirit has been such an inspiration, especially girls, that a petition has already been started to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize (Malala Yousafzai: Thousands sign Nobel Peace Prize petition). There is no doubt that Malala is very deserving of this award, because she used her voice to regain her right for an education instead of a gun or missile.

Foot notes:
[1] Zarifa needs to ride her motorcycle at night while wearing men’s clothing to protect her from being a target of the Taliban.
[2] Al Shabaab (The Youth in Arabic), a radical wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts.

[3] The radio show’s name was derived from Byran Adam’s song “Straight from the Heart”
[4] The National Peace Award was renamed the National Malala Peace Prize for those under 18 years old.

Works Cited:

Branigan, Tania. “China’s first female astronaut shows how ‘women hold up half the sky’.” The   
     Guardian. The Observer. 16 Jun 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2012.
Disney, Abigail E, and Gini Reticker. Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Sausalito, Calif.?: Distributed by
      Roco Films Educational, 2008. 

Grammaticas, Damian. “China’s female astronaut quandary.” BBC News Asia. BBC.
     12 June 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2012.
Hegarty, Stephanie. “Afghanistan’s supergran crimebuster on wheels.” BBC News Magazine.
     BBC. 27 May 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2012.
Ibrahim, Mohammed and Jeffrey Gettleman. “Under Siege in War-Torn Somalia, a Doctor Holds Her
     Ground.” The New York Times Africa. NY Times. 07 Jan 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2012.

“Immaculée Ilibagiza Keynote Speech at International Week.” Online video. YouTube. 22 Oct 2008.
      Web. 24 Nov 2012. 

“Malala Yousafzai: Portrait of the girl blogger.” BBC News Magazine. BBC. 10 Oct 2012. Web.
      26 Nov 2012.
“Malala Yousafzai: Thousands sign Nobel Peace Prize petition.” BBC News Asia. BBC. 09 Nov 2012.
      Web. 26 Nov 2012/
Smith, David. “Malawi’s Joyce Banda puts women’s rights at centre of new presidency.”The 
      Guardian. The Guardian. 29 Apr 2012 Web. 24 Nov 2012
Sutter, John D. “The woman who defied Saudi’s driving ban and put it on YouTube.” The CNN 
     Profile. CNN. 10 Jun 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2012.

Is Liberia Ready to Forgive Now that the Final TRC Report is Out?

On June 28, 2009, Liberia reached a pivotal point in their post-war recovery when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) submitted their final report to the public [1]. After the long and arduous task for taking victim statements and facilitating public hearings of known perpetrators, the TRC compiled their recommendations.

Surprisingly, this report created much controversy soon after it was publicized. The main concerns were about the TRC’s methodology with their procedures and determinations. Regardless of this public outcry, the commission has cited those who should be held responsible for the atrocities that occurred during the period from January 1979 to October 14, 2003 (TRC Volume II, 2) [2]. It listed 98 Liberians, who are to be prosecuted, including Former President Charles Taylor, for crimes of war and against humanity (TRC Volume II, 332~334); another 50 Liberian elected officials, including President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, are to be sanctioned from serving in any government post for 30 years (TRC Volume II, 271~272); additional 21 individuals and 19 companies including Firestone Corporation are subject to further investigation for committing economic crimes (TRC Volume II, 362~365); and another 54 individuals including the late President Samuel Doe are also recommended for investigation for alleged economic crimes (TRC Volume II, 366~368).

This report comes six years after the 14-year civil war officially ended [3] and at a time when Liberia is attempting to rebuild their devastated nation. So, what is the next step for this nation still healing? Are Liberians ready to forgive those who harmed or killed their loved ones? And if it is forgiveness, then how do the Liberian people put this tragic past behind them? These are important questions, because many Liberian people still harbor the hurt and anger from the unconscionable violence that was committed by the perpetrators of the war.

Today, the Liberian people are trying to heal the wounds of the past while rebuilding hope for the future. This once prosperous nation is now home to nearly 3.5 million people with 68% of them languishing in extreme poverty [4]. Those who were unable to escape the war witnessed friends killing friends, brothers killing brothers, and sisters killing sisters. They not only endured massive loss of life, but also the destruction of the entire infrastructure. As many people try to sift through the rubble in hopes of rebuilding their lives, they look around knowing the Liberia they once loved is forever changed.

Who will guide such despairing people out of their dark mental prisons of hurt and anger, and into the light of inner peace? Well, on June 5, 2009, the TRC/Liberia, TruthReconciled/USA, and Archdiocese of Monrovia/Liberia attempted to light such a pathway with the help of one very special woman. They invited Immaculee Ilibagiza to share her amazing story as a Rwandan Genocide Survivor and the spiritual journey she embarked upon in discovering peace and forgiveness for those who caused her deep sorrow. As a person who experienced the brutality of war, she was an ideal role model of forgiveness as she shared her story to the Liberian people. Regrettably, less than one-fourth of the Centennial Pavilion’s Great Hall in Monrovia was filled that day. Nevertheless, those of us in the mostly-female audience were completely captivated by the story presented by this tall, slender, beautiful woman in a royal blue African gown.

In fact, she is enlightening millions of people around the world with her story of surviving a particularly brutal episode in Rwandan history. One tribe [Tutsi] was the victim of ethnic cleansing by another tribe [Hutu], while the international community did nothing to intervene [5]. Her story touches the hearts of audiences everywhere by showing them how to break free of their pain and anger through the releasing power of forgiveness. Through this unfathomable ordeal, she reaffirmed her faith in God and freed herself of the deep-held anger and sorrow towards the perpetrators by forgiving them. It makes a listener re-examine one’s own hurt and resentment, after hearing her incredible story.

Immaculee’s Story

Here is a summary of Immaculee’s story as she shared it at the Centennial Pavilion in Liberia. It starts when she came home from college for Easter Break in 1994 to be with her family. She recounted how her family had an amazing time together over the holiday weekend not knowing that this would be their last. It was only three days after the Easter holiday that the tragic events started to occur and her life would forever change.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprian Ntyamira–both Hutus–was shot down near Kilagi, Rwanda’s capital. No one survived the crash. The two presidents had just signed a peace agreement to end the ethnic violence in both Rwanda and Burundi,and to also grant equal rights to the Tutsis [6]. Immediately, after the news got out that the President was dead, the radio stations commenced with a massive wave of propaganda inciting Hutus to kill Tutsis and this continued to be aired throughout this murderous aggression. As mothers, fathers and children were being slaughtered by blood thirsty rebels; the genocidal propaganda was intensified to dehumanize the Tutsis even more by referring to them as cockroaches that needed to be exterminated.

Shortly after this homicidal catastrophe started, Immaculee’s father quickly arranged for his daughter’s safety by hiding her at the home of a family friend [and pastor] who happened to be a Hutu. Her hiding place for the next three months was a tiny (3’ x 4’) bathroom attached to a bedroom that she shared with six other women and one girl. In a matter of days of being confined to this cramped space, the rebel leaders announced on the radio that their forces should start searching every Hutu home in case any sympathizers were hiding Tutsis, because many had inter-tribal marriages and friendships.

This massive search and kill mission was something that Immaculee and other Tutsis in hiding had to experience regularly. About three hundred rebels surrounded the house started to yell Immaculee and the names of the other women hiding with her. She recognized some of the voices of the individuals calling her name as people who were once friendly with her, but now they seek to destroy her. The rebels entered the house and immediately searched every room from top to bottom. They checked the attic, then under each bed and even in suitcases for babies or small children. When the rebels entered the bedroom, the women could hear their movements through the thin walls of the bathroom. They immediately stood motionless as they held their breaths in sheer terror that any sound would get them captured and killed.

Miraculously, the rebels never opened the bathroom door each time they searched the house. Immaculee believes it was a force of God, because she prayed earnestly that they would not find the doorknob. In fact, she remembers hearing one time the rebels saying “there is no need to check this bathroom because we searched the entire house and found nothing, so why would this man hide anyone in such a small place.”

Each time the rebels came to search, Immaculee was instantly burdened by two opposing inner voices. One voice said something like “give up and open the door, because you are going to die anyway.” The second voice said something like “have faith, trust in God for you are going to live.” There were times she was ready to give up, because she felt there was no hope as countless people were being viciously killed each day. As she continued to debate on which voice to listen to, she found comfort in reading the Bible that she asked the pastor for. She also recited the many prayers that she had learned from her Catholic upbringing. In time, she finally chose the second voice, because she found it to be much gentler and kinder than the first one.

As each day, and week and month passed by, Immaculee and the other women barely received anything to eat except some occasional leftovers from the pastor’s children. They never dared to leave the bathroom in fear of being captured since Hutu rebel forces were still canvassing the area. Their cramp hiding space also caused them to be sleep deprived. One would think madness would set in after being forced to remain in solidarity confinement for three months with little food and virtually no sleep, but for Immaculee she used this time for spiritual growth by reaffirming her faith in God.

During this spiritual journey, she wanted to let go of the anger quelling up inside of her. This was a challenge since she knew full well that loved ones were being killed by the brutal atrocities being committed throughout her country. To help her deal with this justifiable anger, she continued reading the Bible and praying to God for guidance. As she struggled to release her anger by trying to find the key in the scriptures, she suddenly had a revelation when she remembered what Jesus said before he died on the cross “Father, please forgive them for they know not what they do.” As she repeated these words in her mind, she soon realized that the Hutu rebels also “know not what they do.” These were educated and uneducated people who were repeatedly told to hate the Tutsis, fear the Tutsis, and kill the Tutsis. These were people that were once friends, classmates and neighbors of the people they were viciously slaughtering. Upon making this connection, she felt at peace and was ready let go the anger and seek forgiveness.

When this genocidal war finally ended, she emerged from the bathroom grossly underweight wearing only the clothes on her back. She was given the heart wrenching news that confirmed her parents, grandparents, two brothers and many others that she had loved and known were all killed. Reeling from the tragic loss of so many loved ones and to endure three months of a living hell, she emerged to face a new life with many uncertainties. Since she had no family or support or place to go, Immaculee now needed to find a job and place to live.

As she began this quest for her new life, her faith was tested again when a woman—a double amputee—in wheelchair recognized Immaculee and explained how her mother had once helped her as child with her school fees. She proceeded to invite Immaculee to come live with her, because she had a home and the means to support her. However, Immaculee was reluctan to accept the woman’s offer, because as she sized her up she thought “how could this woman in wheelchair support me?” The woman did not give up, and finally Immaculee accepted her offer with the condition that her eight friends, who she recently reunited with, needed to be included. The woman agreed whole-heartily to Immaculee’s condition. When the nine friends arrived to the woman’s house, they were surprised to see that this woman was more than able to support them. Therefore, the lesson Immaculee learned from this test was to “always respect people, because you don’t know who God will send you.”

Immaculee was also able to secure a job with the UN through the help of man working there. As she was getting her life back, some of the perpetrators had been prosecuted and sentenced to prison for their part in the genocidal massacre that killed nearly one million people in a 100 days [7]. Sometime later, she summoned up the courage to find the killers of her family. She shared a story when she visited one of the murderers at prison. When Immaculee met the man who she had known before the war, she looked at him and said I forgive you”. The man was not expecting her to say this, so he immediately turned his head away in shame knowing what he did to her family. Meanwhile the prison guard, who happened to be a Tutsi, heard what she said and immediately displayed his disgust in what she just said.

A few years later, Immaculee was informed while at work that the prison guard wanted to see her. She was completely taken aback by his unexpected visit, so when she approached him, she immediately apologized for offending him that day at the prison. He responded by saying “there is no need to apologize because you actually saved my life that day.” He shared with her how the Hutu’s had killed his wife and children causing him to be overcome with intense rage. He explained how he would beat on the Hutu prisoners which gave him some relief but the following day the raging anger returned and he would repeat the same vicious cycle. It was from observing how calm and peaceful Immaculee was that fateful day, is how he was able to let go of his anger and start a new life by getting remarried and having children. He thanked her for what she did, because it gave him his life back.

Helping Liberia Forgive

When she finished telling her story to the audience, she closed by inviting the New Destiny Children’s Choir to accompany her in singing “We Are the World.” What an appropriate song to end such an incredible story. As the program ended and we went our separate ways, I know her story left all of us wondering about our pain and anger that we have not been able to let go. Immaculee shared how she has been telling her story worldwide and how many people have thanked her, because it helped them to overcome their suffering and learn to forgive a friend or loved one.

Immaculee has written three books about her life and experiences, and the process of forgiveness. Her first book is an autobiography called “Left to Tell”, and it gives the complete accounting of her incredible spiritual journey during this vicious massacre in her beloved country. Based on hearing her story, I would recommend this book for anyone struggling with forgiving others or self.

Immaculee’s presence and commitment is an important key in guiding the Liberian people through the healing process of forgiveness. She came to Liberia not only to share her story but also to help with this next phase of the TRC. Her experience has helped illustrate what forgiveness is all about, and the importance it has on our peace of mind. In an effort to help Liberia understand forgiveness she was quoted saying the following in a TRC press release [8]: There can be justice after forgiveness. But when we forgive others we ensure that there is love and reconciliation. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that victims have condoned the wrong. Tears don’t come from a place of confusion; tears don’t come from a place of hate. Forgiveness is a personal decision.

Now that Immaculee has committed her time and expertise, the question still stands “is Liberia ready for forgiveness?” The answer is still not clear, because for the Liberians that I have queried after sharing her story, most have said no. When asked why, some said “not before justice” while others said “not with the rampant problem of Liberians being envious and jealous of each other.” The latter has been exacerbated by poverty and war causing the majority of Liberians living at or below poverty level to compete for limited opportunities. However, for those few who said yes, they believe this can only happen if Liberia can move forward without the imposed prosecutions and sanctions, because there are too many questions and concerns with the TRC process.

This issue of forgiveness is something that most people, if not all, struggle with. Often it is said without sincerity of the heart and this can be a deterrent. When I asked a pastor how do you know if you are ready to forgive, he commented that when you find peace in your heart, and the hurt and pain are no longer present then forgiveness can follow.

As Liberians and everyone else grapples with forgiveness, this post will conclude with some quotes from famous writers and spiritual leaders that can be used to reflect and meditate on letting go…

Forgiveness Quotes

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” ~ Luke 23:34

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive. ~ Marianne Williamson

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. ~ Martin Luther King

In forgiving, people are not being asked to forget. On the contrary, it is important to remember, so that we should not let such atrocities happen again. Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what happened seriously…drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens our entire existence. ~ Bishop Desmond Tutu

Forgiveness is the economy of the heart…forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred and the waste of spirits. ~ Hannah More

Forgiveness if the fruit of understanding. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

He who forgiveth, and is reconciled unto his enemy, shall receive his reward from God; for he loveth not the unjust doers. ~ Koran Sura

One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything every night before you go to bed. ~ Ann Landers

[1] To get a full copy of the final report go to https://www.trcofliberia.org/reports/final
[2] “Volume II: Consolidated Final Report.” Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Liberia” Final Report (Unedited).
[3] In 2003 the UN peacekeepers came in and disarmed all the combatants thus ending the 14-year civil war.
[4] “68% Liberian live in poverty – census reveals.” 12 May 2009. Julius Kanubah/Star Radio. Go to www.liberiawebs.com (follow path: home > news > politics > [article title]).
[5] Two award winning movies to watch about the Rwandan Genocide are “Hotel Rwanda” and “Sometime in April”
[6] “1994: Rwanda presidents’ plane ‘shot down’”. BBC News. On This Day: 06 April. Go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/
[7] “Rwanda: How the genocide happened.” BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1288230.stm
[8] “Verdier: Justice is a Natural Course that Should Not Be Comprommised…Rwandese Peace Advocate Immaculee to Assist Liberians…Brings Message of Forgiveness.” 06 June 2009. Truth and Reconciliation Commission Liberia. Go to www