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On November 12th, 2011 at 6pm, Washington University in St. Louis hosted the viewing of award winning documentary Fambul Tok: a film by Sara Terry about the power of forgiveness. The amount of people in attendance was exceptional and all walked away with a stronger sense of worldly progress. What made this documentary most successful is its ability to reach out to people in every part of the world. The documentary begins with a quote from a Sierra Leonean Proverb: “The family tree bends but does not break.”
From 1991-2002 Sierra Leone suffered one of the most brutal civil wars in Africa.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Sierra Leone was plagued with government corruption and an unequal distribution of resources. The conflict became notorious for the use of “blood diamonds” – which were sold to purchase arms that fueled the fighting. The country was splintered, with three different fighting forces tearing apart the social fabric. Throughout the conflict tens of thousands of women were raped, and thousands of children were made to fight, as rebel soldiers, at the expense of their loved ones. Ten thousand innocent people suffered amputations. The country lost over 50,000 people as a result of the rival warfare among rebel factions..
The first scene of the documentary previews what Fambul Tok is successfully accomplishing. A group of people is sitting around a large bonfire in a circle. A woman is speaking of the horrors of the war. There are sixteen men one of the men being her uncle who violated her. She goes on to announce that her uncle is, in fact, amongst the group of people in the circle. When he finally comes forward he asks her for forgiveness. In the moment before the viewers witness her answer a whirlwind of emotions flash before us. We feel anger that a man could do this to anyone let alone a blood relative.
We want justice. We hope that she doesn’t forgive him because we probably wouldn’t forgive him. At the same time we anticipate that the good that will unfold when we hear “I forgive you” fall from her lips. They embrace.
John Caulker, the founder of Fambul Tok, explains that the purpose of the program is to reunite families, villages, and, with great hope, the country. The organization has different groups working in different districts of the country all non-profit. Little money is given by the international community to support local reconciliation efforts. Through working with a philanthropist who shared his vision, Caulker launched Fambul Tok—a grassroots reconciliation program based on Sierra Leonean traditions. Caulker worked as a human rights activist throughout the war. After the war he served as chairman of the civil society advisor group to the TRC. He pushed for a grassroots approach to reconciliation. He articulates that it is imperative when the victim is asked for forgiveness by their perpetrator they look for traces of remorse. Only then can they experience the healing process of forgiveness. Caulker promotes this idea of “family talk” because that is what his culture was based on before the war. Entire villages were responsible for the raising of children and through this program he hopes to rebuild that trust and sense of community.
Lucky for Principia Fambul Tok will be showing spring semester, the date to be announced. Libby Hoffman, co-founder of Fambul Tok, will be in attendance and available for a Q&A after the screening. The documentary is highly recommended for all those interested in foreign affairs, politics, war efforts and the simple power of forgiveness. The film provides an opportunity for anyone who watches it to put their own issues into perspective and invoke their yearning for a more peaceful world community.

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