Terror’s Legacy–Hope

One of the most enjoyable things about travel outside the United States is the opportunity it presents to talk with people and hear their views about almost everything.

It’s
endlessly fascinating and, ultimately, very hopeful. I try to talk with
everyday folks, people who are not working in an official capacity with church,
government or other institutions.


Kortee is a young man who operates a
money exchange on the streets of Monrovia, the capitol city of Liberia in West
Africa. These exchange booths are legal, so Kortee is not part of an
underground financial system, as is the case in many other parts of the
world.

As we talked, Kortee asked me
to sit with him on a wooden bench situated along a busy street under a large
umbrella. He exchanges U.S. dollars, which are used along with Liberian
dollars, as legal currency. He also sells time on a cell phone, lottery tickets
and small bottles of gasoline.

He
spoke of the joy Liberians are experiencing with the coming of peace. They can
travel throughout the country without being shaken down, or without acquiring
travel permits, as was the case under rebel
control.

A succession of rebel
groups fought the central government, which eventually fell under the weight of
corruption and lack of popular support. The country is being administered today
under UN mandate. National elections are scheduled for October,
2005.

Kortee also spoke of the
terror that was inflicted on innocent people, often for no reason but to
intimidate and terrorize in order to maintain control. He tells of people
having bags placed over their heads, bound and thrown into a swimming pool in an
apartment complex across the street from his stand. Left to struggle to free
themselves, some survived, some
didn’t.

He tells of a pastor who
rode a bicycle into the area unaware the rebels had announced no one could pass
by the front of the building. The bicycle was thrust over the pastor’s body as
a “necklace” and he was forced to crawl on hands and knees with a gun at his
head until his knees bled. Battered and beaten, he was eventually
freed.

This terror lies just below
the surface of conversation in Liberia. It is a menacing, insidious part of the
collective memory that is always lurking under the joy of new found freedom and
peace. Will it return? Can the past be
overcome?

Terror’s legacy is
destabilizing and demoralizing fear. If you can’t count on some degree of order
in your daily affairs, how can you plan anything? If a simple walk to the
market puts you at risk of beating, robbery or worse, how can you carry out even
the most basic tasks of daily
survival?

Liberians, as many other
peoples who have endured this kind of wrenching terror, know the veneer of
civility is thin and easily stripped away. It covers a potential for barbarism
that can turn civil society into a nightmare more quickly and easily than one
can imagine. But they don’t imagine it, they’ve lived through
it.

So it is refreshing to hear
Kortee’s hopes. He hopes to attend the University of Liberia, get a degree in
economics and gain entry to a university in the United States for a master’s
degree. He lays out this plan with an enthusiasm that is quite remarkable,
following his accounts of the nightmare he has just been
through.

To emphasize the
seriousness of his plans, he assures me that he will “fast and pray” to make
this dream happen.

He is reflective
and thoughtful. When I ask him about the upcoming elections, he says with
candor. “I don’t know enough about this to speak of it. I will need to study
to the election before I talk with you about it,” he says with earnestness. An
informed voter. What a concept.


Kortee and others like him are not hard
to locate here and in other countries of Africa. Young people who hold fast to
dreams of a better life for themselves and their people stand in sharp contrast
to those young children who have been pressed into armed service by rebel
leaders who have stolen their childhood and left them broken and
traumatized.

It is remarkable to
hear Kortee speak of these young rebels. He expresses a degree of understanding
that is surprising. They are poor children, abducted from their families and
turned into killers by adults, he says. Victims themselves, they become
efficient and effective
victimizers.

This is another legacy
of terror–children brutalized and
dehumanized.

And yet, sitting here
in the heat of the day, knowing the fragility of freedom, Kortee dares to voice
his hope for his own future and for the future of an embattled people. He and
other young people like him are the hope of Africa. Given the opportunity, they
will secure an education, work to build a safe, civil society and create a
better world than they have
inherited.

There are young people on
every street in every city and village in every part of the world who dare to
hope. We have a responsibility to partner with them to create the conditions
that allow them to make their dreams reality.


This requires more than individual
gifts and scholarships, which we should support. It requires support for health
clinics, food production, education, clean water, sanitation facilities,
electrical power and economic empowerment opportunities. We must support
non-governmental organizations that are making these happen and we must support
enlightened foreign policy by governments around the world, policies that equip
hopeful young people to become contributing
citizens.

I can think of no better
way to combat terror than to nurture the dreams of the hopeful young people who
know the realities of the world in which they live and who dare to hope that
beyond this present reality is a better
future.

Let this be our legacy from
terror–a world of opportunity and hope.

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