Special hut promotes peace in West Africa
Former Rotary World Peace Fellow Richelieu Allison recently helped construct a peace hut that’s the focal point of a new park in Jendemah, Sierra Leone. Photo courtesy of West African Youth Network
In the small border town of Jendemah, Sierra Leone, Richelieu Allison is known as "the peace hut guy."
It’s a title he's earned: Months of weather delays, poor road conditions, building material shortages, and even a snake bite haven’t kept Allison from constructing a peace hut for this community of 10,000.
Now the focal point of a special park, the palaver hut was built with help from the Rotary Club of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and The Rotary Foundation. Allison, a 2006 Rotary World Peace Fellow, hopes it is only the first of several huts linked by a caravan that he envisions as a "cross-border, people-to-people movement for peace."
In West African culture, a palaver hut is where town chiefs and elders settle conflicts. "The construction of these huts will provide a permanent forum not only for the local people to settle disputes but also to discuss issues relating to development," Allison says.
Jendemah connects Sierra Leone and Liberia by way of the Mano River Union Bridge. Constructed along a major trade route in 1973, the bridge was meant to be a symbol of regional prosperity.
But people on both sides have endured decades of mutual fear and distrust. The civil war that broke out in Liberia in 1989 degenerated into a conflict that spread to Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. The war officially ended in 2003, but the bridge didn’t reopen until 2007.
"There is still a need to ensure that the people continue to reconcile their differences," Allison says.
A native of Liberia, Allison knows the horrors of war. "I saw summary executions. I witnessed the recruitment of some of my friends who, as young as eight, were sent to the battlefront," he recalls.
Determined to restore peace to his country, in 2001 Allison helped found the West African Youth Network, which trains young West Africans in peace-building and other humanitarian endeavors.
In 2006, he became a member of the inaugural class of the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies certificate program at Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok, Thailand. Soon after, he began envisioning a peace caravan.
Once he secures funding and materials, Allison plans to construct seven more palaver huts along historically troubled borders in the region. Each hut, which costs US$5,200 to build, will have The Four-Way Test inscribed on it, he says.
Allison, along with local Rotarians and members of the West African Youth Network, will then travel to each palaver hut to conduct conflict resolution workshops and hold peace vigils.
The hut in Jendemah has already had an impact. "The construction process helped people to focus and think about the importance of peace," Allison says. "It has brought together chiefs and elders, immigration and law enforcement officers, young people and traders, on both sides of the border."