Global Peace Initiative: NIGERIA

Forgiveness in Nigeria: “Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation”

In December 2010 International Development Law Organization (IDLO) developed a project sponsored by the Dutch government to facilitate peace on a number of different levels. A component of the project was to bring together members of the Christian and Muslim communities in three different groups; women, men and youth to take part in peace dialogues. There was resistance at first but within an hour that dissipated once the groups began to feel safe with one another. As the dialogue continued the groups began to share deeply felt pain allowing themselves to become vulnerable with one another. They left agreeing to meet with one another to continue the process of building peace and to participate in the work of “Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation.”

In October 2011 the groups came back together again. This time the Christians met first followed by the Muslims to take part in the program of “Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation.”It was interesting to see how each group at the beginning of the five day training program said that they understood what forgiveness was about and hoped the other group did too. By the end of the five day program each group was recognizing that it was them who need to see things differently to bring about peace and it was them who needed to forgive. Both groups vowed to continue this work and stop the conflict in Jos. A few weeks later both groups went on national TV together to share their experiences vowing again that the conflict in Jos needed to end and that they all needed to learn how to truly forgive themselves and one another.

During November a similar event also took place in Lebanon during which a large group of Lebanese from all walks of life came together to help heal the wounds of history and build peace in their country. The participants shared their stories of pain and war allowing themselves to be vulnerable which enabled them all of them to transcend their pain and move forward in a very beautiful way. They began to think about what a healing process would look like and how forgiveness can play a role through the “Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation.”The experience ended at the Garden of Forgiveness in the heart of Beirut where people expressed their gratitude that forgiveness had touched their lives.

The transformation that took place within the minds of the Nigerians and the Lebanese was largely in part because the individuals involved were willing to ask themselves “why are we so violent, and how has our violence affected our relationships and our lives.” These individuals were willing to go through a healing process which included forgiveness. It is this kind of work which eventually enables victims and perpetrators who committed horrific crimes to learn to live side by side with one another so countries can begin a healing process. The process referred to here is called “Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation.” The program is so important and powerful for the healing of nations that it is discussed in detail below.

Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

The “Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation” (SFR) developed by Leonel Narvaez are part of a program under the auspices of the Foundation for Reconciliation, a nonprofit organization established in 2003. The Foundation has received numerous awards including the UNESCO prize for peace education in 2006. The Foundation addresses the problems of conflict and violence including political violence, particularly in geographies where patterns of violence have become entrenched. The work of the Foundation is through the “Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation” which proposes the forgiveness and reconciliation are social and political virtues that are indispensable for the construction of sustainable peace. The Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation (SFR) which began in Bogota, Columbia are now throughout South America and has been introduced in some countries in Africa.

Training Program for Forgiveness and Reconciliation:

The objective of the “Schools of Forgiveness and Reconciliation” (SFR) is to create communities of peace that heal the wounds of conflict and encourage reconciliation. The premise behind the training program is that if victims do not heal from their psychological wounds, they have a higher likelihood of becoming future perpetrators of crime. Therefore, the first part of the program supports people in their healing process by giving them the opportunity to tell their stories, transform their narratives, and begin a healing process. They learn how to work with their difficult emotions and see their situation from a different perspective, which can give them additional insights on what has occurred. Participants learn skills in how to counsel both victims and perpetrators in helping them face each other in order to deal with the painful issues of the past. They learn conflict resolution tools which supports the process of forgiveness, gain a deeper understand of what forgiveness is about and how it helps the healing of trauma. All of the participants will learn the process of how to forgive and how to help others if they are called upon to do so. The key activities under this training program include the training of trainers of the SFR program, replication training of the SFR program and Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation community outreach.