History of the Centre for Peace Education

The establishment of the Center for Peace Education (CPE) in 2009 must be traced to the aftermath of the 14-year Liberian civil war and the experiences of its founding director, hospital Mainlehwon Ebenezer Vonhm, as a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC in 2004.

It is a truism that civil wars not only results in wanton destruction of life and property but also the collapse of core value systems of communities and governance systems. It is also a truism that during most civil wars the greatest victims are children, who not only suffer and experience unspeakable violence but also see their future destroyed – many becoming refugees or internally displaced, and are sexually exploited and abused. So when protracted civil war comes to an end, as was the case of Liberia’s 14-year old civil in 2003, the successful reintegration of these children becomes one of the primary factors to be given priority because they hold the key to sustainable peace in post-conflict societies.

Yet, successful integration is only possible when efforts are taken to create the necessary environment in which both victims of the war and perpetrators of violence and egregious violation of human rights, many now living side-by-side, attending the same schools, and in some cases sitting in the same classrooms, can co-exist peacefully as citizens of one nation or country.

It is upon these reflections within the university corridors of the American University in Washington D.C that Mainlehwon conceived of the idea to establish a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping young boys and girls in conflict-affected areas and post-conflict societies learn, through peace education, non-violence and peaceful coexistence as new ways of socialization and harmony.

By 2006, the idea to teach peace and non-violent concepts to war- affected children received the support of both students and teachers at the American University who wanted to help bring peace to communities suffering from widespread violence and emerging from violent conflict. Friends and the general public were invited to American University to learn about the effects of widespread violence and civil war. This effort has continued via symposia and lectures at various universities and international non-governmental organizations including Florida State University, Michigan State University, the International Monetary Fund, the Rotary Club, etc.

The idea started taking real shape after two field visits to Liberia in 2007 and 2009. In 2007, Steven Ganawa, a research assistant at the Africa Project at the Center for Global Peace, visited Liberia and conducted a baseline survey of Liberian students in Monrovia and several surrounding suburbs located in Monterserrado County. This was followed by a qualitative research study which Vonhm conducted in April 2009, which confirmed the results of the first baseline survey. Results from both studies showed that ex-combatants and their victims were sitting in the same classrooms and as a result, it led to constant bullying and fighting among students. The research also demonstrated that teachers’ instructional time was constantly interrupted by settling disputes among students rather than teaching.

In June 2009 a participatory peace education curriculum was developed based on the findings from the two studies. The views and voices of students were incorporated into the design of the teaching of lessons that foster peaceful coexistence and collaborative problem solving skills. In the fall of 2009, the CPE began teaching peace education as a single subject in various schools and peer mediation trainings in several local communities in Liberia.

Four years on, the idea of teaching peace education to war-affected children seems to be paying dividends. In all of the schools where CPE is teaching peace education to approximately 2,000 students, reported incidents of violence, according to the records of the school involved, have decreased by 90%. Moreover, school principals have acknowledged a sharp decline in student expulsions, dropping from 4-7 students a year to 1 or none.

Today, several religious, traditional, and political leaders have requested CPE to implement the teaching of peace education related materials in their communities.