Member Spotlight: Alpha Umarr Barrie

Alpha Umarr Barrie (AUB), MBBI Sierra Leone international team member was interviewed by Nurulayn Noor (NN), MBBI writer, on September 30th, 2016.

alpha-umarr-barrieWitnessing hardships around him throughout his life, Alpha Barrie questioned why such visceral hatred exists between the rebels and his community members in Sierra Leone.  He was determined that there had to be another way to solve conflicts, though he had not yet been introduced to the field of conflict resolution. At university he was introduced to Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI), and this encounter enabled him to better understand and manage the issues underlying the hatred within his society.

Alpha was born and raised in Eastern Province, Sierra Leone. At a young age, he experienced the 1991 Civil War which saw rebels use violence and force captives to mine for gold and diamonds. Rebels targeted wealthier areas that had money they could steal in order to receive funding for their fighting. On the morning of March 23rd, rebels kidnapped Alpha and several others. He was brutally tortured and nearly forced to work in the mines alongside other captives, but he managed to escape. Though he was fortunate to escape, he lost several relatives, and it took him years to fend for his survival. Eventually he reached Freetown safely, where his uncle helped him attend school and receive an education. Barrie’s journey towards building peace began at this point in his life. He began by asking, “Do they hate us? Why are we suffering?”

Alpha has been a local partner of MBBI since 2012 and became a member in 2015.  He believes that this organization has worked as a pathway towards his goal of conflict resolution within his country. He has partaken in helping bring about peaceful, nonviolent, elections within Sierra Leone and worked towards peace by teaching victims and war survivors how to handle their conflicts and struggles from their experiences. As a survivor of war, Barrie claims that it is highly important to encourage harmony rather than support intentions of revenge and anger. By this, “one will learn how to channel one’s anger into more innovative and peaceful methods of helping individuals”.

img_6325Barrie could not fathom why there had been an outbreak of violence in his community. His move to the city did not provide any further explanation. Eventually, he explored it himself by studying about peace, conflict and war. Attending Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, he majored in Peace and Conflict Resolution and minored in Political Science. He began partaking in community advocacy programs, workshops on non-violence, human rights education, human rights violations and abuses.

Barrie took on Project 1991. It was a volunteer organization and a student movement, which was founded while Alpha was a student. Project 1991 was later transformed into a community-based organization dealing with human rights education in schools and the community. It involved core issues affecting the nation, such as citizens being unaware of their basic fundamental rights. Accordingly, there was an effort made to educate children about their fundamental rights.

Meanwhile, Alpha was introduced to MBBI through his university, and contacted Loretta, the Co-team leader of the MBBI Sierra Leone Project. Noticing signs that the 2012 elections in Sierra Leone would be violent, together with the team members of MBBI, and other local partners they began efforts to promote peace within the elections. A community-based organization was formed, in which there was a plan to implement methods towards a peaceful election in the city. There were several attendees from the community including tribal heads, women, congressional individuals, police, youth leaders and different political parties.

They promised to teach individuals to accept the outcome of election results. Alpha furthers, “We intended to teach and preach that no matter what, the outcomes of the results should be accepted through non-violence.” The workshops and training were successful. Following this project, the team decided to work on three other projects that have been ongoing for the past two years. Barrie continues to be highly engaged in peace building and human rights back home.

Alpha continued to be a part of MBBI after moving to the United States and continues to engage the team with issues his country is facing. Thus far he has been involved in project planning and implementation—as well as a series of presentations and networking strategies. Barrie was also a participant of the TOT (Training of Trainers), an online program that helped prepare community leaders to deal with conflict and trauma after the 2015 Ebola outbreak (henceforth Ebola crisis). This project was called Building Sustainable Peace in Sierra Leone through Leadership Development and Conflict Transformation. The outbreak destroyed almost 75% of the public health infrastructure within Sierra Leone.

img_4756National travel restrictions hindered MBBI team members from travelling to Sierra Leone, so an effort was made to conduct trainings online. The trainings addressed Ebola survivors’ struggles with being accepted back into their communities. Alpha and other TOT graduates acted as a facilitators between the mistreated survivors and the community in: Goderich, Funkia, Adonkia, Lakka, Ogoo Farm, and Femi Turner. The survivors were then invited to attend dialogue sessions in amongst the police, family support unites, Imams, pastors and students, to re-integrate them into the community.

The facilitators emphasized that individuals were traumatized, which can be harmful to one’s health. Ultimately, the Sierra Leone team members of MBBI were able to reintegrate the survivors back into the community of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Revisiting Sierra Leone in 2015 Alpha was assigned by Loretta Raider to conduct an informal assessment on behalf of the SL team.  The goal was to learn how beneficial the program was, he noticed that almost everyone was in a better place. As a result, Barrie created a short documentary including interviews with the survivors and their community.

With very little funding, MBBI was able to intervene in conflicts created by the Ebola outbreak and create an immense difference in peoples’ lives.

Alpha finds that mediation begins with understanding the feelings of the individuals in the situation— and aiming for neutrality. He declares it essential to notice the differences and similarities among the parties to the mediation. According to Alpha, one must learn to add to the similarities and bridge the differences in order to build towards peace. The individuals must also be able to voice their grievances towards one another, and one may act as the mutual party facilitating the dialogue. By doing this, an intervention may help eradicate simple misunderstandings. This alludes to the point that the world needs more than a justice system. Mediating between parties to a conflict is necessary on the diplomatic and community levels. MBBI proudly evaluates all the intervention strategies to help mediate and intervene at all levels— from the city, to national and international.

Alpha finds that MBBI has offered him a lot. He speaks highly about fellow team members, such as Loretta, who inspired him to continue doing his work whilst realizing that a lot of the team members are volunteers. Team members are utilizing their time to work towards a greater cause: peacebuilding. Alpha says, “I can just sit down and look at these people that are so enthusiastic about helping.” Acknowledging the fact that individuals are working together globally in order to eliminate conflict, he states, “The world would be a better place if we came together and worked as one.” This is portrayed as an invitation to all individuals, those who believe they want to help world peace should join MBBI; whether it be those working full-time, part-time or studying, a little help can go a long way.

Alpha and the SL project team are committed to long term vision of peace and democracy in SL. Click here to support their work.