A 2010 Postscript to: Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation after atrocity

For our 15th issue, we are publishing David Alan Harris’ 2010 Postscript to his previous paper Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation after atrocity: Former boy soldiers in a dance/movement therapy group in Sierra Leone. The latter paper, previously published in Intervention (2007) and reproduced on our website in our 13th issue, is re-presented here so that the two papers can be easily read alongside each other.

In 2006, David along with three local co-facilitators ran a dance/movement therapy group (Poimboi Veeyah Koindu, or PVK) for former boy ex-combatants, who by virtue of their membership of the Revolutionary United Front had previously been both victims and perpetrators in the Sierra Leonean conflict. When first known to David, these boys were angry and distressed by their war time experiences, and were isolated from the local community who feared and shunned them. The rigorous, thoughtful and culturally appropriate intervention run by David and local colleagues was highly successful. By the time it finished, these excluded youth were able to display empathy for their victims, accept responsibility for their past actions and seek local forgiveness and acceptance. In a public role play of their own choosing, they acted out their own victimization, their war time experiences and their acts of violence – and were accepted back into the local community.

Subsequently, in 2009, PVK were awarded the Freedom to Create Youth Prize, an award that enabled David, his local co-facilitators and the group members to come together again in Koindu, Sierra Leone in 2010. David’s 2010 Postscript details the continued well-being of the youth group members, their sustained relationships with the local community, and their mature involvement in deciding how to use the prize funds to develop a sustainable and useful project for their local community – the PVK reconciliation library, a free resource that will benefit all local schoolchildren through the provision of school books and a safe and well-lit place to study.

This is a moving story of empowerment that documents the youths’ journey from social exclusion to meaningful and responsible participation in community development. The local project management infrastructure that has been left in place subsequent to David’s departure – run by the youth themselves alongside local community members – ensures not only that the project can survive without David’s presence, but that the youth can continue contributing constructively to community wellbeing as they move into adulthood.


Download this report here.