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In the opening moments of the documentary Fambul Tok , a group of people gather around a bonfire in a small community in Sierra Leone. Stepping out from the crowd, a young woman begins to talk about rebels entering her village during the civil war and sexually assaulting her. She speaks about the 15 men that raped her before announcing that one of them was her uncle. Suddenly, she says that he is there and she wants him to step forward, but not for some form of revenge. She wants to forgive him. It’s a moment that is hard to understand, and it’s a scene that is repeated again and again throughout the documentary.

After the lengthy civil war in Sierra Leone, a handful of people were tried for the crimes. These were people who had been deemed the worst offenders, those most responsible for the atrocities. Everyone else was granted amnesty. This meant that many who had participated in the vicious crimes were sent back to their villages, often living among the people they had hurt. Esther was that first woman speaking about her uncle, Joseph, assaulting her. The forgiveness that Esther offers is the beginning of a movement started by John Caulker. All around Sierra Leone, there are people living side by side with those that have hurt them, or their families, in the civil war. John Caulker believes that the only way for there to truly be peace in these communities, is for the people to come together and forgive each other.

The culture in Sierra Leone has always been one of community and sharing. Villagers would gather together at the end of the day and share stories. They were one family, helping each other and living together. The civil war has torn that apart. In order to build those communities again, John Caulker created Fambul Tok. This is a large group of volunteers who travel to villages, encouraging those who committed crimes in the war to come out and ask for forgiveness, while also encouraging the victims to give them that forgiveness. It seems impossible, but it works, as viewers witness numerous perpetrators and victims come together.

The stories are horrible. What happened to people, and what others were forced to do to their friends is awful. The fact that anybody could forgive what happened is even more incredible. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend the events in this documentary. One man, Sahr, forgives his friend, Nuymah, who was forced by rebels to beat Sahr and kill his father. This is something that would never happen in Western society, but our culture doesn’t work in the same way. We depend only on those closest to us while in Sierra Leone, villages depend on every member. By forgiving members of their village, the people of Sierra Leone are doing what the international community couldn’t: rebuilding their lives. The message of forgiveness is something we can all take away from this film, and perhaps by watching, we’ll find ways to make our own lives better.

Fambul Tok screens on Friday, June 22, 2012 at 11:00 am as part of the Female Eye Film Festival. Tickets and information can be found on their website.