Helping bring peace to a wartorn land
PUGWASH - Thomas Turay and his wife, Mary, are all too familiar with the high cost of war and they are hoping to bring a little bit of the Pugwash peace message to their native Sierra Leone.
Turay, who is now an assistant professor of adult education at St. Francis Xavier University and works with the Coady Institute, believes the work done by the Pugwash Movement over the last 50 years should be exported to Sierra Leone where a culture of violence remains following a bitter 11-year civil war.
"We've read a lot about the wonderful work of Pugwash since 1957 and how they brought scientists and scholars together to talk about what they could do to prevent wars, nuclear weapons and anything that can destroy this beautiful world we have inherited," he said. "This is a place for inspiration and we think as people coming from a place where war has been the norm we can learn a lot from what Pugwash has taught the world."
Sierra Leone is continuing to emerge from the war that ravaged the economy and the nation's infrastructure. It ranks the lowest in most social and economic indicators of wellbeing. It has also been designated by the United Nations as the second least livable country in the world.
Turay said the war killed as many as 100,000 people, displaced half the country's population of 5 million and resulted in a half million refugees throughout West Africa.
For most of the country's youth, their experiences have been dominated by war. They have been soliders, killed people, saw people - including their parents and families - die.
"We had a terrible civil war that has built a culture of violence," he said while speaking to members of the Pugwash Peace Exchange on Saturday. "The physical war is all over, but the war on hunger, poverty and disease is still there. Society is ready, willing and committed to keeping the peace."
Turay and his wife co-founded the Centre for Development and Peace Education to enable Sierra Leoneans - especially those in rural areas - to develop their capacity to assume responsibility for building a culture of peace and non-violence, reconciliation and sustainable economic development.
"We thought it was necessary to do something so we set up their organization to help communities get back on their feet," he said, adding his work started in the war's early stages only to be discontinued as hostilities made it unsafe to do so. "Now we're reviving the work we were doing and we've gone back to the communities to see what we can do. We need to establish a place for reconciliation and dialog."