Constellating Peace from the Inside Out

a global gathering and immersive peer learning experience
outside Freetown, Sierra Leone
April 1-5, 2019


If you have an invitation, please use the online registration form to complete your registration.

The Event

For five days, a select group of peace and development leaders from government, civil society, funding agencies and local communities from around the world will join together to learn with and from those leading in the deep, lasting, and creative work of Sierra Leone’s community-led peacebuilding and development and from the national conversations and policy framework this work has catalyzed. Together, we will illuminate local, national, and international approaches and infrastructure that support building peace from the inside out.

For over 11 years, Fambul Tok and Catalyst for Peace have created space for people and communities in Sierra Leone to take charge of their own healing and of their country’s ongoing development by stepping away from business as usual and building a transformative approach to peace and development together — not from the ground up, but from the inside out. The Government of Sierra Leone made this approach national policy through the Wan Fambul National Framework for Inclusive Governance and Local Development. While there is still much to do to implement the Framework, it rests on a strong foundation.

Building peace from the inside out means that the people closest to the problem are the ones who define it and lead the process of addressing it. They are seen as having resources and answers by those supporting their process from the outside. Supporting the process from the outside means holding space over time for local wisdom and answers to emerge, not “fixing” or “saving” communities. Supporters invite and accompany, and they learn from and with local communities. Attention is paid to building bridges between traditionally hierarchical levels of leadership – from the local to the district to the national to the international – and to supporting a flow of communication, learning, and expertise in both directions. This facilitates a process centered around fulfilling potential, rather than merely fixing problems.

Working this way requires bringing our whole selves, which means paying attention to what we, as leaders and as people, need to support and sustain ourselves in our process.

In that spirit, we have invited a select group to join us in Sierra Leone for an immersion into this lived example of an inside-out approach. We will also have the rare chance to learn together with and from peers from Kenya, Somalia, Afghanistan, the USA, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere working on issues of transitional justice, community-led development, and inclusive governance.

Through a combination of presentations, community visits, and individual and collective reflection, we hope to identify common challenges and universal inspiration. We will renew a vision and strengthen our capacities for the kind of collaboration that facilitates a lasting, locally-led peace.

And we will celebrate! With song and with dance, with inspirational words and appreciative reflection, we will celebrate the beauty of the country and culture of Sierra Leone, and the remarkable work of its people to move the country forward.

The Back Story

In 2007, Sierra Leonean human rights advocate John Caulker and American peacebuilder Libby Hoffman, President of the US foundation Catalyst for Peace, came together to bridge the gap from Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Special Court, after which the people and communities most impacted by Sierra Leone’s civil war were still unreconciled. Together, they created Fambul Tok (Krio for “family talk”) which was grounded in an explicit desire to draw from the country’s rich cultural traditions of communal truth-telling, apology and forgiveness, and rooted in the belief that the people most impacted by the war could and should be the ones to lead the reconciliation and rebuilding process. Catalyst for Peace became the primary funder and ongoing program partner of Fambul Tok, dedicating its resources to holding space to facilitate the emergence of a truly community-owned and -led process.

Fambul Tok spread across the country, and by 2014 more than 4,000 villages had shared in community truth-telling bonfires and cleansing ceremonies, joining together to move forward, collectively, toward healing and development. Women founded and led Peace Mothers Groups; youth created school peace clubs; communities rekindled communal farming, drawing on their strengthened social fabric to build economic enterprises to meet their own needs, as they identified them.

When Ebola broke out in 2014, the trusted local networks of collaboration which had been reestablished through Fambul Tok’s community healing work became uniquely effective channels for Ebola prevention and response, where larger-scale national and international efforts were often viewed with distrust and suspicion.

Face-to-face with this disconnect, Fambul Tok and Catalyst for Peace leveraged their experience to help shift the national Ebola conversation, once again creating the space to center, rather than ignore, community voices and leadership. Fambul Tok adapted its community reconciliation process into the People’s Planning Process (PPP). With Catalyst for Peace, they gathered all sectors of development stakeholders together with community members, to imagine together how to put people and communities in charge of their development and resiliency. And they began to live into that in 3 pilot districts in Sierra Leone: Kailahun, Koinadugu, and Moyamba. Upon seeing the energy and results generated by the PPP pilot, in 2016 the Government of Sierra Leone committed to rolling out the process nationally. A unique partnership between the Government of Sierra Leone, Fambul Tok, Catalyst for Peace, and the people who had been living and leading the PPP in communities and districts, culminated in the creation of The Wan Fambul National Framework for Inclusive Governance and Local Development.