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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Cole decries civil war's atrocities

In a speech yesterday afternoon, Sierra Leonean drug dealer-turned-pastor Richard Cole spoke of the elements necessary to rebuild a torn nation such as his own: "patriotism, reconciliation and compassion -- with a fear of God."

A survivor of the horrors of a civil war that ravaged his tiny African nation and a participant in the complex process of rebuilding it from scratch, Cole described to the audience the atrocities that occurred, the most cruel and disturbing of which involved children. He cited gruesome instances of guerillas slitting the wombs of pregnant women. Oftentimes, young children were enlisted as soldiers after their parents were slaughtered right in front of them, he said.

Cole took in these children, including some who had murdered his own grandfather, first into his home, and then as part of the Nehemiah Project, in order to rehabilitate them and reintroduce them into society.

Free handouts, however, only make these children dependent for the rest of their lives, Cole said. Instead, he and his organization -- established in 1997 to academically and vocationally train around 1,300 youths -- teach them skills they can use to once again become useful members of a nation in need.

His own country, Sierra Leone, situated on the Atlantic in the northwestern part of Africa with an area slightly more than three times that of New Hampshire, fits this description well. Rich in natural resources, particularly gold and diamonds, it was once the most prosperous country in the region.

However, after decades of bad governance and 10 years of civil war starting from 1992, Sierra Leone is now one of the poorest countries in the world; the 2002 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Program ranked it at the bottom of 173 countries in its human development index.

Cole's project is supported financially by proceeds from products made by these former soldiers. At the same time, it creates a skilled labor force, which is essential for transforming the nation, he said.

Indeed, Cole himself was transformed, he revealed in his speech, when he went from being a gangster and a drug pusher to his present role as a pastor after being enlightened about the "one true God."

The minister, whose wife Yeakah is Liberian, also praised President Bush's intervention in Liberia, one of Sierra Leone's neighbors, and called for American military intervention there.

"Sierra Leone cannot be completely stable until the fighting in Liberia stops," he said.

He warned against repeating the mistakes made in Iraq, however, and said that America should plan the process of reconstruction before it occupies the country.

When asked whether Dartmouth students could contribute in any way, Cole said that more than money, he needs volunteers who can go to Sierra Leone and work on the Nehemiah Project, teaching the students there and giving them whatever vocational training they can.

Cole then criticized UNICEF for its role in Sierra Leone, as he had a serious disagreement with the group over means of rehabilitation and claimed that it had used stories of children rehabilitated as part of the project in order to collect donations, but that none of it had been passed on to the children.

Cole ended by emphasizing the importance of community outreach and cooperation by quoting an African saying: "One hand cannot tie a bundle."