May 9, 2005

In the air over Africa — headed for Freetown, Thinking about the goals of this trip…I need to ground myself, and you, in what we are doing here.

Top priority is to get the President of Sierra Leone to commit to a definitive time frame for issuing the promised White Paper on proposed legislative changes to incorporate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, and to commit to involving NGOs in the process of developing it.

Another key priority is to get a sense of how our NGO partners are doing with the TRC video outreach projects on a local level, and to offer whatever encouragement and support we can. (I lived in Freetown with my then-18 month old daughter Tess and my partner Louis in Nov/Dec of 2003 while we were producing a video version of the TRC’s key findings and recommendations…you can see excerpts of the film we produced on our home page at

Anyway, it seems things have foundered a bit on the TRC front since there was no funding or plan for follow up or outreach — and too much time, money, and hard work has been spent to see it go to waste now. So WITNESS stepped outside its ordinary mandate (as we did in producing the film in the first place since we usually equip and train local groups to do their own production) and provided small grants to 4 local organizations to enable them to screen the film around the country and encourage advocacy around the implementation of the TRC’s recommendations.

I don’t think Sierra Leone can afford to ignore the TRC’s findings and recommendations. The stakes are too high. The primary causes of the bloody decade long civil war were greed and corruption and the marginalization of youth – all factors very much in play today. As Gavin Simpson, one of the TRC researchers and now a WITNESS consultant based in Freetown, wrote recently “To recount the recent past of Sierra Leone is to face up to one of the greatest human tragedies of our time. It is a story of an inept and corrupt government over several decades. It represents the suppression of fundamental human rights and the marginalization of the young and the poor. It speaks of the eventual, inevitable outbreak of hostilities in 1991, followed by a complex, eleven-year conflict that unleashed unprecedented brutality against the civilian population. It is a somber and shameful tale of a nation that essentially self-destructed.”

Another priority of course is to ensure that we maximize the exposure that Angelina Jolie can bring to all these issues. That may have been what brought you to this blog! We’re confirmed to be meeting the President on Wednesday morning together with our local allies – Paul James-Allen from the National Forum for Human Rights, Gibril Massie Bah from the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, and Charlie Hughes from FORDI. I doubt we’d have an audience without her along…..(Thank you Angie)

This blog thing has me nervous though. How can I do it in a way that engages but doesn’t upset the apple cart in terms of discussions with key players? There is good reason that we have hesitated as a staff to blog about our trainings and trips….but with all this buzz around the “blogosphere” I think it’s worth a try. And I hope it will inspire some new people to care about the issues we are working on. I guess I have to trust that when we land, things will clarify themselves, and I will know instinctively what needs to be said and when to say it.

OK…here is a (crappy) picture of Angelina Jolie, myself and Gavin getting into the UN helicopter headed for sweltering Freetown….more soon….


17 thoughts on “Arriving in Freetown, Sierra Leone

  1. I could see you, gillian, are at Davos for the World Economic Forum…is there a special issue at WEF Agenda that Witness/you are hoping to see "done"?
    no latest news on Sierra leone…
    …is this page not working…?:)

  2. GILLIAN!!!
    We agree…you are a ROCK STAR! You are doing such tremendous work.
    I'm here in N. Missouri w/ Mark Landsman working on 30 Days tv series by Morgon Spurlock (who did "Supersize Me").
    Kirsti Lattu passed on your info.
    I love you Gillian and am tremendously proud of you.
    I will be in NJ and NYC beginning of June for a few days. Would love to see if possible.
    And please put me on your mailing list…
    Harold Linde
    California (via Missouri)

  3. Congratulations on this amazing, wonderful success. The multimedia way you help people follow the story is also wonderful and so humanizing– the future! congratulations to you and thanks to you, Angelina, the rest of your team and Tess for all they do to support it! Talk to you in a bit.

  4. Hi Gill,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with and making us more aware of the world around us. I to am disapointed in the poor media coverage concerning Sierra Leone. I for one wouldn't know anything about it if it wasn't for the tireless work that people like you, Grant and Angelina do.
    Thank you to you all,
    Adelaide, Australia

  5. Dear Gillian I love the way you fight for you ,for the life, human rights and for us the species more difficult on earth
    We love you and respect you from mexico of all heart

  6. As I observed the Holocaust Remembrance Day I thought of all the places in the world where so much suffering and genocide is still taking place. As a volunteer for several organizations including UNICEF and Amnesty International for over thirty years, I am so encouraged that your generation is taking up the cause. I wish you and Ms. Jolie well, and am with you in spirit. To dear little Tess, I would love to see your new lunch bag! You should be very proud of your mommy and I am sure she misses you more than you could ever know.

  7. Gillian, you continue to inspire me and the team here at New Profit. Thanks for the briefings. I so hope you can make things happen. We'll reconnect when you are back.

  8. It is outstanding what you guys are doing! Please don't give up or get discouraged. I know it's easier said than done. It's really sad that all these situations are going around in the world and no one knows about them. Not the local channels! You might get lucky with CNN or BCC but that's about it. It's amazing! I am looking forward to following your voyage. Thank you for making me aware of the situation out there and I can pass it along to my kids, so they to can make a difference. Thanks to Ms. Jolie for being an influential voice. Best of luck!

  9. Gillian, you rock! We love you in Washinton, D.C. Jack and Grace just turned two and said "ex-cell-ent" when they heard about your work. Get your work done and come home and see that lunch bag!

  10. My Best Wishes to you all in Sierra Leone. There is so much devastation in that area of the world, and I commend your team for their important work. Here's to the President of Sierra Leone incorporating TRC's recommendations.
    Atlanta, GA

  11. Indeed, the more exposure you can get, the better. Thank you for doing such a great job with Witness, and in Sierra Leone right now. I hope you will succeed in your mission, as these truth and reconciliation processes can only have a lasting effect when governement and the international community both get involved. And thank you to Miss Jolie too, always so graceful as to use her celebrity for the good fight.
    Looking forward to reading your next post. Good Luck.

  12. as a mother and wife, thank you. As a person of this little blue marble, thank you. You are showing a way to act and not despair. I will be watching and learning too.
    Washington State, USA

  13. You are doing the right thing! Hang in there and know that a lot of people are supporting you. The more exposure you can bring to this, the better and who better to take along with you than, Angelina Jolie. I look forward to following along in this blog on your progress and learning more about the situation in Sierra Leone. I am embarrased that our media and journalists here in the US are not covering these issues more. We have no clue of what is going on outside of the US and it is sad to me. We sit here safe and unaware of conflict and war, but through you helping educate, people like myself can become involved and help you & Angelina make a difference – thank you! Be Safe!
    Bucki, Texas (USA)

  14. thank you for your efforts and for journaling those efforts in a blog. the blog craze is an interesting one, to say the least. i, too, have fell victim to it.
    as a caseworker for refugees in texas, i look forward to reading about your endeavors in sierra leone. i wish you and your team the best of luck!

  15. I'll be "watching" the site…following Angelia jolie, and witness, in Sierra Leone:)
    Have a good stay in Sierra Leone…
    tell Angelina that I/We respect her for the wonderfull work she's doing with UNHCR…
    Gab, from Portugal (WL)

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