by Betty Press, Project Coordinator
Project 1991 was started in 2009 while Betty Press was in Sierra Leone with her husband Bob Press who, as a Fulbright scholar, was teaching in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He had his students write personal statements about their war and peacetime experiences.
When I read some of these statements I was very moved by what these young people had gone through during their childhood. I was in Rwanda just after the 1994 genocide. (I photographed many children who had lost their parents or who were walking long distances to find refuge. I always wondered what happened to these children.) In reading these statements I was reminded of those children. These young people of Sierra Leone experienced similar horrific actions and somehow managed to survive and even keep their education going. They did not give up but were willing to use their experiences to help others so this kind of situation would not happen again.
As you read these stories you may be shocked.. I do not know if all the details of these stories are completely accurate, but I think they are. There was no way to verify them..
We asked the students to write short statements, so in some cases you may want to know more because there are many unanswered questions. The students had a difficult time writing them. Most of them could have filled pages with the terrible things they experienced or saw happen to others. Some found it therapeutic to write or talk about these events; others just want to forget them. Many of them do not understand why they survived when they were so close to death and others died. But they did and they are thankful.
I met with the students who had written these statements and asked them to participate in this project. If they agreed I would take their photograph and asked if I could publish their story. They wrote their own stories but I did do some light editing of their work to make their experiences more understandable to outsiders.
Just before we left Sierra Leone the students decided that they wanted to form a group, which they called Project 1991, named after the year the civil war in Sierra Leone began. Their aim is to sponsor human rights activities. The project may open ways for them to put into practice ideas that they have learned in their human rights courses.
On this web site you will see a link to their Facebook group. The members of Project 1991 would really like to hear from others who have experienced similar situations or want to know about their activities.