Dr. Robert Enright and the organization he founded, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), undertook their first foray into the peace movement in 1999. That was the year they worked with a national team led by the Rev. Jessie Jackson that convinced Yugoslav (now Serbia) President Slobodan Milošević to release three captive American soldiers during the Kosovo Conflict.
In 2002, Dr. Enright initiated a forgiveness education program in Belfast, Northern Ireland that has now been in operation for 20 consecutive years. His Belfast work is featured in the award-winning documentary The Power of Forgiveness. Dr. Enright started similar programs in Liberia, West Africa in 2011 and in Israel-Palestine in 2013. He now has such programs in more than 30 contentious regions around the world and an IFI Branch Office in Pakistan at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan).
Eight years ago, Dr. Enright was invited by the United Nations to join an international “Expert Group” tasked with responsibility for developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence across the globe. His initial presentation to the United Nations Population Fund in New York City was titled “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool.” Just three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, voted to embrace forgiveness and education as essential tools in peacebuilding.
Since those early years of his career, Dr. Enright has developed scores of peace-education initiatives and research projects in some of the world’s most contentious areas. Two of those projects were published recently involving teachers in the case of China and adult clients in the case of Pakistan. Other research projects have demonstrated that children as young as 4-5 years are capable of absorbing the basics of forgiveness and making it a natural part of their early life.
In 2015, Dr. Enright accompanied Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust, on a guest tour of US radio and television stations to promote peace through forgiveness. Ms. Kor, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II yet she publicly forgave her tormentors.
During that tour, Ms. Kor repeatedly used this axiom:
“Let’s work together to heal the world through forgiveness. Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness. Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
In a 2018 guest blog that Ms. Kor wrote for this website, “My Forgiveness,” she writes that forgiveness can “improve life for everyone in the world.” Read Dr. Enright’s eulogy to Ms. Kor (upon her death on July 4, 2019): “In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor and Her Independence Day.”
In recognition of his contributions to the peace movement, Dr. Enright was awarded the Distinguished Peace Educator of the Year Award (2008-2009), from the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. In 2012, he received the Cecil Findley Distinguished Service Award for international peacemaking and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2016. Three years later he was awarded the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Edgewood College along with a pronouncement that “forgiveness, relevant in every age, may be one of the clearest paths to peace, individually and collectively, for our world today.”
While Dr. Enright was one of the first forgiveness research investigators to envision a path to peace through forgiveness, he says there is still much more work that needs to be done.
“We must double our efforts so that peace and forgiveness become a team that is routinely tapped in matters of conflict,” Dr. Enright says. “The flames of resentment can be extinguished by sound forgiveness programs.”
Read Dr. Enright’s essay in Psychology Today, “Reflecting on 30 Years of Forgiveness Science.”
The head of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program (LFEP) has been appointed by that country’s president to serve on a Special Presidential Committee that will mediate post-civil war land disputes that have recently become violent. The appointment provides a unique opportunity to test the potential effectiveness of Group Forgiveness interventions developed by Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).
Bishop Kortu Brown was appointed last month to the Nimba County Conflict Resolution Committee by Liberian President Dr. George Manneh Weah. Bishop Brown, Chairman/CEO of Church Aid Inc. (CAI) has been National Coordinator of the LFEP since it was established by Dr. Enright nearly 10 years ago.
“The president of Liberia has asked me to participate in a national effort aimed at resolving land conflicts in one of Liberia’s troubled sub-political divisions,” Bishop Brown said of his recent appointment. “Nimba County has more than 500 land conflicts recorded so we hope that our work can help bring healing and reconciliation to this troubled area.”
The Nimba County conflicts are the aftermath of a horrendous 15-year civil war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians between 1989 and 2004, the displacement of more than a million others from their homes, the overthrow of the government of the late President Samuel K. Doe who was assassinated in 1990, and the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers throughout the country. According to a Global News Network Liberia report, the US government has provided more than $2.4 billion in supporting Liberia’s post-war stabilization and development.
Unfortunately, the misery in Liberia did not stop with the end of the civil war. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 4,800 people died from Ebola in Liberia—the West African country hardest hit by the outbreak—and now the country of 4.8 million people is dealing with the deadly uncertainty of the coronavirus epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, Africa accounts for less than 1% of the coronavirus vaccine doses administered globally.
“There is a serious need to bring closure to the civil war and that means reconciliation through forgiveness,” Bishop Brown says, repeating what he has been espousing since becoming the head of the LFEP. “If Liberians will forge peace and reconciliation, they must forgive. Without forgiveness there will be no genuine reconciliation.”
Dr. Enright has been working closely with Bishop Brown and other civic leaders in the West African country since Rev. Joseph Cheapoo, a native of Liberia, walked into Dr. Enright’s University of Wisconsin-Madison office in 2003 and bluntly asked, “Professor Enright, can you help me save my country?”
Rev. Cheapoo, who had fled his home country for the US to save his family during the civil war, agreed to head up the LFEP when he returned to Liberia in 2004. Sadly, Rev. Cheapoo unexpectedly passed away 8 years ago. Bishop Brown anxiously assumed leadership of the LFEP soon after.
“In light of his appointment by President Weah, I have suggested that Bishop Brown engage all Committee members in the Enright Group Forgiveness process before addressing the social conflict issues,” Dr. Enright says. “I suggested that approach, in all humility, because dialogue will not be fruitful if those engaging in the dialogue are still very angry about past grievances. Forgiveness is a scientifically-supported way of eliminating that anger.”
In response, Bishop Brown shared with Dr. Enright a draft strategy he has since developed for the Committee’s first working session that he calls “Reconciliation Through Forgiveness: A Program Concept for Community Bridge-Building.” Components of that strategy include:
- Conducting a 3-day Awareness Workshop on healing and reconciliation for 150 community, religious and traditional leaders from the 9 sub-political districts in Nimba County on the need to bring closure to the civil war chapter.
- Conducting a 3-day Forgiveness Education training workshop for teachers in Nimba County primary and secondary schools.
- Replicating the Forgiveness Education Programs that Church Aid Inc. already has in place in Monrovia (the country’s capitol), Brewerville, and Monsterrado County by initiating identical programs in 25 schools in Nimba County using Kindergarten through Grade 12 curriculum guides developed by the IFI in collaboration with CAI.
- Conducting a 3-day training and commissioning workshop for 45 Community Reconciliation Animators (CRA) who will continue the work of healing and reconciliation in their respective communities after the Special Presidential Committee’s tenure expires.
“I think that interventions like the Enright Group Forgiveness process are critical to bringing peace and harmony to the communities we seek to serve in Liberia,” says Bishop Brown. In addition to being the General Overseer of the New Water in the Desert Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Brewerville and Chairman/CEO of Church Aid Inc., Bishop Brown is also president of both the Liberia Council of Churches (LLC) and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL).
“If this forgiveness initiative works as it did in our scientific studies, then resentments and hatred will be reduced, forgiveness will increase, and fruitful dialogue will commence,” Dr. Enright adds. “If forgiveness solves the entrenched group-to-group conflict in Liberia, that country will astonish the world with this new way of attaining peace.”
The Special Presidential Committee will conduct its first session in the next few days and is expected to report its formal recommendations to President Weah within 60 days. The Committee will be chaired by Liberia’s Minister of Internal Affairs while the Chairman of the Liberia Land Authority will serve as co-chairperson.
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Monrovia, Liberia – More than 4,800 people died from Ebola between 2014 and 2016 in Liberia—the West African country hardest hit by the outbreak. Now, just four years later, the country of 4.8 million people is facing a new threat — the deadly uncertainty of the coronavirus epidemic.
Government officials in the capital city of Monrovia, where confirmed cases are just starting to ramp up, are optimistically reporting that Liberia can draw on its Ebola experience to overcome COVID-19. Doctors in the trenches, however, still fear the country is woefully under-equipped for a large outbreak.
Already decimated by back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003, Liberia’s economy is still reeling from the impact of Ebola. About half of all Liberian’s live on less than two US dollars a day (1.75 euros), according to the World Bank. The healthcare system is generally acknowledged as underfunded, fragile, and lacking the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed for healthcare workers.
Liberian authorities are acutely aware of the risk. Coronavirus cases remain relatively low for now, but they are rising rapidly. In neighboring Guinea—which was also hit by Ebola, and which suffers many of the same problems—infections have skyrocketed.
Perhaps most troubling, nearly one-third (28%) of all the confirmed coronavirus cases in Liberia have been among health workers themselves, according to the National Public Health Institution of Liberia (NPHIL). The organization’s director has said that fighting the virus outbreak will be difficult because the entire country has only one ventilator to help critical COVID-19 patients breathe.
On April 11, Liberian President George Weah declared a 14-day State of Emergency and locked down Monrovia, the country’s largest city with 1.5 million residents. Liberia’s legislature recently extended the country’s State of Emergency to 60 days. Despite those stay-at-home orders, confusion has reigned as false information about the coronavirus has been disseminated causing panic in some of the city’s overcrowded districts and frequent clashes with security officials.
Doctors Without Borders – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are racing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic not only in Liberia but also in the more than 70 countries where they run existing programs. Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Liberia have now risen past 100 while the number throughout Africa now exceeds 30,000.
Worldwide, the response to COVID-19 has relied heavily on large-scale lockdowns of populations and physical distancing measures, with the aim of reducing transmission and preventing health systems from becoming overwhelmed. But for people dependent on daily activities for their very survival, such as day laborers and those living in Monrovia’s overcrowded settings, self-isolation and lockdowns are not realistic.
“Most recommendations for protecting people against the virus and slowing down its spread simply cannot be implemented here,” says Cristian Reynders, a field coordinator for MSF operations. “How can you ask homeless people to stay at home to avoid infection? Those living in tents in camps don’t have homes.”
That means, of course, that the COVID-19 playbook that wealthy nations have come to know—stay home as much as possible, keep a six foot distance from others, wash hands often—will be nearly impossible to follow in much of the developing world. Even hand-washing is problematic in Liberia where 35% of residents do not have regular access to soap and water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Public hand washing stations in Liberia—which were effective in the fight against Ebola—are often as simple as two buckets—one filled with chlorinated water, and one to catch the wastewater. Sanitation, however, is as problematic in big cities as it is in rural areas. In Monrovia, less than half the city’s 1.5 million people have access to working toilets, according to Liberia’s Water and Sewer Corporation.
The fight against coronavirus will not be won until every country in the world can control the disease. But not every country has the same ability
to protect people.
Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr,
Director of ICA, a global health organization at Columbia University in New York City
Monrovia residents who display coronavirus systems are currently taken to a military hospital where they—along with other “high risk contacts” are tested and, if necessary, treated, according to the Acting Director General of the NPHIL. According to the organization, Liberia has only one lab in the entire country that is available for COVID-19 testing.
Because the lockdown included the closing of schools across Liberia on March 16, Forgiveness Education classes and after-school forgiveness programs have also been disrupted. Education providers, however, including those working with the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), are racing to launch remote learning options as students once again face the prospect of staying out of school for months.
“We are now using an extension-outreach approach so children can continue to learn about forgiveness,” says Bishop Kortu Brown, Chairman/CEO of Church Aid and national coordinator of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program that was established by IFI-co-founder Dr. Robert Enright more than 8 years ago. “Instead of teaching students in a classroom, our teachers prepare notes that are distributed to children at home. Parents then help deliver the message and assess the performance of their children.”
Bishop Brown, who is also president of both the Liberia Council of Churches (LLC) and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), said those organizations are spearheading “a massive coronavirus awareness campaign,” helping train COVID-19 contact tracers, and distributing food and hygiene materials.
“Meanwhile,” Bishop Brown added, “we call on all churches and Liberians, in general, to continue to observe the preventive measures and to continue to pray for the safety and wellbeing of the country.”
- Liberia’s fight against Ebola boosts its initial response to coronavirus
- Bishop Brown frowns on stigmatization of COVID-19 victims
- A Recipe for Coronavirus’ Victory Over Liberia
- A Report on Forgiveness Education in Liberia, Africa
Editor’s Note: That designation was issued by CRUX Media last week as part of an intense and revealing interview with Dr. Enright that was conducted while he was in Rome for the Rome Forgiveness Conference at the University of Santa Croce.
Among the interview questions addressed by Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, were these: What does the science of forgiveness tell us? What are the consequences of forgiving? In such battle-scarred parts of the world as Northern Ireland, does your science work? Do you find religious people are more inclined to forgive?
ROME – Scientific study of the world has been around for a while now, so it’s rare these days to meet the founder of an entirely new branch of science. That, however, is what you’ve got in full living color in the person of Robert Enright, a Catholic who teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and who pioneered what’s today known as “forgiveness science.”
Enright has spent the last thirty-plus years developing hard, empirical answers, including a four-phase, twenty-step process to lead patients to forgive. He insists data prove it has positive effects, including tangible reductions in anxiety, anger and psychological depression, and gains in self-esteem and optimism about the future.
Enright is in Rome this week, to speak at a Jan. 18 conference on forgiveness at the University of the Holy Cross, the Opus Dei-sponsored university here. He’s applied his tools in some of the world’s least forgiving places, including Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, and Liberia. . . .
Read the rest of Dr. Enright’s interview with John L. Allen Jr., Editor of CRUX Media, an international, independent Catholic media outlet operated in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.
John L. Allen Jr. has written nine books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs and is a renowned columnist and speaker in both the US and internationally. His articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, The Tablet, Jesus, Second Opinion, The Nation, the Miami Herald, Die Furche, the Irish Examiner, and many other publications. He has received honorary doctorates from four universities in the US and Canada, is a senior Vatican analyst for CNN, and was a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter for 16 years. Allen is a native of Kansas, a state in the exact geographic center of the US.