Human rights activist and educator Joseph Kaifala is the inaugural winner of the Projects for Peace Alumni Award. Kafaila was among the first cohort of Projects for Peace grantees in 2007.

Watch Mr. Kaifala's 2023 Keynote at Middlebury

A former Davis United World College Scholar, Kaifala earned his bachelor’s degree from Skidmore College, a master’s in international relations from Syracuse University, and his juris doctorate from Vermont Law School.

“We’ve been inspired by Joseph’s work, from his commitment to Projects for Peace at Skidmore to his work at the Middlebury Institute, and now in his vision for Sierra Leone,” said Middlebury President Laurie Patton. “It’s a powerful testament to the enduring strength of this program that students who launched their careers as peacebuilders years ago have persisted in this crucial work.” 

Early Life and Inspirations

A survivor of the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, Kaifala has focused his career on peace, human rights, and rebuilding in his home country. In 2009, he launched the Jeneba Project, a nonprofit providing educational opportunities for adolescent girls.

“Children were particularly affected by that conflict, many of them conscripted as combatants,” Kaifala said in his application. “Educational institutions were used as bases and vandalized. This is why my original Project for Peace was directed toward rebuilding educational infrastructure and providing scholarships to marginalized girls.”

In addition, Kaifala has been concerned about the victims and survivors of the war, especially since he feels the government has not been effectively dealing with the consequences of the conflict. 

He helped set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2016 to provide an impartial historical record of the civil war and offer recommendations for reparations and trauma healing.

In 2021 he founded the Center for Memory and Reparations, a transitional justice organization, to facilitate remembrance and collective narratives around the war. The center is devoted to identifying and protecting mass graves left by the civil war and to educating schoolchildren about the history of the war and its causes.

He feels it is important to create spaces for dialogues and community peace in order to foster collective healing, and so they have constructed a Civil War Memorial as a space for remembrance and reflection, which he hopes will be a place for schoolchildren to visit and learn about the war and its transitional justice mechanisms to help promote a culture of peace.

Plans for the Award

Kaifala plans to use the award to expand opportunities for schoolchildren in Sierra Leone to visit the Civil War Memorial in Freetown. 

It’s essential, he says, for students to learn about transitional justice mechanisms—the ways in which societies respond to legacies of massive and serious human rights violations—in order to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence. 

The funds will help ensure his organization reaches students in all parts of the country, helping to fulfill a mandate of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Read the 2023 Award Announcement