Law Student to Head Program in Sierra Leone

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

By Bruce McKenna (JD ’80)

Thomas Landrum, a first-year student at The University of Tulsa College of Law, is already making a difference on a global scale. In June of 2009, Landrum will travel to Sierra Leone to spearhead the Women for Women of Sierra Leone (WWSL)  program  for  conflict resolution. 

The Republic of Sierra Leone is situated on the west coast of Africa. Populated by nearly six million residents, the nation suffers extreme economic hardship despite its vast mineral, agricultural and aquatic resources. It has been wracked by conflict and violence. In 2001, Sierra Leone emerged from a 10-year civil war that devastated the already weak economy, laid ruin to the existing infrastructure, and resulted in countless lost lives. Conflict resolution is, therefore, at the heart of the nation’s efforts to restore itself to its once proud position as a cultural and educational leader of West African nations.

Based in Staten Island, New York, WWSL is a volunteer organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Sierra Leone. Landrum’s introduction to the WWSL was as a liaison acting on behalf of Engineers Without Borders, a TU student organization that was attempting to develop a relationship with WWSL to assist in its activities. Although the engineers and WWSL were unable to join forces, WWSL was impressed by Landrum’s commitment, his extensive training in the development of teamwork skills, his experience in organizing various events, and the fact that he was attending law school.  As such, WWSL approached Landrum and invited him to join its team in Sierra Leone.

The WWSL team is comprised of 10 people: two nurses, three doctors, two dentists, an elementary school teacher (who just happens to be Landrum’s sister, Carla), the project leader, and Landrum. The 10-person team will leave for Sierra Leone on June 7, 2009, and spend two weeks implementing the various programs. Supplies will be short and amenities will be scarce.  Landrum, who believes that he may have to bring his own supplies, said he is looking forward to developing the program as long as there is a roof over his head.

The conflict resolution program is to be conducted in connection with other programs and projects sponsored and run by WWSL. Landrum’s goals in implementing the conflict resolution program are to increase communication skills and to establish respect for other individuals and their interpersonal relationships so as to encourage dispute resolution through dialogue rather than violence. Clear communication and developing a respect for interpersonal boundaries are, according to Landrum, the keys to the success of the project. Landrum will be working with the citizens of Yele, a village of approximately 5,000 residents, located in the central part of Sierra Leone that is known as the Hinterlands. 

The range of potential disputes that may be addressed by Landrum is unknown but could be as diverse as matters involving domestic relations to land disputes. Although the program is intended to target teens, young adults, and elders (that is to be placed into the appropriate context because the average life expectancy in  Sierra Leone probably does not exceed 50 years of age), all of Yele’s citizens are eligible to participate.  That may prove to be an extreme challenge for Landrum as he is the only member of the team slated to operate the conflict resolution aspect of the WWSL program.

The team concludes its Sierra Leone stay on June 21, 2009, but will return in December to follow up and assess the effectiveness of its programs.  Although the return trip is scheduled to occur during law school final examinations, Landrum is hopeful that he will be able to return to Sierra Leone to continue to develop this extremely worthwhile project.

Landrum was born in Edmond, Okla., in 1985.  He is a 2004 graduate of Owasso High School. In May 2008, Landrum was awarded his Bachelor of Science degree by The University of Tulsa Collins College of Business, with a focus on business law and with minors in both political science and finance. While pursuing his undergraduate studies, Landrum served on several dean’s advisory committees and is both a Mabel Hildreth Crook Scholar and a Shawnee Bailey Scholar. Landrum will be awarded his JD in 2011. Currently, he serves on the executive council of the College of Law Board of Advocates and TU President Upham’s Equal Opportunity and Advancement Committee.

Jimmy Hart