Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Orientation To My New Office In LIB

I went to office on Monday dress up and ready to hit the ground running (picture is attached). Currently, the Center for Peace Education is functioning as a division under Aid for the Needy Development Program (ANDP) – a local non-governmental organization with its head office located at VOA Camp (1), Brewerville, on the outskirts of Monrovia. ANDP provides nutritional supplement for malnourish children and their parents.

At my new office, I was introduced to ANDP staff and given a tour of the facilities. I was struck when I walked into the ward of malnourished children and the parents. As I glanced into the faces of these parents, I saw nothing but frustration and depression. In addition, they are traumatized, especially those who were sexually harassed, became pregnant, and decided to keep the baby.

Some of the parents are in their teens, thus, having limited knowledge of parenthood. These parents are teens in fact who were still living with their parents. Most of them are elementary and junior high school dropouts, leaving them without the prerequisite skills for the work place.

The nurses at the ANDP therapeutic feeding center informed me that some teenage mothers sometimes drop off their children at their parent’s home and flee to unknown destinations, out of fear and inability to provide finical support. Sadly, some of the fathers are teenagers themselves living with their parents, making it difficult for them to take care of themselves, let alone their own child.
On the other hand, some fathers are adults who do not want to be identify with the child’s mother because they are afraid, thinking that they could be arrested by the government for the pregnancy of a minor. And some of the fathers are married, and as such, are afraid to show their support for the child. So they keep their distance away from the mothers to protect their marriages, resulting in a lack of financial and moral support.

This is the current condition at ANDP’s Therapeutic Feeding Center - the space of my new office (picture is attached). Such conditions have caused the parents to become traumatized, neglected, depressed, and lonely. They are confused and have become an easy access for violent behavior to the point where they beat on their malnourished children.
In light of this present condition, The Center for Peace Education will also establish a Peace Education and Trauma Alleviation program for Parents of Malnourished Children. This program will be designed to foster self-esteem and civility, responsible choices among parents that will strengthen the bonds between child and parent. By nourishing those principles and values for sustainable growth, then peaceful co-existence and development may occur.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Meet and Greet:

The next few days (March 24 – 29, 2009) were spent meeting with my family members and friends and making telephone calls. Explaining and discussing why I was back in the country. Basically, it was just a time of relaxation and fellowship. Some brought traditional African gifts (palm wine), chickens (see attached picture), and prayed for God’s blessings upon my endeavor – the establishment of a Peace Education Program for Liberia.

Also while home during the week, I begin to observe children of grade school age just wandering around the neighborhood without being in school. I wanted to know why these children were not in school, since the government has made primary and elementary school free in all public schools. My sister and cousins then informed me that these children do not have the financial means to pay for their registration fees or buy their school materials (books, uniforms, shoes), lunch, let alone transporting themselves to school. So, I decided to select one of the youth randomly from among the group. It happened to be a boy. He told me his name was Matthew. Then I asked him why he wasn’t in school. He replied, “I do not have the money”. I asked Matthew to visit me over the weekend so we could better discuss about his school situation.

With unemployment levels in the formal sector estimated to be around 80% of the population, it is difficult for the poor to afford their basic human needs (food, safe drinking water, health care) let alone sending their children to schools. Ordinary citizens cannot afford a decent place to call a home. Most of them were uprooted from their homes which were destroyed during the war. Today, they are known as internally displaced people without a place to call a home.

Let’s take my case for example. My parent’s home was completely destroyed by Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia in 1990. My mother and sisters fled to Sierra Leone where they sought refuge. Upon returning to Liberia from Sierra Leone in 1997, my mother and sisters had nowhere to call a home. They lived in a displaced hut. For four years, I sought assistance from friends in United States who helped me to construct a two bed room home for my mother. A special “Thank You” to Bea from Door County, Wisconsin who basically financed the construction. Indeed, there are many displaced people who do not have a “Ebenezer” in their lives, who do not have a area to sleep, they are unemployed; as a result, they cannot afford the school fees for their children? For now, most parent first priority is finding food for their children.

The reality on the ground has created a condition where in the minds of the youths is an ideal workshop for violence – without formal education, without lessons of peace education. Notwithstanding, I believe “Yes We Can Change This Condition” by helping out one school child at a time….

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Long Trip Home

The United flight from Washington landed at Brussels International Airport. I had a six hour layover after eight hours of flight time. I boarded the flight at 12:45pm Brussels time; hoping to depart at 1pm. Unfortunately, there was mechanical problem that caused the flight to depart at 2:30pm. After seven hours, the flight landed in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast to drop off and pick off passengers.
As the flight landed in the Ivory Coast, it brought back vivid memories, knowing that Abidjan was the last city I lived in as a refugee before traveling to the USA for studies. Now I was departing Abidjan to Liberia on a jet, not on foot, as I did when I entered the Ivory Coast seeking refuge. On the flight, I was not interrogated, harassed, beaten, tied, humiliated, as it was done to me by rebels forces when I entered the Ivory Coast from Liberia as a refugee. Instead, I was sitting comfortably on a 747 jet from Abidjan to Liberia. As I thought about my return deeply, there was nothing I could do, but rather close my eyes tightly as I held to my seat, and silently screamed in my belly, in my head, through my feet, in fact through my entire being. As I sat there for 30 min reminiscing, I slowly opened my eyes to a new self, knowing full well that I was a new person – and more importantly someone with a formal education to help build a peaceful Liberia.
As I ponder on those hopeless days in the refugee camps, in search of food to eat and a place to sleep, it reinvigorates my strength and gives me hope to know what a blessings it is for me, to give of myself in search of genuine and lasting peace for Liberia. Those experiences in various refugee camps across West Africa were ones that I strongly hope the future generations of Liberia will not encounter- or any children of the world.
At 10:30pm Liberian time, the airline crew announced that the flight will be landing in 20 minutes. I kept my eyes opened looking through the windows, thinking about those beautiful landing at nights in Washington DC, Tampa, New York, or Chicago. It was not so, there were few lights here and there, except for the airport.
I got my luggage and headed for a place I will call home for a long time. I arrived at the house that I am renting which is in complete darkness (no electricity). For the first time, in a long time, I was going back to live in darkness. My cousins and sister helped me placed my things in my room. We talked for few hours discussing life in America and Liberia. Then I proceeded to the bathroom to take a shower, where I do not have a basin or bathtub, because I cannot afford the funds to individually bring a private sewer system to my home.
In the bathroom, I put my bath water into the bucket and used my hands to dip the water from the bucket onto my body. I slept safe and sound that night. I woke up the next morning realizing that I was finally home when I could not switch on my cable television. Notwithstanding, I strongly hope that by planting the seeds of peace now, “Liberia Will Harvest a Peaceful Tomorrow”. This is a fact!!! This is what I believe!!! Please help me make this a reality.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh! This Day has Finally Arrived/Heading Home

March 22, 2009; I arrived at Washington DC Dulles International Airport with my travelling bags headed for a place I called “sweet home”. As I drove past where I received my first traffic violation for speeding; where I first went to church, where I first got off and on the Metro rail, the Capitol Building, the White House, the Washington national’s baseball and basketball team stadiums– I was filled with mixed emotions, but still very excited.

I arrived at the Airport by 4pm, went through with checking my luggage, and waited few minutes before going through security. As I approached the security checkpoint, I began to shed tears, knowing that I was finally leaving the United States. To leave a country which I have come to call home for the past 10 years was something difficult to do. Knowing full well that I was traveling to a country barely emerging from 14 years of conflict was a difficult reality to accept.

As I prepared myself to board the flight, I knew that life would never be the same. However, the joy of returning home to contribute my own little part towards Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction efforts was worth the sacrifice. To serve as a peace educator, investing in Liberia’s most important human resource – its youthful population – in order to reap a peaceful future nation was a challenge that I personally refused to give up.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Last Three Weeks In The States

Well, the day I have been anticipating and planning for has finally come. I’m headed back home to Liberia. My last few weeks in the US were busy and enjoyable as I traveled across the country to say farewell and tell people about my mission.
My first stop on my trip took me to Appleton, Wisconsin where I met with friends, who taught me about Football and initiated me into the Green Bay Hall of Fame Fan Club. It became so ironic that over the years, when I tell people that I am a Green Bay fan, they looked at me, like I am from a different planet. How can a black African like you say that you are a Green Bay fan? How do you know about Green Bay? Do you even know where Green Bay is located? Have you ever lived there during the winter season? My answer is usually, a resounding YES!! I have been to several Green Bay games when the team used to play in Milwaukee before moving to Green Bay. In fact, for the past ten years, I have spent every summer vacation in Ephraim, Door County, Wisconsin, where I also visited for a couple of days before flying to Florida.
In Tampa, FL, my next stop, my schoolmate and friend, Byron, picked me up from the airport and we drove to Tallahassee. On March 5, 2009, I spoke to students at Florida State University at the Oglesby Student Union (poster is attached on the blog). While in Tallahassee, I spent my time with various Liberians including Zinnah and Eric who were very helpful and encouraging. Saturday I travelled to Punta Gorda, Florida and on Sunday, March 8, I spoke at St .Mary Primitive Baptist Church. Two days later the pastor informed me that one of his members called him to inform him that her daughter was inspired by my testimony and has committed herself to doing the right thing at all times. It brought tears to my eyes, knowing that my life story is an encouragement to someone.
On Wednesday, March 11, 2009, I was the guest speaker at the Port Charlotte Rotary Club, in Port Charlotte, Florida. And finally on Thursday, March 12, 2009, I was the guest speaker at the Punta Gorda United Methodist Church’s Women Circle meeting. The Circle members were very great. They showered me with lots of love, not just in words, but in deeds. They also prayed for me and asked God’s blessings upon my life during this endeavor. That same evening, I give a presentation to the students, faculty, and staff at my old college, Edison State College. It was full of surprises as I ran into my former professors, schoolmates, and classmates, including the retired Provost, Dr. Yorgar.
The following day, Friday, March 13, I flew back to DC. Then, on Sunday, March 15, 2009, I had a going away celebration to say ‘thank you’ to friends who had made my stay in the United States truly enriching. Indeed, a life full of remarkable experiences and memories which I would never forget. From the depth of my heart, I sincerely want to say ‘thank you’ to all those who made the celebration a success. Special thanks to my friends who prepared the food, provided the drinks, and music.
Overall, I truly appreciate the kind words of encouragement and gifts from friends and supporters I received along the way. They have only encouraged me to continue on this journey. If I may interject, some were skeptical and advised that I stay until I have the needed funds to undertake this endeavor.
As I get things set up, I will likely have inconsistent access to voicemail and email so don’t be discouraged if my next post takes a while. I’ve attached links to a newspaper article about one of my speaking engagements in Florida, a YouTube link to a short clip of my going away party, and several photos taken during my last few weeks in DC.
ALways Peace!!!

Speaking Link, You Tube Link, & Several Photos

I’ve attached links to a newspaper article about one of my speaking engagements in Florida, a YouTube link to a short clip of my going away party, and several photos taken during my last few weeks in DC.

Speech at Edison State College - Punta Gorda, Florida:

Going Away Celebration Dance Floor: