LIBERIA  MARCH  2008

 

ASSESSMENT REPORT


I first of all extend my heartfelt thanks and kind appreciation to Ingrid and all members of the Association of World Citizens whose donation made our trip to Liberia possible. I strongly believe that our partnership will definitely serve as a conduit to help and restore hope to those in need.

 The Center for Youth Empowerment (CYE) has been in operation at the Buduburam Refugee Camp for the past six years; providing services to the refugee populace with the intention to empower them become self-reliant, agents of change, as well as, provide a beacon of hope. Our activities include, but are not limited to: peace building, human rights, academic and vocational education, prevention of gender-based violence, and recreational activities.  Our programs have made a positive contribution to the camp and they continue to significantly impact the lives of many at Buduburam.  For example, our "Making the Children Happy" campaign, a recreational program, has made a great impact; emphasizing among the children the importance of peaceful co-existence regardless of the tribal divisions enforced during the war.

 We consider the assessment tour in Liberia a vehicle, in which, to observe and identify the many issues facing Liberians today.  This tour helped us effectively determine ways in which we could intervene and empower the people of Liberia. By doing so, this will not only help war-weary Liberians recover from the tragedy of war, but also, it will play a vital role in the development of peaceful co-existence, stability and economic development.

 During my assessment, I visited the following counties: Lofa, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Gbarpolu. Within each county, I investigated six thematic areas: education, peace-building, agriculture, the plight of the children, health and sanitation, and the living standard of Liberian in the post-conflict era.  I will also discuss the current challenges refugees face during repatriation.

 I am pleased to present to you the details of my assessment in Liberia. 


EDUCATION

 Education in our modern world serves as an important pillar in the determination of development and peaceful co-existence.  The neglect of education, as seen in Liberia, affects the capacity of the nation to develop in a timely and effective manner.  According to the 2006 United Nations Development Progress report, the contemporary illiteracy rate in Liberia stands at eighty-five per cent; thus, greatly impacts the capacity of Liberia to rebuild after the devastation of civil war.

 The educational sector was greatly impacted by the war; during the civil unrest, many trained teachers were either killed or forced into exile.  Most regrettably, in the absence of trained teachers, the schools are now being taught by individuals who are untrained in childhood development.  The teachers’ credentials rest are based on their graduation from the level they now teach.  A child’s education rests solely on the capacity of unqualified individuals to communicate and comprehend the subject matter; the incapacity of many of these teachers has lead to huge educational delays.

 The educational infrastructure has also been severely damaged by the war.  Many schools are not spacious enough to accommodate the growing number of school children, leaving the classrooms congested.  Some classes I observed exceeded seventy students.  In rural areas, the lack of nearby schools force many children to walk hours from their village just to attend class.  Those who cannot walk such a long distance remain at the home, being assigned household chores or remain behind to play.  The inaccessibility of a proper education to many is a great set back to the stabilization and development of Liberia. 

Recently, the government has announced free education for primary school, in an attempt to address the staggering illiteracy, as well as, align Liberia with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.  However, this program is limited, as from all indications, it is restricted to government-operated schools.  The government-operated schools have a limited capacity to house the many children that could benefit from this program.  Private schools, which have a greater capacity to host more students, lack the subsidies which would enable them to offer more affordable school fees.  Currently, the tuition and fees of private schools are being sharply increased in order to underwrite the cost of running the institution without government assistance.  High tuition rates, coupled with the nationwide unemployment crisis, have left many children excluded from the educational system.

Those that are fortunate enough to attend classes face yet another set of obstacles; the lack of text books, laboratory equipment and instructional materials impede the actualization of a quality education. Due to this severe lack of resources, the schools are incapable of establishing a working school meal program.  During my assessment, I witnessed children boycotting classes due to hunger on several occasions; this is extremely disruptive to the progression of their education.

The area of vocation training has been severely impacted by the lack of available resources.  However, considering the devastation of the civil war, there is dire need to train Liberians in marketable skills; the tedious task of rebuilding the country relies on the skilled man-power provided by tradesmen and tradeswomen.  Circumstances at the moment dictate that plans should be designed to focus on vocational skill training; this will assist in the expedient reconstruction Liberia.

                                 Recommendations

 In an effort to reduce the current illiteracy rate in Liberia and supplement the government’s efforts in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of having a literate society by 2015, CYE would like to do the following:

  • Establish an elementary and junior high school.
  • Conduct an in-service teacher training workshops with implicit focus on training individuals with no professional background.
  • Establish a vocational skill training center in the following areas: carpentry, plumbing, sewing, beauty care, computer literacy, drafting, and masonry.
  • Create educational awareness in the rural areas for parents and community members to encourage and support children to go to school.
  • Solicit scholarship assistance to enable vulnerable children to acquire education.
  • Develop a community library, thereby, providing students, teachers and members of the community access to valuable educational materials.
  • Initiate a school meal program to reduce the number of children boycotting classes due to hunger.

                     PEACE BUILDING


 During my assessment, I was made aware of the grave impact the civil war has had on Liberia’s society.  Among the Liberians, the war enforced many divisions; erecting walls that divided the people based on tribal, factional, religious and political affiliation.  Feeding on these divisions, a great number of atrocities during the fourteen years of civil unrest can be attributed to the manipulation and politicization of difference.  Contemporarily, these divisions continue to threaten the tenuous peace in Liberia.  Specifically, I noticed during my assessment that there remains a deep divide between the natives and the settlers, or the Congo people. 

Following the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, freed slaves came to settle in Liberia.   The settlers rapidly seized control of the political and economic institutions; thereby, excluding the natives from actualizing their capacity from 1847 – 1980.  The settlers grossly repressed the native population, asserting the importance of settler culture above the many traditions and culture of the native population.  Natives pursuing higher education were constrained to change their names to that of the settlers to suppress traditional language and culture. 

The minority, with settlers constituting only two per cent of the total population, weakened the country’s capacity by denying many education, as well as, political and economic power.  Many saw this attitude as being responsible for the current stalemate in our beloved country.  My investigation revealed that the division between settlers and natives remains in the contemporary context, with each group apportioning the blame on one another for the massacre, the destruction of towns and villages, and the high rate of illiteracy and unemployment.  As such, the continuing of prejudice and discrimination has the propensity to deconstruct peaceful coexistence, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction. 


 There is also a great amount of tension amongst the natives as the conflict emphasized tribal division and prejudice.  For example, in Lofa County, the Loma strongly believe that the Mandigo tribe is largely responsible for the destruction of lives and properties. Conversely, the Mandigo assert that the Loma tribe was the architects of the destruction of their county.  In Nimba County, the Gio and Mano tribes are holding the Mandigo responsible for the destruction in their county, and vice versa.  I was informed that prior to the war, land dispute claims between the Loma and the Mandigo tribes in Lofa County, as well as, property disputes in Nimba County between the Mandigo, and the Gio and Mano tribes was responsible for the establishment of the numerous appropriations of blame.  As a result of the rivalry, members of these tribes used the war to pursue their hidden agenda, resulting in the destruction of lives and properties.  During my assessment, I witnessed this formulation of tribal division and accountability in each county; this not only perpetuated violence and destruction during the civil war, but also, it continues to threaten the tenuous peace contemporarily.

 
In Sinoe County, a similar situation exists between the Sarpo and the Kru.  While the two tribes co-existed peacefully prior to the outbreak of the civil war, they now lay blame on one another for the horrible experience in their county.  In Grand Gedeh County, the Krahn tribe holds the strong belief that the civil war was a genocidal pursuit against them; asserting that they were discriminated and isolated from Liberian society due to their association with the late Samuel Doe.  At the height of the war, anti-Krahn sentiments ran high and many were indiscriminately killed.  The continuing assertions of blame, whether for territorial gains or otherwise, perpetuate stereotypes and hatred among the people.

 There is a great need and opportunity for the establishment of peace education in contemporary Liberia.  Persistent efforts made in the past by traditional leaders brought some calm.  The presence of United Nations multinational peacekeeping force, couple with a democratically elected government, serve as a platform to engage in peace-building as they attempt to identify the multiple causes of the nightmare of civil war and strive to find remedies to secure durable peace.  The establishment of workshops and conferences on peace education would provide tools to citizens on how to handle conflict

Constructively, in the hopes, that this would break the destructive impact of intolerance and prejudice. 

                         
                            Recommendations


 In order to address the causes of the war and the consequences thereof, facilitate development and unity, and create an enabling environment where the views of everybody will be respected regardless of tribal, religious or political affiliation, CYE would like to intervene in the following ways:

  • Teaching of peace education in schools.
  • Conducting community workshops based on peace education, conflict resolution, mediation, and tools for community development targeting the youth and other major stakeholders.
  • Establishing a community peace outreach program, in which, those who cannot read and write would be taught those skills through drama. Thereby, granting an opportunity to add their voice and capacity to the reconstruction of the state and the development of peace.
  • Organizing peace and reconciliation sporting and cultural activities targeting traditional leaders, youth, women and major stakeholders.

                     
                            THE PLIGHT OF THE CHILDREN

 
When the civil war erupted in Liberia, it cast a dark shadow over the lives of many of the children.  Parents, guardians, siblings, family members and neighbors were either killed or separated from each other; many children lost their supportive network in the throes of war.  In the cities, I observed many children roaming the streets begging or selling good for petty-traders.  Having no place to stay, many sleep in street corners and open market places.  In the rural areas, the children are engaged in hard labor; they go into the bushes, hunting and fishing to find sustenance.  Many lack proper clothing or shelter.  The war has left many children vulnerable, not only are their future at risk, but also, the security and development of Liberia is greatly undermined.

 On the whole, these kids do not have food security, shelter, medication, and opportunity to go to school to prepare them for a better future.

                     
                             Recommendations


    In view of this, CYE would like to:

  • Establish an orphanage home to take out of the street vulnerable children with the intention of providing them shelter, education, medication and give them hope for tomorrow.
  • Give them the needed necessary care to put smile on their faces.

 
                               HEALTH AND SANITATION

 Communicable diseases and HIV/AIDS are on the rise in Liberia; the lack of trained physicians, nurses and medical practitioners further exasperates this issue.  During the long running civil war, most medical professionals were either killed or forced into exile.  As well, the war caused the destruction of infrastructure, and thereby, many villages and towns do not have a clinic or health post to support the people.  Many individuals must walk a distance of two or three hours to seek medication.  Those who are seriously ill are transported to the clinic using a wheel barrow; sadly, many of which, die in transport before reaching medical aid. Many of the existent clinics and health posts experience acute shortages of medical equipments and drugs to treat illness.  Therefore, preventable diseases like malaria, typhoid, running stomach, headache and chicken pox has easily overwhelmed the population.

As for sanitation, there is no good drainage system; leaving many of the drainage systems in ill-repair or entirely nonfunctional. As well, there is no centralized garbage disposal system, coupled with the lack of proper sanitation this contributes to a large presence of flies and mosquitoes, and the proliferation of disease.  The absence of community sensitization program to educate community members also contributes to a widening gap; many do not have knowledge about basic hygiene and other tools to uphold better sanitary conditions. It was also noticed with keen interest that places along the coast do not have any education about the importance of the sea.  People defecate on the beaches without comprehending the extreme consequences to the recreational and ecological functioning of the coast.

            
                            Recommendations


 In order to assist in addressing these problems, CYE would like to:

  • Build a clinic with accessibility to rural areas.
  • Launch a community awareness campaign on sanitation, basic hygiene, environment and HIV/AIDS.

                                              

                                 AGRICULTURE


 Farming before the war served as one of the main economic pillars of Liberia.  The base, of said activities, is in the rural areas of the country; however, the war displaced rural inhabitants and erased many agricultural villages and towns, and thereby, denigrating agricultural capacity. The rural areas prior to the war supplied urban areas with food staples, vegetables, cash crops, live stock, and indeed, self-sufficient in food production.  However, since the war, the displacement of rural inhabitants and the destruction of arable land have affected Liberia’s capacity to be self-sufficient in food production.  Additionally, the high prices of farming tools, seeds and chemicals, and poor infrastructure all inhibit the redevelopment of agriculture.  With little or no access to starting capital, it remains infeasible at this time for many farmers to resume their activities in the post-conflict era. 


 One subsistent farmer indicated to me prior to the war, there was a cooperative farming system. In this system, each village had a large collective farm; proceeds from the sale of their produce were used towards the development of the village under the supervision of a community team. At the individual level, farmers organized themselves into smaller groups to help one another through out the farming season.  Brushing, cutting down of trees, clearing, planting and harvesting was carried out by assigning both sexes a specific job to conduct. 

 Contemporarily, the ever increasing hatred emanating from the war has destroyed this cooperative system; individuals are no longer willing to form groups due to prejudice and fear.  All of the stated above undoubtedly is responsible for the downward trend of farming activities in post-conflict Liberia.

 

                               Recommendations

 To revamp farming activities, CYE would like the following to be highly considered:

  • Provision of farming tools, seeds, chemicals and other materials to enhance farming activities.
  • Provide farmers with the tools of handling conflict through peace education workshops with the sole intention of restarting the cooperative farming system which is not feasible now because of growing hatred.
  • Provide starting capital to re-organize the cooperative farming system at both the individual level and group level to enhance farming activities.

 
                       LIVING CONDITIONS IN LIBERIA


 It is very disheartening to note the severe hardship being encountered by ordinary Liberians. This hardship is being compounded at the present time by high unemployment rates, inflating prices for basic commodities, high government taxes, expensive transportation, and lack of electricity.  Due to poor infrastructure, many of the counties are inaccessible and travel within urban centers is extremely expensive and time consuming; thus, intensifying the suffering and isolation of many individuals.  In the city of Monrovia, transportation fares are inordinately high and commercial cars are difficult to hire; it may take several hours before one can procure the services of a commercial vehicle for transport.  In rural areas, it takes several days for a hired car to arrive, thereby, forcing many of the rural dwellers to walk on foot several hours to reach their destination.  The country also lacks modern electrical infrastructure; many people rely on a private generator to ensure a constant supply of electricity.  The present hardships facing the country have left many vulnerable to the influx of criminal activities.  Although security agencies attempt to keep in check the situation, criminal activates remain on the rise; with the source of this influx yet to be addressed. 


Despite all the hardships faced, the Liberians still seek to experience the many joys in life.  In Monrovia, as well as in other urban and rural centers, there are recreational areas such as the beach, which are occupied on the weekends.  People go there to play, eat and drink, and engage in lively discussions, and thereby, find temporary reprieve from the many inconveniences and hardships they face during the week.                               

                                REPATRIATION PROJECT


 The war in Liberia coerced many Liberians to seek refuge in Ghana and other neighboring countries; established in 1990, Buduburam refugee camp hosts over forty thousand Liberian refugees. Throughout the war, many peace accords failed as a result of differences among warring factions; but in 2003, the Accra peace accord produced fruitful results, of which, has paved the way for the formation of an interim government.  The interim government has guided Liberia through the demobilization and disarmament of over one hundred thousand ex-combatants, and the subsequent holding of free and fair elections bringing to power the first ever female African president.


 After the election, Liberian refugees were overwhelmed with the opportunity to return home, but remained wary because of legitimate concerns and fears. The majority of these concerns rest on personal security, shelter, food, and most importantly, reintegration.  Reintegration remained a grave concern for many of the refugees, fearing that returning to Liberia after a fifteen years absence would propagate instability.  During my assessment, I observed a relative calm in Liberia, which is reinforced by the presence of the multinational peace-keeping force.  However, one of the greatest concerns remains whether this peace can be maintained in the restructuring of the Liberian army and in the eventual absence of UN troops.

 Presently, the government of Liberia is recruiting and training the new army under the watchful eyes of the international community, so as to be independent and responsible for the future security of Liberia.

 There is an acute shortage of dwelling places in the urban areas, specifically in Monrovia. Many houses were destroyed or burned down throughout the war; the existing high rate of unemployment and high tariff on building materials presently impede the rebuilding of homes by ordinary Liberians.  High demand for property and the scarcity of available housing has lead to a hyper-inflated rental fee, far exceeding the amount that the average Liberian could afford.  Many returnees are currently in Monrovia, some of them enlightened me to their plight; their villages are virtually non-existence, with no house to live in, minimal economic activities in the rural areas and bad road conditions provide convincing reasons for the movement of people from the rural areas to urban areas.  The cities have become congested with returnees unable or unwilling to return to their villages.  Many of these individuals have been accommodated by extended family members and friends, creating difficult living situations.  One room is commonly shared by four or five persons; correspondingly, this has largely contributed to the outbreak of communicable diseases. I further gathered that obtaining daily means is extremely difficult.

 
Currently, there is no program that focuses on fully reintegrating returnees.  Unbelievably, upon repatriation, many of the refugees received little aid from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Five American dollars, some cooking utensils, and a few personal belongings was all the refugees were given upon their return; without assistance in finding places to live, as well as, lacking the means to afford housing, many have found themselves placed within an internally displaced persons camp.


 Returnees’ land, like many Liberians, has been encroached upon or taken away.  There are several reported cases of claims and counter claims regarding the ownership over a single parcel of land.  The government is exerting all efforts to address the issue; however, land dispute in the African setting remains a very delicate issue, and henceforth, all necessary care is employed. 


In the rural areas, land acquisition is not as difficult as the urban areas.  Many people in the rural areas, as evidence of places visited, are overwhelmed to receive their brothers and sisters; with many expressing willingness to help them with whatsoever means possible.  While land acquisition may be considerably easier in the rural areas, it remains that the housing infrastructure is extremely lacking.  Rural dwellers built their houses using local resources, leaving many of these housing instable and susceptible to flooding during the rainy season.  Most interestingly, rural dwellers survive through their farming activities and sell their produce to urban areas.  Earnings, thereof, are used for upkeep, which includes, but are not limited to, sending their kids to school.  The destruction of many villages and towns, skyrocketing prices of farming tools, migration and displacement of rural dwellers greatly affect farming activities and the livelihood of many rural inhabitants.

                   
                       Recommendations


 Having provided the details above, for the repatriation project to be carried out successfully, CYE would like to recommend that: 

  • Houses are built for returnees in the standard of the local community.
  • Vehicles are provided for transportation of refugees from the camp to their destination in Liberia.
  • Hire the services of a lawyer to provide guidance in the process of land acquisition.
  • Help returnees with farming tools, seeds for the first farming season and provide them with food supplements during the initial period.
  • After the first six months, start a revolving micro-loan program for returnees to help fully reintegrate them, as well as, provide them with access to funds previously unavailable.
  • Establish a central office in Monrovia to coordinate activities of the project and set-up local points in counties of operation.
  • Lofa, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Bong, and Margibi counties are considered for the first phase of the project.
  • Develop a community awareness program in areas where returnees will be living; with the intention of integrating them with the locals and obtaining the community’s full cooperation.

I would like to inform you that we utilized the assessment tour in Liberia to:

  • Registered the organization under the Liberian laws.
  • Probated the article of incorporation at the probate court in Monrovia, Liberia.
  • Established a bank account for the organization.
  • Received the green light to operate in Liberia as a non-governmental organization

With legal aspect as regards operating in Liberia being completed, we are confident that our operation in Liberia is legal and protected by the authority

Slabe Sennay
President
Center for Youth Empowerment

 
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