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Letter from Liberia January 2018
Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary,Voinjama,Lofa County, Liberia
As we come to the end of 2017 Liberia has succeeded in handing over the leadership of the country in a peaceful manner. This is the first time in seventy-three years that a peaceful transition is taking place. The new president, George Weah, the former world class footballer of the 80’s and 90’s, will take over from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the middle of January 2018. Here, history was made again as she was the first female president to be elected in Africa. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a good job but there is so much more to do in a country that went through nearly twenty years of civil war which was followed up by the Ebola crisis in 2014/2015. So, the new president has much to live up to. What people are saying is, that if he does as well as a president as he did at football, the country will achieve much. The most important item on his agenda should be to keep the peace as his predecessor has done. If this is achieved the county will be able to move forward. In fact, the people of Liberia have to be commended for their peaceful behaviour and tolerance in the last few months while the presidential election was being carried out which experienced some long delays to reach an outcome on December 28.
Life goes on
The political scene in Liberia was on everyone’s agenda in 2017, but life had to go to on too. We sisters were involved in our usual activities. Our response to the post Ebola crisis continued as the effects of this crisis are still being felt by many people. The psychosocial team worked with approximately 3,600 schoolchildren in fourteen schools in the villages most affect by the Ebola crisis. The children enjoyed participating in drawing, singing, acting, storytelling, dancing etc. The team also visited the parents/guardians of the children who they noticed were not coping well. These visits proved very helpful to the children and the parents. Work with the business and farming groups also continued. At the end of the year they had savings, a very small amount of money for each person, to share, which helped them provide new clothes for their children. New clothes for children is a feature in Liberia for major celebrations such as Christmas and Ramadan.
Life in the villages continues. We are working mainly with women to empower them to know their rights in relation to land and their inheritance rights. The majority of the women are not married so if the man decides to take another woman, the former woman is left with nothing and they may have been together for many years. In the coming year our focus will be on advocating for a law which will make provision for women who are abandoned by the man to have access to a proportion of the property. This will provide security for the woman and
her children. Of course, there will be some reluctance on the side of the man to part with his property!! Agriculture is the main activity in the villages.
A recent report, Global Hunger Index 2017, produced by Concern Worldwide, Welthungerhilfe, and International Food Policy Research Institute, highlighted some alarming statistics for Africa – seven countries in Africa are in the ‘Alarming Levels of Hunger’ and Liberia falls into this category. Our neighbour, Sierra Leone, unfortunately also falls into this category. The four indicators used were undernutrition, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. There is some evidence of this but we did not expect to be in the alarming level. Our agriculture person has been working with farmers in order to help them achieve better quality and quantity from their small farms. He has introduced them to Modern Selective Methods of Intercropping vs the Traditional Methods of Intercropping. The farmers who followed this method benefitted greatly, but it will take some time to get the majority of farmers on board as it is hard to change the mindset that is in place for many years. This method will help alleviate the food security problem in Lofa County, which by the way is called the Bread Basket of Liberia.
Education, both formal and informal, continues in the Catholic High School, the school for hearing impaired children, and in thirty-five villages in four districts. In 2018 Liberian students will sit the WASCE examination at the completion of High School which will bring the education system in line with the rest of West Africa. In the informal sector approximately 1,100 participants attend literacy classes with the majority being women. As well as learning to read and write, the social issues of the area are discussed and analysed in order to find a suitable solution to the presenting problem. Of course, voter education was carried out this year, as all levels of elections took place in October, so that those living in remote villages would be aware of the candidates and their vision for the county/country. The small school for hearing impaired children continues. There are now sixteen children attending and one of these transferred to the government public school as his level of reading and writing was good. We are appealing to the government to send a qualified teacher for the school and also provide training for the young man who is presently teaching the children. The national celebration of the International Day for the Disabled was held in Voinjama in December. Approximately 180 people with disabilities travelled, some on very bad roads, to Voinjama for the event. It was an inspiring sight to see so many struggling with life and some with very severe disabilities. They put us all to shame!!
As well as the above activities there are many other social calls made on us. During the year we helped twenty-five children with severe eye problems get treated, some of them had to have eye replacements. Some of these eye conditions could be avoided if the treatment had been received on time. It is difficult for people to provide the money for such treatment as it may cost at least $200 to get the complete treatment. In a country like Liberia where 80% of the people live on $1.25 per day, it is impossible for people to do this. We also helped children, with bone injuries/deformities and after effects of burns, receive treatment for their conditions. These interventions helped the children greatly and gave them a new life in many cases. There are also many demands on us when the mother of a new born baby dies. At the moment we are helping approximately 30 families. And the list could go on!!
In our letter of 2016 we mentioned that Misean Cara had carried out a research project on our Ebola awareness program and that a report would be made available. We received a draft copy of the report in October and when the final report is available we will forward it to anyone who is interested.
We thank all our private donors and funding agencies who have supported us during the year and in the past. We could not do what we are doing without your support. We are also very grateful to our staff who work with us in all aspects of these activities, without them we could not cover such a huge area with very bad road conditions. We in Liberia want to wish Sr. Mary Mullin well on her return to Ireland after spending nearly twenty years with us in Guinea and Liberia. We are all missing her greatly!!
We extend a belated Christmas greeting and a wonderful 2018 to you all.
From: The Voinjama Sisters
(Ann Kelly, Bridget Lacey, Felicitas Ogbodo, Loretha Michael)
Be the change you wish to see in the world (Gandhi)