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“The joy of the gospels fill the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. A joy ever new.A joy that is shared.” Pope Francis
Address: Holy Rosary Sisters,Voinjama, Liberia.
Regional Leader: Sister Felicitas Ogbodo Telephone 00231 008 290 188
Social Empowerment through Learning, Liberia (SELL) is a partner organisation to MSHR Liberia. One of the fundamental programmes is Literacy. In addition to learning to read and write, SELL is one of the avenues we use to reach rural communities and support them in addressing social issues. The Literacy facilitators reside in the communities where they conduct classes, which helps them to make a positive impact.
Letter from Sister Bridget Lacey and the Holy Rosary Sisters working in Voinjama.
Dear Sisters and Friends
I write at this time to bring you up to date on the situation in Liberia with regard to COVID 19. You all know only too well the situation in your own countries and hopefully the curve is being flattened every day so that the world gets through this crisis. But Africa is in a different position.
The country I can give some information on first hand is Liberia. Unfortunately, I am stranded in Ireland as I arrived at the beginning of March for vacation for six weeks; within ten days of my arrival Ireland almost came to a standstill, so now I am like many other people ‘working from home’ but unfortunately this is not home for me! It is possible for me to keep in touch with the sisters and colleagues in Liberia as the mobile network is much improved now compared to 2014 when Ebola struck West Africa.
To give you a picture of the medical situation in Liberia if people contract COVID 19 – there are no ICU beds and no ventilators in the country to help seriously sick people survive this virus. The government has put some measures in place – schools, colleges, churches, mosques etc are closed, the number allowed to travel in a taxi is reduced, no big gatherings are allowed etc. Liberia has only six cases so far and to date there has been no information re a case here in Lofa County where we live. So our main aim is to help people remain safe from the virus.
Our action plan is to engage our literacy facilitators, and all our teams, to educate and motivate the population of the four districts where we work to take seriously the protocols for safety and protection, in light of the fact that there is constant travelling between Monrovia and Lofa. Hence the threat of the virus coming to Lofa is very high. In addition, people have relatives in Monrovia and they believe that they are safer in the interior when unknown sickness appears. The additional barrier to taking seriously the protocols for safety and protection are the “myths” circulating among the people about the virus. Many believe for example that it is the “end time” and that we can only pray to God and that’s adequate!
The facilitators will walk from village to village every day as there is no transport to most of these places; we are hoping to work in 300 villages and 3 cities targeting approximately 30,00 people!! The awareness will address beliefs that inhibit good hygiene. We will meet the villagers in their homes and environment and share formally and informally the reality of the virus and the need to protect ourselves, our children and our neighbours. In addition, we will address the fears that also prevent people from treating ordinary sickness. We will liaise with the county health team and give them relevant information from the villages that we have visited.
Of course, we are hoping that COVID 19 will be contained in Liberia because otherwise it will be a disaster. We are asking you to help us in what ever way you can to continue with our awareness in the villages as there will be many needs to be met when everything is in lockdown. There are no social services available to people in Liberia. This crisis gives us all an opportunity to work together no matter what part of the world we are in. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers as we all struggle to get through these months.
Sister Bridget Lacey (on behalf of the sisters in Voinjama)
In 2018 we had 57 women graduating in the literacy classes – an occasion of great joy and pride for the women and for their families too!
Advocacy and Land Rights
One of our recent engagements through the Literacy Programme was the campaign for the passing of the Land Rights Act. Following the Land Rights Policy of 2013 the Liberian Land Commission drafted a Bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in 2017. This deviated from the the Policy, and Civil Society Organisations, including SELL, worked together for it to be revised, to safeguard customary land rights. Signatures were collected from the population to support the recommendations (SELL got over 60,000 signatures in three districts in Lofa County – the highest number collected by any civil organisation). After a series of open hearings, debates and consultations, 80% of the recommendations were passed. Continuous efforts are made by SELL to ensure that the Bill is implemented – a difficult task as government and influential private entities try to manipulate the rural communities and acquire their land.
Co-habitation Rights of Women
The number of cohabiting couples continues to rise, and these women have no rights to their partner’s property. If he dies they have no support to bring up their children. This intervention seeks the passage of the cohabiting bill to protect and support the women. At present information is being gathered from various communities.
Prevention of Child Labour
The main aim of this intervention is to create a safe environment for children who learn skills in garages, carpenter shops, welding shops, hair saloons, tailor shops etc. Some children are deprived of their right to education, to live with their parents and other basic needs. In some shops corporal punishment is used as disciplinary measures. The children were met in their different learning areas with permission from their masters. During the sessions with the children, codes were used to facilitate discussions and sharing of their experiences at the shop and at home. Sometimes they were facilitated to draw. Children’s homes were also visited. Through these activities, information was gathered and workshops were then held for their masters as well as their parents to create more awareness on the rights of children as stipulated in the Child Act of Liberia.
Formal Education and the Parish
Many schools were destroyed during the civil war and rebuilding the education system is a slow process. The Parish runs St Joseph Primary and Secondary school in Voinjama and Sister Loretho has been appointed vice-principal of the High School, which gives her the opportunity to impact positively on the lives of the students. Our Parish has no resident priest, but a priest visits from a neighbouring parish and sometimes from Sierra Leone for big occasions. We are therefore much involved in parish catechetical work and visiting out-stations for communion services on Sundays.
Two thousand and sixteen was a year of recovery and thanksgiving in Liberia. We escorted Ebola from our territory and assessed the impact on lives, young and old. We took stock of our economic devastation. The real testimony, however, must go to the resilience of the human spirit that finds a space in their heart to give thanks and look forward to tomorrow!!
Post Ebola Responses
We, MSHR, began our response to post Ebola with a project that reached out to schools in all the devastated villages. There, through a creative response we worked with all the children through short stories, drawing, singing and role play on the pain of what they had experienced. The response of the children and staff was overwhelming. The Bill on Child Protection was also part of the project with the staff, Parent Teacher Association and the children. We were warmly welcomed into the schools by the Ministry of Education and the school principals.
Land Rights for all
Our Land Rights project continues to build awareness on the rights of women to access and inherit their land and the land of their husbands. Liberia has passed a very progressive Land Rights Policy but promulgation and implementation is the main obstacle. Land grabbing is one of the greatest challenges facing Liberia. In addition, a perception of development that sees big companies as the heart of Liberia’s economic recovery. Hence, little emphasis is given to small farmers and the protection of customary land rights, that is, land that is owned by the local community. One of the major obstacles to the protection of customary land is the cost of surveying the land of the village. The awareness in the project in addition to analysing the rights of women places emphasis on the need for all to know their boundaries and have good relations with their neighbors – all of which are requisites for surveying land.
We work in the informal educational sector through Literacy. We have approximately one thousand women in the program. The method used is social analysis. The stories center around the issues facing women in the social context in which they live. We have seen a remarkable change in the villages where there is a literacy center in terms of women organising, articulating and seeking their rights and virtually ending domestic abuse in their respective villages. The method of social analysis was the one used in our Ebola awareness program in approximately three hundred villages. Skills such as weaving and soap making are also allied to the literacy program. Both are marketable skills and very much appreciated by the women. Our literacy program, due to the method of social analysis, allows us to address a wide variety of social issues in all that we do. Misean Cara financed a research project on our Ebola awareness program with particular emphasis on the method used. The researcher was very well received by the beneficiaries and facilitators. The report will be available to all donors and to the congregation in due course. The outcome of the research was very positive. We thank all our private donors who have worked with us consistently over the years. You have made it possible for us to respond creatively and long term to the challenges facing all in Lofa, Liberia. We are here for the long haul; hence we are able to use our wonderful resource of staff to reach out during crises such as Ebola. Due to this relationship with the villages we are blessed with creditability and acceptance. We also wish to thank misean cara who have funded us and worked with us during our time here in Liberia. Misean Cara funded a radio documentary here in Lofa County on our involvement in Ebola. The documentary is available as a podcast on www.newstalk.com titled ‘Back from the Brink’.
In 2007 the Holy Rosary Sisters came to Liberia.
The civil conflict which had engulfed Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia was coming to an end, and the vast number of people who had been living in United Nations sponsored refugee camps were anxious to return home. The sisters, who had set up a local NGO working in the camps, decided to return with them. So they came to Voinjama in Lofa County in Liberia. Here they were able to help the people rebuild their lives, while maintaining contact with their former co-workers across the borders.
It was not an easy homecoming. but the sisters were able to work with the people and give leadership training.
They began with the “literacy project” which centred on social analysis and development. This led on to micro-finance and skills training, and to the “land project”: educating people about the land policy in Liberia, about their rights, and about deeding land. Training leaders to work side by side with them, the sisters reached out to people in 60 villages in Lofa County. The majority of those taking part in the projects were women, and we could see light and life returning to their lives.
Then came Ebola. Nobody knew how it came or how it was transmitted. There was no cure. The painful messages about not shaking hands, not touching the sick,not preparing the bodies of those who had died before burial, were hard to take in. But in village after village the people responded: “You have always told us the truth before. We have to believe you now.” The network of villages and leaders already trained faced the new tragedy heroically, and were able to connect even the remotest villages with Medicin sans Frontiers and other agencies. After many months at last there came a time when no new cases of Ebola were reported. But how great were the losses! So many bereavements.
“My soul is bereft of peace: I have forgotten what happiness is. . . but this I remember, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:17-26.
During the year of daily struggle we were upheld by the prayers and wonderful generosity of our supporters and benefactors, truly co-missionaries with us. Now a new phase of life begins as wework to connect orphans with distant family members and strive to build life anew with the people.
As we face into the future,Ann and Bridget continue the literacy and development programs with the women, assisted by Sister Felicitas Ogbodo. Education must resume for the young, and Sister Mary Mullin works with elementary school teachers to improve their skills. Sister Loretho Michael teaches in the Catholic High School, which we got help to rebuild after the war. It is a co-educational school and Loretho is the only woman on the staff.
“Encourage the children! Always encourage them, and they will do wonders.” That is Sister Mary’s message to the elementary school teachers at the workshops to improve their skills. The teachers come from the Arabic school, the Community school, the Catholic school and thePublic school.
Felicitas and a co-worker work with school children in the Post Ebola affected schools in Voinjama District. They help the children to tell stories, sing, role play, draw, and play. Some of the children have lost family members and the others are in the village where many people died of Ebola. There is no distinction made between those who directly lost family members and those who did not. All are suffering trauma as a result of the Ebola catastrophe.
Loretha teaches English in St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Voinjama. These photos are of Loretha teaching Grade 11. The classes are huge – maybe 70 students per class. She also provides psychosocial support to many students who are facing problems. Teaching is extremely difficult given the lack of resources and equipment needed. Another problem the students face is that many of the students in the higher classes are self supporters – this means they have to provide for themselves which gives them very little time to concentrate on their education.
Copyright Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary