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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
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 ccamps 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.