Friday, December 18, 2009

The New LOEP Team

As you may notice from the latest entries, the LOEP Training Team has been very busy and there is a lot to tell those of you who follow the blog and watch our work. The next few blog posts will be an effort to bring all up to date on the 2010 LOEP Teacher Training slated for February, 2010 at Lott Carey Mission School in Brewerville, Liberia.

Introducing the LOEP Training Team 2010

Karen Darner - is retired from Arlington County Schools where she was a Speech Pathologist and taught Special Education. Karen's experience is so valuable and such an asset to LOEP that even on the plane from Liberia last winter, we began plotting how to persuade her to join this year's team. It did not take much convincing. A former Peace Corps Volunteer (Jamaica), Karen took one look at our pictures of Liberian kids and she was on board! Working with Emmalee, Beth and Phylis, Karen developed the special needs component of the 2010 Training. Karen lives in Arlington, VA and is a member of Clarendon Methodist Church.

Emmalee Iden – develops and manages education programs for the Atlanta Opera and spends her spare time working on developing networking and funding opportunities for LOEP. She was a middle school teacher and while she was a graduate student she developed the Mobile Classroom concept (roots of LOEP). She was able to see that concept fully developed with the training last year which was based on principles and concepts using materials in the Mobile Classroom units for Pre-K through third grade. Emmalee lives in Atlanta, GA and maintains her life-long connection to Browntown Baptist Church in VA.

Brenda Bush-Weeks –A founding member of LOEP, Brenda's Liberian heritage and her commitment to orphans and vulnerable children in Liberia are an invaluable asset to LOEP's board of directors. She accompanied the Training Team last year and hosted team members there with family and friends – strengthening LOEP's valuable relationships in Liberia. Brenda, a life-long Methodist, is the mother of five children, is a writer for CNN, and lives in Atlanta, GA.

Jacob Madehdou- Executive Director of the Liberia Education Project, Inc. (LEP) brings unique and valuable perspective to the LOEP Training Team and he will have a special role in the LOEP 2010 training. Jacob will work as a training coach in small-group format with LOEP Teacher Trainers, helping them prepare to conduct supplemental LOEP trainings (professional development) throughout the year with their colleagues at Lott Carey, AAMOM and CRM schools. Jacob is a member of Somerton United Methodist Church and lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Phylis Benner – a founding member of LOEP and Senior Trainer, Phylis develops training materials and coordinates training with LOEP Teacher Trainers in Liberia. Her expertise in teacher training and her solid background in Early Childhood Education is the foundation of LOEP's Teacher Training programs. Phylis was the Lead Trainer on last year's team. This year her LOEP role will be U.S.-based. She will coordinate post-training observations (using follow-up video and U.S.-based trainers) and teacher trainer coaching. Phylis lives in Richmond, VA where she is a member of Ridge Baptist Church.

Beth Iden – As a founder of LOEP and LOEP Training Team Leader, Beth's job is to keep all the many loose ends of a LOEP training tied neatly. Beth and Gary (a U.S.-based LOEP team member) live in Browntown, VA and are members of Browntown Baptist Church.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My how time flies!

I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I first saw the green, lush countryside of Liberia. Never have I anticipated anything as much as I did that landing on Liberian soil last February. I will never forget the feeling I had landing at Robertsfield Airport. The sight, the sound, the smell… it’s something I will always remember.

The weeks that I spent in Liberia flew by entirely too quickly and it was so terribly difficult to leave when the time came! As I held back tears on the plane leaving Monrovia (ok, so I was trying to hold them back and not doing such a good job at it!) Mom and I reminded each other that we would be returning in 2010 and that there was plenty of LOEP work to keep us busy and connected in the US.

It has been a busy 10 months – we were right, there was a lot to do to prepare for the next round of training! Now here we are, nearing the end of 2009 and it’s almost time to go back. I have been thinking about my friends in Liberia so much and can’t wait to get back there! The administration at Lott Carey has been working so hard these past 10 months to implement the techniques and strategies we introduced in the training last year. The teachers have been working hard to engage their students in the learning process. I can’t wait to see the progress that has been made and help take them to the next level!

I am certainly looking forward to enjoying time with family and friends this Christmas season, but a large part of my mind has already fast forwarded to the time I will soon spend with the LOEP family in that beautiful, irrepressible and hopeful country in a much less materialistic part of the world. In the meantime, pictures and emails will suffice until our February departure!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Commitment and Focus

As the folks in New Orleans can attest, re-building from complete devastation is a daunting task that takes an extraordinary level of commitment and focus. Our Liberian partners are re-building their nation from the ground up with limited resources and LOEP exists to help that effort in a very specific way. LOEP offers assistance to our Liberian partners in their effort to "build a community of learners" within the broader national context of re-building.

LOEP also works with very limited resources. To keep focus on our purpose of providing educational support as cost-efficiently as possible, LOEP is constantly evaluating, reviewing and assessing our own programs and how our partners make use of the assistance we can offer in building their own community of learners within their institutions. Part of the 2009 training program included an evaluation process that helps us answer key questions about how institutions use LOEP training. Is LOEP training effective for teachers? Are teachers using new techniques in the classroom? Are the new concepts understood and embraced by teachers who receive training? Are LOEP-trained teachers encouraged to introduce their colleagues to new concepts and new techniques? Are school administrators engaged in the training process? Are school administrators actively supportive of new techniques and concepts in their institutions?

We work with schools whose teachers and administrators are committed to building a community of learners within their own institutions. Teacher by teacher, student by student, school by school – setting the building blocks to build a community of learners in Liberia requires focus and commitment at every level.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A New Generation

In a recent post, we highlighted the Kindergarten graduation at CRM's school. The pictures of the little ones in their graduation attire are adorable, of course. Yet, there is another interesting aspect to this event that makes it important to a broader audience than families and friends of the graduates.

These children are the leading edge of a post-war generation – they represent the first children in a generation to go to school in peace in Liberia and they are the first children in Liberia whose leader looks like a mother, not a father. It will be interesting to watch how the influence of peace and women's empowerment will change the lives of these children as the nation pulls out of its long period of strife, chaos and war.

Already there are clear signs of major positive changes in the culture. The CRM graduation picture shows a nearly 50-50 ratio of boys to girls- evidence of the newly embraced issue of equal educational opportunity for girls and boys. Under the leadership of President Johnson-Sirleaf and the influence of international emphasis on improved opportunity for women, there is a conscious national effort to educate girls. Educational institutions and educators are committed to educating the entire nation (not just the male half), and cultural values are changing also. Lott Carey Mission School, where LOEP will be training teachers in February, 2010, is a progressive institution whose web site proudly claims a 48-50 girl-boy ratio.

The CRM graduation indicates far more than a personal milestone for those little graduates - it represents a national milestone for Liberia raising a generation of children in peace who accept equal opportunity for both genders.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Your Christmas Card List!

Char Turner has unveiled her new series of cards for this year's holiday greetings and they are really stunning! Beautiful paper with original designs that bring the seasonal message of Peace and Love perfectly!

Her orders are coming in quickly so if you want a very meaningful, very unique gift, place your order soon. She can only produce so many of these beautiful, original-art-suitable-for-gift-giving items. Link to her web site in the previous post.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Handmade Art for Orphans

Paper artist, Char Turner, has dedicated all sales of her beautiful Christmas and Holiday art work to the LOEP 2010 Teacher Training trip. Char's work is so unique - the organic nature of handmade paper with petroglyph style prints is evocative of the natural, earthiness of Africa itself. Her art work is totally committed to the improvement life for Liberian orphans and has supported the construction of bunk beds, the development of vocational and agricultural programs and has provided for shipments of seeds for orphanages, among other projects.

Go to her web site and check out the beautiful cards for all ocassions, Christmas cards (proceeds will all go to LOEP teacher training) and the other handmade paper items she makes. Send a special holiday greeting this year - a beautiful piece of original art that will also help teachers train to teach Liberian orphans!

Her web site: http://causeforcreation.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Graduation and on to College!

CRM Director Sam Kargbo sent these wonderful pictures of children graduating from the CRM elementary school that serves orphans at CRM and children in the surrounding community. The children pictured in their graduation garb will continue their schooling at a community high school in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia where CRM is located.
The great pictures also held good news from a CRM alum who has been introduced in previous entries on this blog. Hawa, a war orphan who was raised at the CRM orphanage, is the lovely young woman pictured with one of the gowned graduates. She has served as a role model, big sister and best friend to other children at CRM since she arrived as an orphaned toddler. Hawa enters University of Liberia in December to begin pre-nursing studies to eventually reach her career goal of resident health care professional for CRM. Graduation at CRM was really a great event for all!

The pictures were accompanied by the following message from CRM Director Sam Kargbo:

"Greetings and best wishes to you all. Please find attached photos of the July, 2009 graduation at CRM. This is all because you care."
Sniff, sniff - sentimental and touching - just like in-person graduations!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gearing Up to Go Again

Ever since the LOEP Teacher Training Team returned from the February, 2009 training, we have been preparing for the 2010 training. After a brief two-week period to settle back into regular routines last March, we got going again. Since then a new training team has been assembled and has designed a new training program for 2010. It has been particularly busy these past couple of months. Gathering donated school supplies, working on equipment and producing training materials to send ahead in the shipment has made for a busy summer. Because of shipping schedules, we have to have most of the training program completely packed up and sent off so it can be there waiting for our arrival in January, 2010.

One of our friends is a devoted mission supporter who has chosen to spend her retirement giving to others through her own type of mission work. Mary Stokes, pictured below, makes amazing items to send to Mexico, Jamaica and Liberia. She has friends all over the world who keep in touch with her and send her pictures of her wonderful donations being used in schools, orphanages, clinics and hospitals in farflung places. In addition to keeping her sewing machine busy making useful items, Mary purchases school supplies to send to orphans in orphans schools in Liberia. This week-end we arranged to be with Mary and picked up the equivalent of two carloads of stuff she has purchased and made to send to Liberian children. Some of her donations will be used for the 2010 teacher training. Mary is a real inspiration and one of many whose compassion allows for generous support so LOEP can continue education support programs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Family is Business in Liberia

This link leads to a fine account of business in Liberia and why business development is so critical to stabilizing the nation. It is also a very moving statement about industriousness, conscientousness and family loyalty and responsibility in Liberia.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

4-H in Liberia

One piece of advice we received before we left was to take pictures of home and family with us to Liberia to show our hosts. We dutifully made up albums of our children and families and one of my photos featured a 4-H barn with the 4-H clover symbol painted on the side (it is the centerpiece building of the Southwestern 4-H Center where Win - Emmalee's brother - works). When Mrs. Rosa Allen saw that picture her eyes lit up and she exclaimed "Oh, 4-H!". Then she burst into song. As it turned out, 4-H played a big part in her childhood and she has very fond memories of it. She even remembered the 4-H song she learned in 6th grade.
We spent some time sharing 4-H stories - Rosa raised rabbits, planted gardens and developed a rice field, she said. It was clear from her enthusiasm that Rosa had wonderful memories of 4-H and it played a very large and positive part in her childhood. She asked if it would be possible to bring 4-H to Lott Carey School and establish a 4-H Club there for the students.
It occurred to us that Rosa singing the 4-H song should be captured on film. Several days later, after she overcame some reluctance and rehearsed a bit, she allowed us to record her rendition of the childhood song and submitted to a brief interview.
This lady really loves 4-H!

Mrs. Allen is a very fine school administrator. She coordinated the teacher training workshop and supervised the library children's section renovation when the LOEP team was there. This video was done in the book storage room as we unpacked boxes of donated books and worked on the library project.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If it can be done with polio, why not malaria

The World Health Organization announced the other day that it is launching a polio vaccination campaign in selected counties in Liberia. The Liberian counties where children will be vaccinated are adjacent to the border of Guinea where there has been an outbreak of polio. The initiative in Liberia is a preventative measure to keep Liberia polio-free - there have been no cases there since 2006, according to WHO officials.

If vaccinations can keep Liberia polio-free just think what those sleeping nets could do against malaria if every child had them.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cause for Creation

Supporting educational efforts for orphans and vulnerable children in Liberia requires a network of partners and a whole lot of dedicated, committed folks. One of LOEP's partners is Cause for Creation, a business of artist Char Turner whose original artwork is 100 percent dedicated to children in Liberia. Char's art work has made an enormous difference in the lives of children in Liberia. Sales of her original prints and handmade cards have funded bunk beds for children at AAMOM, a library at CRM, teacher training at Lott Carey Mission School and countless other projects that have directly benefitted the health and welfare of orphans in Liberia. Check out her web site. Turner original prints make a stunning impact matted and framed on the wall. Cause for Creation greeting cards are a beautiful statement of compassion for the receiver and make a difference in the lives of children.

Link to Cause for Creation: http://causeforcreation.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Getting ready

The picture shows Rev. Sam-Peal unpacking the Classroom-in-a-Box units used for the LOEP teacher Training in February, 2009. The Classroom-in-a-Box units were packed in Summer, 2008, shipped in October 2008, and unpacked in February, 2009 when we arrived in Liberia for training.

The Classroom-in-a-Box units each contain subject-specific materials - one is math/science and the other language arts/social studies, for example. This particular pair of units also shared a "Teddy Bears" theme based on the generous donation of 30plus teddy bears from a Fredericksburg merchant and donation of hand made costumes for each bear from a LOEP supporter. The Language arts/social studies unit included story books and instructional materials with bears and woodland themes. The math/science unit included "counting bears" color/counting games (top picture) and environmental lessons on preserving bear and other animal habitat. Part of the learning process for young children is creative play and teddy bears with fancy, fun costumes certainly filled a good part of that requirement.
LOEP training is based on subject matter and focused on how students learn so each classroom-in-a-box unit is filled with instructional materials and companion lesson plans that are coordinated with the concepts and principles in the LOEP Teacher Training. This means that our training program, training materials and the classroom-in-a-box units have to be ready months in advance for shipment so all will be there and ready when we arrive in Liberia for the training.
Developing a single LOEP Teacher training requires a full 12 month timeline
We have been preparing since April for the next training trip in January, 2010, putting together the first shipment of instructional materials. School supply donations are coming in and every evening we are sorting and packing for the first May shipment - we will deliver it to the shipper this week-end for shipment next week from Baltimore, MD. A second September-October, 2009 shipment of training handbooks, training guides and instructional materials for hands-on teaching and demonstrating will follow this Fall.
The January, 2010 training is geared to teachers in upper Elementary, Middle and High School grades so the themes and materials are very different from cute little costumed bears.
All the same, packing on this side and opening boxes on the other side is like Christmas!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Future docs and nurses need Science

Liberia's future health care professionals? How will they learn the science necessary to succeed?
This is the Lott Carey Mission School science laboratory. It was a functioning school lab classroom before the war but has been essentially useless as a lab for years now. Re-construction and repair has stalled due to lack of funds and physical plant limitations. Teaching science with experiments, scientific inquiry, hands-on learning - difficult and limited without basic science equipment. Students are taught science from the blackboard, copying notes and memorizing.

The sign on the door of the Biology Classroom refers to the room's past use when there was equipment and text books to support science study. Clearly there is not much opportunity for biology experiments now.
The above pictures illustrate a major problem for Liberia in particular and Africa in general:

How can serious students of science - future doctors, nurses, dentists, therapists and other health care professionals - be produced by schools with such limitations for hands-on learning in science?

Teaching science through observation, using available materials such as plants, animals, weather and stars, study of the human body with illustrated texts can produce well-rounded students with adequate general knowledge of science but not enough science to become a doctor or a researcher in the scientific world of today. Students with an inadequate science foundation cannot withstand competitive admission policies at universities and, for the few who do enter academic science programs, their prospects for finishing are not good. They start out too far behind to catch up to other students from strong secondary school science programs.

Lott Carey Mission School Superintendent Rev. Emile Sam-Peal agrees with other experts who are concerned that development in Africa will continue to lag if medical care does not improve.

Children who are taught in inadequate science education facilities are simply not inspired and able to study the type of science that produces doctors and nurses.

Before war broke out in 1989, there were 250 licensed doctors practicing in Liberia. Now medical care for Liberia's three and a half million people consists of;

· 50 Liberian doctors, according to UN estimates. There are also about 75-100 doctors serving with missions, NGOs and other aid groups.
· Three hospitals in Monrovia - one of those was converted from a war-ruined school into a small hospital with 150 beds and one operating room. The largest is a war-ruined medical facility of 1970s vintage with intermittent electricity, among other severe limitations.
· NGOs that operate more than 70 percent of health care facilities in Liberia
There is a major push to shore up Liberia's health care system and the Ministry of Health is highly respected in a nation where the public's trust in government bureaucracy is generally low. But where are the doctors and nurses going to come from? Science studies in Liberia's schools are out-of-date and facilities woefully inadequate.

Living and Dying in Liberia

One of the questions we are frequently asked about our time in Liberia is: "Is it safe there"? Generally the question refers to personal safety from violence, threats of left-over war unrest, etc. The answer for us is an emphatic, yes, we felt very safe personally and never felt personally threatened or even uneasy – we only felt welcomed. Liberians are exceedingly friendly, appreciative and hospitable. Our host was protective and solicitous and our job to train teachers meant we spent most of our time at school with quiet evenings at home working on the next day's training program. (Our host was protective but that didn’t keep him from working us hard - it was great!)

Personal safety and protection from violence is not the only measure of safety, though, and we were very aware of personal, individual vulnerability in a nation where there are no emergency services and access to health care is minimal. There are no rescue services with ambulances, fire trucks, etc. in Liberia. The only ambulances we saw with sirens and lights going during our time there were provided by NGOs such as Doctors without Borders and UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia). It was not clear how the patient in those vehicles qualified for help and a race to the hospital but certainly such access is extremely limited – only available to the average person by chance or some luck of the draw.

Traffic and driving is chaotic and wrecks often result in horrible death and injury with only passersby to administer first aid or assistance. We happened upon one auto wreck and, before I turned away with a lurching feeling in my chest, I saw a motorcycle under the front wheels of a Hummer-type NGO vehicle. The motorcycle tried to take a turn, passing close on the inside and ended under the wheels of the much larger, heavier vehicle. A crowd had already gathered and people were trying to be helpful and provide what assistance they could. There was much shouting, gesturing and it seemed an effort to pull something/one from under the vehicle was underway. Here in the U.S. such a crowd would likely be waiting quietly for trained medical personnel in the ambulance speeding to the rescue. In Liberia there is no rescue – they know they are on their own.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Library

In the picture below, little Tracy "reads" a book to Rev. Sam-Peal in the new Children's section of the school library. Books were still being unpacked and sorted to be put on the newly cleaned and painted shelves when this picture was taken.This picture of Emmalee and one of the trainees chatting is how the library looked before the transformation. This picture was taken during the training workshop. The book shelves on the end wall are where the Children's Section is now located.

Lott Carey Mission School is blessed with a lovely library building. While we were there the library doubled as the training space so we spent a lot of hours in that room. As the pictures show, it is a long, high-ceilinged room with long, handmade, mahogany reading tables like those that used to be in most libraries in the U.S. Windows (with no glass) on both sides of the room provide nice cross-ventilation (although that natural cross-breeze was supplemented with large fans as a courtesy for those of us used to air conditioning). Tall book shelves are located at the front and at the back of the room.

Public libraries are not common in Africa and are non-existent in Liberia so there is no concept of the library as an open, accessible place. Even in schools, the library is not generally used by students in the way that it is available to students in U.S. schools where weekly library day is the norm and students can spend hours doing research or studying.

The LOEP training team worked with Rev. Sam-Peal and his administrative staff to begin transformation of Lott Carey's library into a student-friendly space starting with a children's section for the youngest students. Cheerful vinyl flooring covered the bare concrete, shelves were re-varnished and walls painted. Little tables and chairs were placed and books were unpacked and cheerful reading posters were placed on the walls. Other sections for older age groups with study areas and research sections will be added as there are resources available.
The pictures show remarkable change that took place in just a few short days due to the commitment of Lott Carey's leaders, Rev. Sam-Peal, Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Banks, who are determined that their school will be a place where children can grow and learn and where the library is a friendly, accessible place.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thoughts for Mother's Day

Click on this:



The lovely little girl pictured in the new Children's Section of Lott Carey School library is Tracy. Tracy is in pre-Kindergarten and has just started her studies at Lott Carey. She is, quite simply, a remarkable child.

The LOEP team and Tracy spent a delightful afternoon in the Lott Carey library sorting books and setting up the Children's Section (more about that in another post) while Tracy "read" book after book. She could not get enough of those books! Selecting a book from the sorting pile, she pointed to each letter, whispering the letter to herself and once all the words on the page were "read" she examined the picture. Occasionally she would come to one of us with a dazzling smile, point to the picture and talk about the story. We were impressed that this kindergartener could spend an entire afternoon fully engaged in this solitary, quiet activity and seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

Tracy is hearing impaired in a country where deafness is viewed with suspicion and with less sympathy and tolerance than other disabilities. Deaf infants and children are sometimes abandoned and sign language is almost completely unknown so the deaf have no language and no way to communicate with the hearing world.

Tracy lives with her grandmother, one of Lott Carey's excellent administrators, who is determined that Tracy will have the advantage of an education. Little Tracy is no less determined, it seems. She completed her pre-school education in a school where there was no accommodation for her hearing impairment -she learned by watching and absorbing whatever she could. Amazingly, she is at or above her grade level in all areas and has been accepted into Lott Carey although there is no accommodation for deaf students in that school either. With no classroom accommodation for hearing impairment, students like Tracy begin slipping behind their peers and fall farther and farther behind.

LOEP is working on a teacher training program that will help teachers at Lott Carey and partner orphan schools accommodate their teaching and classrooms for deaf and hearing impaired students like Tracy.

Tracy is fortunate to have family/school support because children with hearing impairment are not unusual in Liberia and most do not have a support system. Tricia, an American teacher of the deaf who was recently in Liberia writes: Presently, there are no statistics available as to how many people are deaf or who have a hearing loss in Liberia. If audiologists are available in the country, many do not see them, so there are no statistics on the causes of deafness. But talking to the Principal of the Hope school, David Worlobah, and going through student information sheets, I found that most of the students became deaf after an illness or due to loud noises during the war. These illnesses consisted of malaria, typhoid, or Lassa fever. With these diseases, a high fever is likely, which can cause deafness. Deafness that could be preventable.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Literary Liberia

A good on-line literary magazine by and about Liberians


Literary Liberia

In the past year there have been several books published by Liberians who want to tell the story of their country's recent difficult history. We can recommend the following for those who want some insight and for just good, interesting and, at times gripping, reading.

Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf has recently been on tour here in the U.S. touting her just-published memoir, This Child Will be Great. Her book has had some mixed reviews but there is no disagreement on the fact that she is an amazing, strong and determined woman. Her life story is remarkable and from that standpoint alone her memoir is undoubtedly worth reading. I have to confess I have not read it yet but have read every review I can find and heard every interview with her on television and radio. Can't wait to read the book.

Blue Clay People, by William Powers is written by an American who lived in Liberia working for an NGO shortly after the war ended. It gives a good account of Liberia from an American's perspective. I found much in common with Powers account of his impressions and his response to Liberia. Also had some differences of opinion and reaction but the book is well-written and very interesting.

The House at Sugar Beach, by Helene Cooper is a fascinating account of Helene's childhood in Liberia which ended abruptly with political turmoil and brutality. Cooper explains the Americo-Liberian, Congo, Country social class system that exists in Liberia from her own point of view as one who was of the privileged elite. Her explanation was very helpful for me in terms of understanding how the political situation in Liberia evolved. Cooper and LOEP Board Member Brenda Bush-Weeks grew up together in Liberia and attended school together there.

Redemption Road, by Elma Shaw is a novel (unlike those mentioned above). It takes on the difficult subject of recovery from war in Liberia. I have not read this one yet either but Rev. Emile Sam-Peal highly recommended it and said he could not put it down. Of course, his perspective is entirely different from what mine would probably be but all other reviews concur. It is the next one on my list.

For several years now I have been reading all things Liberia which has been mostly somewhat dry history, highly charged political rhetoric or ex-pat blogs. There just has not been that much available until now. The 14 years of war and the long period of political upheaval leading up to the war has changed that and a new genre of Liberian literature seems to be developing. There are incredible stories everywhere in Liberia. War survival, political turmoil and even ex-pat accounts of good works are all more interesting with a Liberian backdrop - probably because the incredible stories are true.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bea has a Business Plan and Original Designs

Our first day in Liberia we met Bea who arrived at our guest house armed with her portfolios and seamstress tools. She measured each of us and we selected a design from her huge portfolio of styles. Liberian custom is no pattern- just pick out a picture of the style you like and within 48 hours a beautiful, custom fitted garment is yours.

Bea's immaculate, well-organized home/business is a single room that functions as sewing studio, fitting room for clients and her personal sleeping/living quarters. We spent such a fun afternoon there thumbing through fashion magazines (to pick out styles for ourselves), having head ties and shoulder pieces styled and oohing and aahing over the beautiful fabrics and sample garments and designs she was preparing for an upcoming fashion show.

Our gracious host, Rev. Sam-Peal, was well-prepared to take care of his three women guests and anticipated our every need. Based on his experience with other female foreign guests, he made arrangements for us to acquire African dresses before we even arrived on Liberian soil. Our host, as it turns out, is quite the fashion consultant! Emile's suggestions for what we should have Bea make for us had us howling with laughter!

Bea is a full-time undergraduate student at University of Liberia studying for her Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. Despite the challenges of unreliable electricity (she often finishes garments by candlelight in order to meet the Liberian standard 48-hour deadline for custom-tailored clothing), tuition payments, and unsteady income, she has developed a viable business plan for her stunning custom styles and designs.

Bea designs exquisite decorative stitch work very popular on African clothing. She has limited access (late nights, other odd times) to a rented machine for the intricate, original stitchery work and rental costs seriously erode her very slim profit margin.

There is a group of professional women working with LOEP to develop options such as micro loans to assist this talented, hard-working woman with her business plan. Contact me for more information on how to become involved.

Keepin' it Real

We know so many Liberians who inspire us with their work ethic, their unshakable faith and optimism about the future. Here in the U.S. there is fear and concern about the economic situation and it helps keep it all in perspective for some of us to think about those resilient Liberian friends who manage to continue "keepin' it real". From time to time we share those stories here so our readers can gain that insight and perspective from our friends. Just our effort at keepin' it real.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Education is Key

Liberia's enlightened and progressive educators recognize how critical it is to educate the next generation if Liberia is to avoid falling back into the abyss of war and chaos. They are racing against time and circumstances with no resources and they know it. Rev. Emile Sam-Peal, Miss Rosa Allen and Miss Pandura Banks, administrators at Lott Carey Mission School, are among the dedicated Liberian educators who continue to push forward against tremendous obstacles. Their professionalism, belief in the power of knowledge and commitment to education is nothing short of inspiring.

This links http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=84052 to an excellent article that clearly states the case for most of West Africa. One point that really puts the issue in perspective as it relates to Liberia's future stability:

"Education activist and former child soldier in Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah, told IRIN: 'Education is not only something to get a career or change your socio-economic status, but it is a way you can begin to understand your government and demand more of it.' ”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Postings from "Trainer Heaven" at LCMS

We have more great news from "Trainer Heaven" at Lott Carey Mission School. LCMS teachers are enthusiastically putting their training into practice. LOEP's teacher training included understanding individual learning styles and lesson planning with activities - an essential part of the child-centered learning approach. Rosa Allen, LCMS Principal of Instruction sent an encouraging report the other day. She writes:

I must share this experience with you before the day ends.
Miss Harvey took her Nursery class outside to show them the Flag of Liberia as part of her Social Studies lessons. She explained that the Liberian flag has three colors, red, white and blue. During the "field trip" to see the Liberian Flag hoisted on the school grounds, she asked the class, how many colors do you see in the Liberian flag? Every one said three, red, white and blue; but Mary Tuam, aged three and the half, piped up, "Miss Harvey, the flag has four colors, red, white, blue and yellow" (the Liberian Flag at LCM has yellow fringes around the edges).
The next day Miss. Harvey took me outside and asked me, Mrs. Allen, "how many colors do you see on the Liberian Flag"? I said "three, red white and blue." "What about the yellow fringes," she asked. I couldn't answer. We decided to ask the ROTC teacher, Capt. Dorothy Gray, and Mr. James Sango, Art/Craft teacher for help on the topic. Both of them are retired from the Armed Forces of Liberia and teach at LCM. I also went online to get additional information to share with all.
This experience was very exciting. Here is what Miss Harvey said, "I observed that Mary is a visual learner".. I asked what else she felt she could have done with the lesson. She said that she should have visited the site to carry out a thorough investigation before taking students on the field trip. We are now researching online about the topics she is planning to teach.
Little Mary was still persistent about her experience and early the next morning she cornered her teacher and told her, "Miss Havey, the flag has four colors RED, WHITE, BLUE, AND YELLOW". The flag is located directly opposite the Nursery and can be seen clearly from the classroom door.
By then Miss Harvey had information from the Internet and her colleagues about fringes on flags. Now she has the gruesome task of explaining to three years olds about fringes on flags, and why the yellow fringes are not actually part of the LIBERIAN NATIONAL FLAG. I hope that all the teachers will learn from this experiene. We plan to discuss it in the next faculty meeting and pull out lessons from this experience.
Lott Carey teachers and administrators have taken their training to heart and fully embraced the child-centered learning approach to education.
Miss Harvey is a wonderful teacher and the smart and observant Little Mary is getting off to a great start in her school career!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teacher Training Next Year Needs Support

LOEP has been invited to work in Liberia again next year training teachers. We have already started developing the training and raising funds. We will need some help this time with funding and we have found a very painless way that you can help us out every time you shop online.

On the right side of the screen is a button for iGive.com. If you will click on that site and register the next time you order something online, LOEP will get a donation. If you go through that website every time you shop online, LOEP will benefit. It is a great and easy way to support the next LOEP teacher training. It's a whole lot easier than dodging traffic at the roadside market!!

Please consider giving it a try. Those who travel can also make all their reservations (lodging and transportation, including car rental) through the website and help LOEP educate orphans! As some may know, Gary travels a lot and he has already generated some good support for LOEP with his latest reservations made through the iGive website!

Please click on the button and register and thanks in advance for your help!

Every Day is Market Day

Transportation is a huge problem in Monrovia. Getting from one place to another is a frustrating experience for Liberians who have business to attend to. In most cases there is only one route to get from one place to another - no freeways, beltways or bypasses divert traffic around congestion. Many of the teachers who came to training had to be out on the road hailing a taxi (shared by as many as 7 or 8 people) by 5 a.m. so they could be on time for the 8 o'clock training.

Driving is a real challenge on narrow, potholed roads choked with traffic and the concept of a road shoulder or curb is not known in Liberia that we could notice. Retail display space seeps into the very edges of the road where merchants and pedestrians alike dodge taxis and other vehicles as they haggle and bargain. Merchants and markets operate all day long Monday through Saturday. In a concession to Sunday traditions, it all starts a little later in the morning and ends a little earlier in the evening on the "day of rest" but it is no less intense. Market day is every day and every day is a new opportunity to hustle.

For the LOEP team transportation was no problem - we had no pressing engagements (except the training) and our wonderful host drove us around in air conditioned comfort. Every trip was an exciting adventure! We loved "getting stuck in traffic" and while our poor host dealt with the frustration, we hopped around like little kids trying to see everything from every direction firing questions and taking pictures (the windows are tinted so we didn't risk offending folks as we snapped candid shots). Every time our host mentioned a trip outside of our community near the school, we would chorus "Oh how fun! We can get 'stuck' in traffic!"

Traffic problems are the number one complaint among our friends and hosts in Liberia. Lack of running water and no electricity was barely mentioned but traffic was a constant source of aggravation and complaint. For the LOEP team, however, traffic congestion was a great opportunity to see the sights! Pictured are some random shots we took riding through town. You get some idea of how close everything is to the traffic flow since these pictures are taken from inside the car and close enough to reach out and touch the pedestrians/products/merchandise.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Education is Hope

As hard as economic times are in the U.S., times are much harder in Liberia where so many educational opportunities for Liberian children depend on partnerships with U.S. organizations. Schools like Lott Carey Mission School are experiencing crushing budget shortfalls as contributions to U.S. organizations dwindle.

One of the things that really struck us as first-time visitors to Liberia is the remarkable spirit of optimism and hope that seems to prevail. This spirit is remarkable because life in Liberia is difficult. The new government is strugglilng to stabilize, there is an entire generation adjusting to a fragile peace and the economy is extremely weak. In spite of incredible challenges, Liberians that we met are looking forward brightly to the future with high expectations for success.

Much of this faith in the future rests on the fact that Liberians recognize the value of education beyond all other gifts for their children. Liberian parents make huge sacrifices in order to pay school fees and children know that their primary duty to the family is to study and do their very best in school to justify that sacrifice. Education is so valuable that meagre family incomes often center around paying school fees first and living expenses such as food, come second. No savings accounts, no 401-Ks, no Wall Street investments -education is the typical Liberian family's investment in their future and the future of the nation.

Teachers work for months with no pay checks and school fee increases hit hard on already over-burdened Liberian families.
I worry about potential for devastating impact on Liberia's future if schools like Lott Carey Mission School cannot survive the downturn.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Another amazing Liberian baker

Some great cakes and breads come from this oven, I am sure. This Liberian baker has the equivalent of an institutional oven with her re-purposed Blockbuster Video Box.
Keeping up with news of Liberia has involved keeping up with blogs by folks who live and work there. While some bloggers have no idea I see their online journals, others have become personal acquaintances. Joy, a former missionary in Liberia, now lives in Virginia and we have become online friends and have met several times. If you are interested in Liberia, I recommend you check out her blog. She no longer makes regular entries but it is worth going to her archives and reading about some of her experiences in Liberia. http://finding-joy.blogspot.com/ check it out here.

Another interesting web site that both Joy and I check regularly is linked below. It covers the African continent from a unique perspective - it highlights African inventiveness! Today's entry highlights Liberian resourcefulness and it reminded me so much of Miss Valerie in her kitchen! Check the original story at this link

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FYI - Liberia/Africa Info.

For years, my trips to Liberia were of the virtual kind - the Internet is amazing! I read the Liberian newspaper daily online, monitor several blogs and, in short, read every single thing online that has the word "Liberia" mentioned. Some who read this blog are also interested in all things Liberia so from time to time I will pass on some links and info. that might be helpful.

The United Nations has an interesting website on their mission in Liberia (known officially as UNMIL or United Nations Mission in Liberia). Great information on Liberia here including a report they did on orphanages several years ago. LOEP has found that report to be very useful.


Shenandoah University held a forum on Africa last week-end, according to this article in the Winchester Star newspaper


Had I known about it I would have attended!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Art for Beds

By some stimates more than 150,000 children were orphaned by the war in Liberia. In those months right after the UN arrived in Liberia to help enforce a tentative ceasefire, many families were reunited. Alfred and Agnes Memorial Orphan Mission (AAMOM) has been a home for children without families for many years so ceasefire and family reunification did not much change AAMOM. Children still live there, cared for by the Pederson family who are the grandchildren of Alfred and Agnes,the original founders.

AAMOM became known to Browntown Church when the church began sending humanitarian relief supplies, rice, seeds and school supplies in the closing months of the war. The war was hard on AAMOM and by the time of the ceasefire when Browntown Church became involved, the facility had deteriorated, the animals they raised for food (chickens and pigs) were gone and living conditions were harsh. NGOs provided minimal food, there was no medical attention and the children were sleeping on old foam pallets.
Thanks to benefactors, life has improved at AAMOM. Children at AAMOM have become their own family and the facility reinforces that family feeling. The orphanage/school is a complex of low, red-roofed, white, buildings surrounded by vegetable patch gardens on several acres. The buildings and rooms are just large enough to serve their purpose (sleeping, study, eating, assembly, etc.). The economy of space in the open terrain of the countryside makes for a serene, child-friendly environment.
Now the children sleep up off the floor on foam matresses in bunk beds, many with mosquito nets, thanks to an artist whose beautiful work is devoted to raising funds for Liberian orphans. The sight of those sturdy bunks was a moving reminder of the kindness and compassion of so many friends and family who have responded to the plight of orphans in Liberia.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Miss Valerie

The unpainted cinderblock section at the end of Miss Valerie's house is the kitchen. That's where "the magic happens".
One of the first things we noticed about Miss Valerie's house is her obvious care for flowers and plants. Cultivated flowers and landscaping are not a characteristic of the Liberian homes we saw. As we pulled up to Miss Valerie's house the tended plants and the lovely flowering shrubs artistically arranged for maximum effect made it clear she has a passion for growing things. She even had flowers and plants in pots at the house entry.
Every day of the teacher training at LCMS we were served wonderful meals of authentic Liberian food. The person responsible for serving 60 plus hot lunches every day was LCMS Home Economics teacher, Miss Valerie. Not only does she teach, but with her crew of ladies and her mini-van, Miss Valerie operates a successful catering business, specializing in weddings and parties of all kinds.

Miss Valerie's home based business operates out of her home kitchen. It is attached to the house and has no windows or roof. Wide open to the fresh air, it keeps the heat outside - not in. Three charcoal cookers in the outdoor kitchen and a charcoal oven located inside the house are the main cooking "appliances". With limited electricity, Valerie has no regular refrigeration but makes good use of a freezer that runs periodically when electricity is available.

The day I visited Miss Valerie's house she was preparing one of our fabulous lunches. While she applied lovely, professional decorations to a birthday cake, she supervised her cooking crew in preparing extraordinary amounts of rice on the three small charcoal cookers. She had baked the cake herself in her charcoal oven. Anyone who has tried to bake in an oven with an automatic thermostat knows steady temperature is critical to successful baking. It's challenging enough to cook on a charcoal cooker but to actually bake cakes in a charcoal oven guessing at the temperature? The sight of several loaves of bread and tea cakes cooling on a nearby shelf and I was really impressed.

Miss Valerie has linked her passions for food and teaching and has boundless enthusiasm for both. She is also committed to working with young women through her church - teaching them to develop strength of character, self-respect and self-reliance through cooking!

We caught Miss Valerie in the midst of lunch preparation this day but she stopped long enough to welcome us in. She also has a green thumb!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Place in the Country

Children's Relief Mission (CRM) orphanage maintains the school/orphanage complex in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia. Greater Monrovia is a sprawling, bustling and extremely over-crowded, metropolitan area. Some estimates are that three fourths of the people who live in greater Monrovia are there because they fled from their rural homes during the war. Now there are no villages left to which they can return and they remain in Monrovia where they are squatters. They live day to day under extremely harsh conditions. The environment is less than wholesome for children and the future of Liberia depends on successful re-location of some of Monrovia's population back to the countryside where they can begin to grow food to feed the nation.

CRM director Sam Kargbo has plans for the orphanage that call for the school and orphanage to eventually re-locate to property in the countryside about an hour's drive from Monrovia. CRM raised funds for a 20-plus acre site in the area known as Kakata where the orphanage and school will establish a vocational/agricultural program for orphans and other students. The land is being developed as an agricultural venture at present and a farm manager, Amos, lives there with his family. The products of the farm are sold at a local Kakata market and, when transportation is available, sent back to the oprhanage. LOEP team members visited CRM at Kakata and pictured above Board member Brenda Weeks, watches as Amos (purple shirt) supervises eggplant harvest.

This first view of CRM's property shows cleared property where eventually a school/orphanage complex will be constructed. The building on the left is where Amos and his family will live when it is completed. The building on the right is their current quarters. Until the orphanage/school complex is a reality, both buildings serve to house residents of CRM who come to the farm to help with agricultural projects some week-ends and school holidays.

This termite mound is an interesting front yard feature!

This is a closer view of the building above that is under construction by Amos and his family. The large (and deep) hole in front of the building has been dug for the pile of dirt that stands beside it. That dirt will be made into mud to daub onto the stick structure to make mud/plaster walls.
This boundary marker shows the corner of CRM property of 20 acres that was purchased.

Some Friends of LOEP will recognize Sam Kargbo, director of Children's Relief Ministry (CRM). Notice in the grass at Sam's ankle is the boundary marker. In view behind Sam is the family compound where the former owner of the CRM property lives with his family and extended family.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Caring for Orphans and Vulnerable Children

This group of beautiful children are the orphans who go to school and live at Children's Relief Ministry orphanage. Bottom right, kneeling, is the young woman, Hawa, who is the first CRM orphan to finish High School. As mentioned in other entries in this blog, Hawa has applied to the University of Liberia for admission as an undergraduate student. Her plan ultimately is to go into nursing, receive her RN and remain at CRM as the resident health care professional. She has been at CRM most of her short but difficult life and she is a big sister, surrogate mother and wonderful role model for the other orphans who clearly love her.

Keeping children healthy in Liberia is challenging even in the best of circumstances. The problems are compounded in institutional settings like CRM with 70+ children, extremely limited resources and minimal facilities.

Several years ago Browntown Church raised funds for construction of latrines at CRM where the toilet facilities consisted of holes in the ground shielded on three sides by blue, plastic tarps strung up on poles. Construction of the five-stall latrine facility with donated funds was a major improvement. Pictured above at the latrine area is CRM's matron who supervises care of the orphans. She is cheerfully responsible for a daunting amount of laundry among other enormous responsibilities.

The young man pictured was quite amused that we had our cameras out in the latrines. He hurried back to his class to report loudly that the visitors were "taking pictures of the toilet!". The solid wall on the left of this narrow passageway is the backside of the main classroom building - so close that we could hear the students' hilarious reaction to visitor interest in latrines!

This facility is a major improvement over open holes in the ground surrounded by tarps flapping in the breeze.

Food for the orphans is prepared in this open air kitchen area and all cooking is done over the charcoal cooker pictured. We were so very impressed at the large vats of rice turned out perfectly on this appliance every single day. Also, Liberian doughnuts which are basically yeast bread rolled into a twist and fried in palm oil on this same charcoal cooker - an ocassional treat for the children. There is no refrigeration and fresh fruit is a periodic addition to the staple diet of rice. Protein sources are mainly fish and chicken. Fish is readily available (dried and fresh) although not in the quantities needed to meet the daily nutrition requirements of 70+ children.

Rice is donated by various groups, individuals and regular monthly rations are subsidized by NGOs.

Lack of running water makes regular handwashing and hygiene somewhat problematic. Water for the orphanage and school is accessible from a large pump in the school courtyard. Water for drinking, cooking, laundry and latrines all comes from the pump. A large open barrel is kept behind the latrine area with a bucket for "flushing" the latrines. A large open barrel is kept in the kitchen area for cooking and an open container with a dipper is kept at the well for drinking and rinsing hands and face and/or cuts and scrapes from playground activity.

Internal parasites are a continual problem for children in Liberia. It is particularly difficult in an orphanage where so many children live so close together. Purging medicines are always needed and always in short supply. Fungus which also thrives where living quarters are close, is also a problem and there are never enough anti-fungal treatments available. Respiratory ailments are very common. In the dry season when the famous red African dust flies it is an irritant to air passages and in rainy season when the extreme rainfall and humidity make the air ever-damp, mold spores, viruses and bacteria thrive causing colds and lung ailments.

Life expectancy in Liberia is among the lowest of all nations on earth, hovering right around 40 years old. High infant mortality rates, high risk of death and injury for little children who are exposed to the above health problems and all sorts of other accidents (open barrels of water and charcoal cookers, for example, are only two of thousands of commonplace hazards that pose risks for infants and toddlers) makes childcare and child survival difficult in Liberia. While all children in Liberia may not be orphans, all Liberian children are vulnerable. The United Nations acronym, OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) applies to every child who lives in Liberia. What is remarkable is the resilience, perseverance and hope that Liberians have for their future.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Empowering Women Around the World

Liberia has been preparing for some time to host the International Colloquium on Women's Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security. Preparations were well underway and excitement was building during LOEP's recent visit, and I'm so sorry that we were not able to be there for this monumental event that coincided with International Women's Day (March 8).

Thirsty for all things Liberia, I have been enjoying online reports about the Colloquium. I came across an excellent account of the festivities today, found on this blog by Nadine B. Hack. I got goosebumps reading this! It's so inspiring to know that there are so many people working together to empower and educate women and girls on so many levels worldwide. What a fantastic and moving event!

Here in Atlanta, I was able to celebrate International Women's Day by attending a special viewing of Sheila C. Johnson's documentary, A Powerful Noise. The film was broadcast in 450 theaters across the United States last Thursday, and was followed by a live broadcast of a panel discussion moderated by NBC news anchor Ann Curry. Panelists Madeline Albright, Natalie Portman, Christy Turlington Burns, Nicholas Kristof, and Dr. Helene Gayle were quite impressive and provided wonderful insight. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was referenced in the discussion, as the first female elected president in Africa. The event was quite compelling, and I highly recommend the film which features women impacting their communities and the world in Vietman, Mali, and Bosnia.

Friday, March 6, 2009

News from Trainer Heaven

According to Mrs. Rosa Allen, Lott Carey Vice-Principal of Instruction, teachers are still excited and enthusiastic about new teaching methods and learner-centered education classroom techniques. Not only are they excited, they have set up classrooms and have instituted new methods within the past week and are excitedly passing information and ideas back and forth. Teacher's aides have taken on new roles and responsibilities and are relishing their direct interaction with students and teaching the younger ones.
Mrs. Allen's message, "Thanks to all of you again for the wonderful experience shared with the teachers here at LCM. There is so much going on in the classrooms that I am happy to give you feedback".
"Thank you and the Training team for the wonderful time spent here with the Liberian teachers. There is a new excitement in the air amongst the teachers, students and parents. The KIDS are proud to display their work in their learning centers. Chairs have been rearranged, learning centers established. The mobile classroom is squeaking with movement of the materials everyday AND planning ahead for lessons is the order of the day."

The excitement among the trainees was clearly demonstrated every single day of training and their interest and enthusiasm has carried over into their classrooms, apparently, according to Mrs. Allen's glowing report.

We knew from the expressions on the faces here that these teachers and aides were ready to get back to their classrooms and have some fun learning time with their students. Doesn't this look like a fun group?
How gratifying when the trainees are so responsive that they being implementing their new knowledge immediately! "Before your departure the class had set up learning centers, " Mrs. Allen writes.

Phylis, you were right - it really is Heaven!