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.' ”