Thursday, February 11, 2010

Changes and Challenges

The most striking thing about this year's visit to Liberia is CHANGE! Liberia really is moving forward and the road improvements are only one sign of a purposeful, determined path to recovery.

Our friends at Lott Carey are moving forward with great determination and they have been training ever since we left last year. The elementary teachers just completed training in phonics last week and in March a group from the U.S. will be coming to work with the Lott Carey faculty in areas related to student mental health. Teachers at CRM are enrolled in teacher training courses offered by a Liberia-based NGO and many of our colleagues attend University of Liberia.

Based on the appearance of their classrooms, training in techniques for creating a child-friendly setting are paying off. It was wonderful to see classrooms decorated with cheerful displays of student work, colorful bulletin boards and posters. The learning environment for students and teachers is improving and many of the suggestions and techniques we worked on last year are now being implemented.

The science lab at Lott Carey is being renovated and today (a national holiday) the science teachers are scheduled to be in the new labs preserving specimens they have collected on the beach. Their project involved spending a day and night on the beach collecting and sorting the specimens. Today they will be meticulously preserving those items for students to study next semester when the lab renovation is complete and students can move in for serious science study. Last year the lab was a bare, dusty room with unconnected pipes sticking up out of the floor. Now there are counter tops with sinks and connections appear to be ready for burners and plumbing installation.

The path forward is purposeful and impressive but challenges are huge. The economic recession in the U.S. has a direct effect on resources available to Liberia's redevelopment so money for improvements has tightened up here. The rural areas remain largely unserved and the migration into Monrovia has created major problems due to overcrowding and population density.

Jacob has introduced us to his work in the KoKoya District of rural Bong County where portions of the rural population live in villages that are miles from the nearest road - accessible by path through the dense forest! We are looking forward to seeing (via video) how the first teacher training and children's day camp works out next week. It will be the first such event in his village and there are reports of great anticipation in the area about such an exciting event.

Rural Liberia poses some major accessibility challenges. At Christmas time Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made a journey to the Belleh District in Gbopolu County. She and her entourage came to the end of the road, had to abandon their vehicles and walk two hours on the forest path to reach villagers with her Christmas greetings! Some of our teacher trainers are colleagues from Gbopolu County where Lott Carey has an extension school. They have traveled far for their training!

Internet dial-up is also a challenge not only for us in posting pictures but also for those who are trying to conduct business in a fast-paced, international environment! Will try to keep up with pics.

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