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Debitia Elliott Farley – Liberia – Preparing to Leave

6 Oct

“The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will.”

 

Debitia Eliott Farley is a Programme Manager for FAWE, Children in Crisis’s NGO partner in Liberia. Here Debbie writes as she and her colleagues prepare to travel to help remote communities in Rivercess County as part of Children in Crisis – FAWE’s emergency Ebola response.

Ebola has attacked our nation, its grip has taken firm control on the fibre of our society, killing people and leaving many traumatized. Rivercess, our project county is of no exemption to this epidemic. Officially there has been eight deaths reported in the county. We believe that now is the time to show our support for our target group- the children, the vulnerable women, the teachers, and the larger community that we work with. Despite being an educational NGO, the question on our lips was how can we be of help to these vulnerable people in Rivercess? What is being done to avoid the further spread of the virus in the county? It came as no surprise to us that little had been done in Rivercess in terms of awareness and sensitization, and the provision of anti-Ebola materials; once again Rivercess had not being prioritized. With this we were further convinced that we needed to intervene.  We did not want a repetition of what happened in Lofa County (in Northern part of Liberia, where the Outbreak first started) to repeat itself, where an entire village was wiped out due to the outbreak, because people failed to take the necessary precautions, because people were not informed, because people acted late.

Jarvis loading the vehicle

Jarvis loading the vehicle

We are very passionate about the work we do and the people we work with. All through our work, the passion to help people in these remote and rural areas can be seen. What can one say about a team willing to cross two big rivers in small canoes for 40 minutes and walk for another 30 minutes just to provide water and sanitation services to a community that had never had access to safe drinking water? Or of a team that will cross precarious, narrow and terrible bridges just to provide training to teachers and community women? It is with such same passion that we again, brave the storm and join the fight against this deadly virus. We don’t want any of our beneficiaries to fall prey to this virus, we want to act now, because if we don’t, no one will. The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will. No one was willing to alleviate the problem of children drowning in the Cestos River, on their way to school. Everyone but FAWE-Children in Crisis saw it as impossible to get a school across that River. We want to assure the people of Rivercess that we are in this fight together, and that we care about their wellbeing.

We have targeted 39 communities, and with two teams of three, including two health workers, we will be out in the field, providing sensitization and awareness messages to these communities. We shall spend one day in each community setting up task forces and community hand washing stations, and distributing anti-Ebola materials.

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

We are excited but the excitement is not without mixed feelings. Excited because once again we are reaching out to some of the county’s most marginalized and vulnerable people; excited because we are a part of this fight; excited because together we will overcome this common enemy. However, there are some mixed feelings, mixed because we leave our families and friends behind in the midst of this crisis, trusting that they will be safe in our absence; mixed because most of the time, we will not be able to communicate with our loved ones as we will be in the jungle in areas with no communication network; mixed because unlike other visits to the field, where the team was in the lead, this time the team is lending support to the experts; mixed because even though, the risk of contracting the Ebola virus is low in Rivercess, that thought lingers on…. What if it were to happen? However, in the midst of all this, we are willing to act, to beat the odds, and jump the hurdles. We remain strong and unbended, our drive and force coming from our strength as a team and the fact that many lives will be saved as a result of this intervention. We are not perturbed by the risk involved, instead we are encouraged to move ahead and effect a change. We are committed to this cause, and we will reach out to those communities that others won’t dare or dream of. We will help prevent the spread of Ebola in the country.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

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Rufus Mandein – Liberia – A Voice From the Field

19 Aug

Below is a blog written by our colleague Rufus N Mandein, Education Manager for Children in Crisis’s partner organisation FAWE-Liberia. Rufus gives a harrowing account of the reality of Ebola in Liberia, the terrible effect it is having on him personally as well as on the teachers and students that FAWE & Children in Crisis work with.

I am speaking to you from Liberia, where fear has gripped everyone – small and big, poor and rich, just everyone, due to this terrible Ebola outbreak.

Rufus giving a presentation during a recent forum of Children in Crisis’s partner organisations.

As the number of cases rises, dead bodies are being reported and found all over the place. Health facilities are all closed due to the serious lack of protective gear for health workers and fear of contracting the virus, so common sicknesses are now killing people and no one can tell whether it is Ebola or other illnesses. The current situation is overwhelming for the government – the situation exposes the weak health system of our government and country, and the leadership challenges the nation is faced with.

A state of emergency has been announced by the President for 90 days. Movement in many places is prevented, but those exact places are not clearly known, so the fear of leaving your home or community is high. Some business people who went to transact their businesses in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount were prevented from returning to their homes and kids without prior warning, blocked from passing by troops at road blocks, so everyone is scared to leave home in case they don’t return. FEAR is the order of the day.

The closure of schools throughout the country is another blow to our already weak educational system. Children are kept home with very little or no play. Kids will now have to either sit home or roam the communities as they wait indefinitely for the reopening of schools. Beneficiaries of our projects (students, teachers, women and young girls who missed out on education) will now have to wait until the situation improves before they can continue their training and acquire the skills and training needed to empower them.

For FAWE as a whole, the current situation poses a great challenge as most of FAWE’s work is educational. The entire educational sector is ordered closed. For FAWE-CIC projects specifically, it is a huge challenge. Rivercess, our project location, is one of the communities with cases reported. The project is deeply concerned about the safety of our teachers and students, our target groups. At this crucial time, the need to see how FAWE (through the project) can be of help to these people is a great concern. We need to reach out to our project communities to create awareness, provide chlorine, soap, sanitizers, and hand washing utensils for the people we work with. Our approach must be holistic and show that we care not only for their educational need, but also their health and physical wellbeing.

The 90-day State of Emergency declared on the 6th of August by the President of Liberia is in full swing and ordinary people have started feeling the pinch. The costs of food, medicine, and transportation have gone very high. Market places are being ordered closed to prevent the spread. But some citizens, who are ordinary marketers selling daily (hand-to-mouth business) have complained of the challenge this poses to them. People who have ‘small money’ can be seen crowding up to buy food in preparation for ‘unknown days’ ahead.

Women going out to fetch food for their families have reported the snatching of their hand bags and purses by common thieves while trying to catch a taxi during late afternoon hours. In an attempt to leave the streets before evening hours for fear of the state of emergency – that appears like a curfew in the country – people are being robbed of their valuables, according to some young ladies I spoke with yesterday.

Some state security forces have misunderstood the State of Emergency and started intimidating and harassing peaceful citizens. Yesterday (August 14, 2014) during late evening hours, central Monrovia was a place in panic with two trucks of state securities barricading the street and firing tear gas in an attempt to effect an arrest of a journalist (publisher of the Chronicle Newspaper) for writing a story critical of government. The standoff lasted for more than three hours causing angry citizens to crowd up challenging security forces. This spread another fear in the population that is already battling the fear from Ebola. In fact the action of the state security caused the breaking of one of the guidelines for preventing the spread of the Ebola virus, which warns against large gathering of people.

In the midst of all this, Ebola continues to strike with more than 32 deaths reported in Monrovia alone in the past two days. These include children, health workers, and adults.

As I write this, I have just been informed that Ebola has hit our family. We just lost our cousin. She was attacked in Kakata and brought to Monrovia to the isolation center, but she died yesterday. We were just informed. At this time we are deeply concerned about her husband and kids. What becomes of them? As we all know, this is a sickness that doesn’t allow people to care for their sick ones. How can we be of support and help during this critical time, to those who still have air to breathe? We are praying for the kids and father.

We are trying to take the necessary precautions to keep our families and ourselves safe. The situation is getting worse by the day and everyone is so concerned, but we are trusting God to keep us safe. Our country is in great need at this very challenging time, but in it all we will join forces to create the awareness and fight this attacker.

Alison Lloyd Williams – Liberia – In Place of War

18 Mar

 As one of the artists put it at the end of one of the pilot weeks, “I could see in their faces it made them proud to write their own story”

I’ve recently returned from a six-week visit to Liberia as a Theatre for Development consultant, providing pro-bono support to Children in Crisis in partnership with In Place of War (IPOW), a project based at the University of Manchester that researches the arts and creativity in sites of armed conflict. My role was to provide training to Liberian performance artists in theatre and drama techniques that they can use with groups of children as a means of encouraging them to create their own stories. The stories the children generate through this performance work are then written down and turned into storycards which form the basis of a ‘library’ of reading materials aimed at promoting literacy among rural communities. This unique and very special project is taking place as part of Children in Crisis’s Our Words Library programme in Rivercess County, a remote and hard-to-reach region in southern Liberia. Literacy rates in the county are particularly low, although Children in Crisis has already begun tackling this problem via their teacher training programme. The Our Words Library project is a next step in this venture, providing the resources and training to embed literacy activities into the curriculum, as well as promote a reading culture at home and school.

The children of Jazohn devise their story, The Dangerous Forest, during a story-making workshop

The children of Jazohn devise their story, The Dangerous Forest, during a story-making workshop

After initial training and preparations in Monrovia with staff at FAWE, Children in Crisis’s Liberian partner organisation, the staff team and I moved to Rivercess. Here, we held a week’s intensive training with the nine artists selected for the project at Children in Crisis’s Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in Cestos City, Rivercess. This was followed by a two-week pilot where we trialled the work in two different communities close to Cestos City. During these pilot weeks, we spent every morning out in the community working with the children, returning at lunchtime to the VTC for an afternoon of feedback, analysis and further planning.

I became aware that for many of the artists this project was an entirely new venture and something of a step into the unknown. Their own experiences and backgrounds were highly varied in ways that were significant for a project that focused on the use of theatre in education and development. Some, for example, had worked as schoolteachers while others had barely been to school – indeed, one of the artists told us that she had been inspired by this project to return to education. Some had worked extensively as professional performers, particularly in the area of traditional dance and drumming, but many had never taught performance arts to children or used theatre in an educational context. I was extremely impressed, however, by the responsiveness of the artists to the training and encouraged them to take a reflective approach to the work we did, talking together each day about what we had learned, what questions the work raised and how we could put the concepts into practice.

The artist/FAWE team heads to the field for a pilot project. Pictured are (left to right): Back row: George Njanjaine (FAWE Community Mobiliser), Adolphus Seekie, Cephas B Williams, Moses J Tarpeh, Alison Lloyd Williams, Satta Gbelee (FAWE Trainer – Community Mobilisation) Middle row: James Harris, David Chea, Comfort Ward, Edward Slewion, Christiana Weah, Christian Plakar (FAWE Trainer – Literacy) Front: Karwah Kopah (FAWE Community Mobiliser) (Photograph taken by: Juliet Matthews, Children in Crisis/FAWE Literacy Specialist)

The artist/FAWE team heads to the field for a pilot project. Pictured are (left to right):
Back row: George Njanjaine (FAWE Community Mobiliser), Adolphus Seekie, Cephas B Williams, Moses J Tarpeh, Alison Lloyd Williams, Satta Gbelee (FAWE Trainer – Community Mobilisation)
Middle row: James Harris, David Chea, Comfort Ward, Edward Slewion, Christiana Weah, Christian Plakar (FAWE Trainer – Literacy)
Front: Karwah Kopah (FAWE Community Mobiliser)
(Photograph taken by: Juliet Matthews, Children in Crisis/FAWE Literacy Specialist)

It became clear that a key aim of this project – encouraging children to generate their own ideas through performance, rather than directing them and scripting material for them – was a new concept for the artists. This isn’t surprising given the top-down approach that still dominates the educational culture in Liberia, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, a central focus of Children in Crisis’s current teacher training programme is the promotion of more child-centred approaches. We therefore did a lot of work around building the artists’ skills as facilitators. This included practising how to listen and respond to the ideas that the children put forward, as well as how to use follow-up questioning techniques in order to build a more dialogical approach to learning and generate a more open approach to story-making. At the end of the first pilot week, the artists spoke enthusiastically about the children’s capabilities. They were genuinely impressed at how the young people could, as one artist put it, ‘come up with their own ideas’. This discovery that ‘the children can do it themselves’ really drove the energies of the artists from this point on. I could see their belief in the children’s abilities and they worked hard to further encourage, support and extend their learning through the work.

I think everyone was unsure at first as to how engaging in theatre and drama was going to translate into the production of written stories. However, through carefully sequenced activities that invited the children to create settings and characters and then improvise different narratives, the groups were able to develop their own unique tales. Along the way, we built in literacy activities that took the work from stage to page and back again. This process included the creation of what we called ‘word walls’ that encouraged the children to describe the characters, places and events in their stories. The first group created a story called ‘The Dog and the Market People’ that featured a very aggressive canine called ‘White Teeth Black Heart’ whose owner needed some lessons in how to look after her pets! The second one was called ‘The Dangerous Forest’ and centred on a hunter who got into a scary situation when he decided to hunt in the late afternoon, when apparently the animals can get a bit lively….

Children perform their story, The Dog and the Market People, in Darsaw Town, Rivercess

Children perform their story, The Dog and the Market People, in Darsaw Town, Rivercess

As well as learning how to run these ‘story-making’ workshops with the children, the artists were asked to devise what we called ‘message dramas’. These were short sketches that conveyed positive themes about the value of education and reading, particularly for girls. These dramas were not only a fantastic showcase for the artists’ acting talents – some of them are natural comedians! – but they also served as a great way of introducing the project to each new community and inspiring children to want to take part in the story-making.

The pilot work was extremely well received in the communities. The children in particular absolutely loved being involved. They turned up everyday for the workshops on time (often before us!) and stayed behind afterwards to play more games and take part in dancing and music workshops that were extended to the whole community. We all felt they would have been happy to keep playing all day! The adults in the community also responded very positively to the work and enjoyed the children’s performance of their story, as well as the artists’ message dramas. We created the opportunity for audience discussion after the performances and adults from across the community commented that they had seen how being illiterate as a parent is not a barrier to supporting your child to read.

Artists perform their message drama in Jazohn, Rivercess

Artists perform their message drama in Jazohn, Rivercess

Artists run a dance workshop with the children of Darsaw Town, Rivercess

Artists run a dance workshop with the children of Darsaw Town, Rivercess

The artists and the FAWE team also spoke positively about their experience of this project and we are already in discussion about ways to take the work further during the second phase next year. I am personally extremely grateful to the team for the support they gave me during my visit. Children in Crisis is lucky to have a Programme Manager in Charlotte Morgan-Fallah and Literacy Specialist in Juliet Matthews who both demonstrate great vision with respect to the aims and methods involved in this project. The organisation is also fortunate to be supported on the ground by a FAWE staff team who show considerable energy and commitment to the values of education and community development.

Having been back at home for a month now, I have had the time to reflect on how much my own work as a Theatre for Development practitioner has been enriched by this experience. I learned a great deal and look forward to learning more – about Liberian arts, culture and education, about working in community settings, about teamwork, about story-making. Above all, however, the work affirmed for me the value of this kind of performance work in creating a platform for children to voice their own ideas, to develop their imagination and creativity and demonstrate their abilities to the rest of their community. Theatre is an incredibly powerful medium for young people to narrate their own lives and imagine new and different worlds – and taking part in theatre activities of this kind can be therefore a most empowering experience for children. As one of the artists put it at the end of one of the pilot weeks, “I could see in their faces it made them proud to write their own story”. Everyone involved in this project should be proud of their achievements so far and I look forward to reading more of the stories in the future.

Read more about the Our Words Library Project here.

Learn more about our partners and pro-bono supporters In Place of War: www.inplaceofwar.net

In Place of War Logo

 

Sarah Rowse – Liberia – The fruit of collective endeavour

26 Nov

As logic dictates, the infrastructure of a school has a significant impact on a child’s education. No matter what the standard of the teacher, children’s education is compromised when classrooms aren’t fit for purpose

Together with Children in Crisis’ dedicated partner in Liberia, FAWE, Children in Crisis UK joined hands with our colleagues from Children in Crisis Italy the week before last, to celebrate the opening of a newly constructed School, Logan Town Primary.

The School, which is located in the heart of River Cess County, was constructed with funds raised by Children in Crisis Italy and is an impressive nine classroom building. On the day of the inauguration, the pupils and their teachers proudly showed us around their new school, pointing out with great pride the whitewashed walls, sizeable classrooms and wall length blackboards; it stands in stark contrast to the small, cramped, makeshift school that stood before it.

When Children in Crisis and FAWE first undertook an assessment visit to Logan Town School in 2012, the learning conditions of the children in the old school were deplorable. Despite the valiant efforts of the teaching staff and parents of Logan Town to maintain and repair the makeshift classrooms, Liberia’s extreme of climate meant that they faced a constant uphill struggle. During the wet season, the thatched roof of the school and its mud walls failed to stand up to torrential rainfall.

Within just a few months of my visit, Logan Town's old school had collapsed

Within just a few months of my visit, Logan Town’s old school had collapsed

Conversely, during the dry season, when temperatures rose, cramped classrooms were hot and uncomfortable for children and teachers alike. There was no safe water-point for the school from which pupils could drink. Nor were there any toilet facilities, so children would simply do their business in the bush. For girls, the lack of hygienic toilet facilities at the old school made it especially embarrassing, uncomfortable and difficult for them to attend school when they were having their period. As the Principal of Logan Town School explained at the time, this in part contributed to the disproportionally high drop-out rate of girls (60%) compared to boys (40%) recorded over the course of the 2012/13 school year.

Logan Town's children outside of their old school.

Logan Town’s children outside of their old school.

As logic dictates, the infrastructure of a school has a significant impact on a child’s education. No matter what the standard of the teacher, children’s education is compromised when classrooms aren’t fit for purpose – when children are exposed to the elements on account of a leaking roof, holes in the walls and dilapidated school furniture. This is what compelled Children in Crisis UK, Children in Crisis Italy and FAWE to work together with the community of Logan Town to build a school that is worthy of its name.

And this, I am pleased to report, is what we’ve achieved. The new nine classroom School includes a library, school canteen, water pump from which to draw safe drinking water and two latrine blocks, separate for girls and boys. It took 12-months to construct, at a cost of £81,084 in building materials and labour, and was the result of impressive collective endeavour. The contractor and workforce, for example, were fed and accommodated by the community of Logan Town throughout the construction period as part of the community contribution to the building. Also, of particular note, was the contribution made by the County Authorities of River Cess to rebuild a dilapidated bridge so as to ensure that the building materials could be transported to site. This investment will bring longer term gains to an otherwise isolated, inaccessible rural community as it will facilitate better vehicular access to Logan Town and the surrounding villages, and with it, benefits such as increased market opportunities and services.    

Logan Town's new school has two latrine blocks, separate for boys and girls

Logan Town’s new school has two latrine blocks, separate for boys and girls

Water pump

A water pump at the new school, providing drinking water for the children

On other levels too, the multiplier effect of rebuilding the School are significant. The building will serve not only as a Primary School for upward of 300 children in the morning, but, with support from the Ministry of Education of Liberia, will soon serve as a Junior Secondary School in the afternoons. This will make Logan Town one of only four other Junior Secondary Schools in the entire county of River Cess, which is a significant development for the education and learning opportunities of children and young people here. Not only this, but parents will also be able to attend adult literacy classes in the evenings. Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark. When Mr Dee announced this at the inauguration, he timed it so that all the lights came on in the school with a well-orchestrated nod of the head. It was impeccable timing on his behalf, and was met, understandably, with great applause by everyone present. In a rural community such as this, where there is no mains electricity, this will be a source of great community pride for years to come.

Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark.

Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark.

For the past 5 years, Children in Crisis have been working in Liberia, a country deeply affected by the legacy of war, to support schools and communities to rebuild the countries shattered education system. Our work in rural Liberia, in River Cess County, has focussed principally on teacher training and skills training for women. It has, as yet, comprised only a small construction component, with Logan Town representing the sixth school to be rebuilt by Children in Crisis in partnership with FAWE. However, learning from this and from our in-depth understanding of educational needs in the remote interior of the County, presents a compelling case for why Children in Crisis will continue its programme of school building in the years to come.

Watch this space as we monitor the progress of pupils from Logan Town School in the year ahead.

Read more:

A news piece on Children in Crisis’s website with videos from Logan Town.

Tom Tyler – Liberia – The Art of Driving

11 Jun

‘My experience of Joe before this trip was seeing the line for ‘Driver’ when looking at the budgets for the projects back at my desk in South London. I had always assumed that someone has to drive the vehicle, but it seemed strange that it needed a skilled, permanent employee. That assumption has been wiped clean this week.’

The Art of Driving

I am writing this in our guest house in Cestos City, the capital of River Cess County in Liberia. ‘City’ is a loose term here, there is one un-tarmacked road forming the high (and only) street, a small number of permanent concrete structures, and a large number of wooden-framed and mud-walled homes (which require rebuilding every year after Liberia’s long rainy season).

I’ve been in River Cess now for three days visiting the projects that Children in Crisis is delivering with our long-term partner FAWE Liberia (Forum for African Women Educationalists), a local education charity.

Typically foreboding rain clouds gather over Cestos City.

Typically foreboding rain clouds gather over Cestos City!

As a member of the small fundraising team at Children in Crisis (there are six of us based in our office in South London), my primary role is to write the proposals requesting funding for our work and the update reports on the progress of the projects. This has been a week of firsts for me: my first field visit, my first trip to Liberia, my first trip to Africa for that matter, and my first real appreciation of the amazing lengths that my field colleagues and FAWE will go to reach the most isolated and remote communities.

I arrived in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, late on Sunday and was immediately hit by the humidity and luscious green surroundings (Monrovia, I would learn, is the wettest capital city in the world. In July alone, it receives double the amount of rain that London receives in a year!). After spending a couple of hours on Monday morning meeting with our FAWE colleagues, the rest of the day was spent on the road to Cestos City. Before starting the journey, I asked Charlotte (my field colleague), who has lived in Liberia for two years, for an indication of the likely travel time. Six to eight hours was Charlotte’s response. It was not the traffic that would determine the final length of the journey, as it might in the UK, but rather the state of the road. The first three hours’ driving would be on a tarmacked road all the way to Buchanan, Liberia’s second city. Beyond Buchanan it would be the dirt road.

April and May are the change-over months from the dry season to the rainy season in Liberia, so bright blue skies and 28 degrees in the morning, then three hour thunder storms in the late afternoon and early evening. If the rain over the last couple of weeks or so had been hard enough and soaked through into the road, we would be looking at the full eight hours (which rises to a potential 10 hours at the end of the rainy season when the road is truly saturated).  As it was, even with a stop off for lunch in Buchanan (rice and ‘cow-meat’ soup), we reached Cestos in five and a half hours.

Tragically, on the stretch from Buchanan to Cestos, we saw a small amount of commotion at the side of the road, surrounding a car that had crashed into a divot. Given the lack of traffic, it was most likely that the brakes or steering had given out, or that the driver had made a mistake. One body was still in the car, and another had been covered up with a blanket at the side of the road. It was a sombre sight.

Within this context, for the remainder of our journey I was incredibly thankful for two things; the sturdy 4X4 vehicle we were travelling in, and the skill of one man. Joe Cappard, the FAWE driver, has been working for FAWE for over 15 years, and driving on Liberia’s challenging roads for 30 years. We’re pretty sure that Joe has literally driven on every one of Liberia’s roads. Before joining FAWE, Joe worked as a mechanic in one of Liberia’s few medical facilities, the JFK Hospital in Monrovia. To pay his way through high school, Joe worked for a mechanics firm during the holidays. Both Joe’s brother (now living in the United Sates), and his father were also mechanics. Joe’s four daughters however, all of whom are still in education – his eldest will soon be graduating from accountancy college – do not share their father’s love of cars and oily engines!

Joe Cappard, FAWE driver.

“It is the most important thing that my daughters are educated, so that they can stand on their own and make a future for themselves and their children. I will make sure that all my children are educated because that is the best way to have a good life.” Joe Cappard, FAWE driver.

Reaching Cestos City in good time was just one leg of the journey to visit the communities that we are working with. Indeed on our second day in River Cess we travelled to a community where even Joe’s skills were of no use. In 2011, with the help of our supporters, Children in Crisis and FAWE constructed a brand new primary school for the community of Neegbah. The amazing thing about this building project, and the reason that Joe could not be of assistance, is that there is not a single road that leads to the community. To reach the school we took the same route that every single bag of cement, steel rod, nut and bolt also had to take; the 25 minute crossing of the vast Cestos River in a hand-built wooden canoe, followed by an hours’ walk through the bush.

Mardia, one of the mothers we spoke to in Neegbah proudly described how the whole community had worked every day from 6am to 12pm for six months to transport the building materials. While the funds were lovingly provided by our supporters in the UK, and the construction work was completed by skilled professionals, the transporting of the materials (including locally contributed materials such as sand from the riverside) helped to create a real sense of ownership amongst the community. 18 months on from completion of the construction, it was clear from the highly maintained state of the school that this sense of ownership was bearing fruit.

Mardia explained that she and the other parents were scared for their children when they attended the old school during the rainy season. Pieces of the roof used to fall on the children, and snakes (yes snakes!) would often fall from the roof into the classroom!

Amazingly, after completing the new school, the Children in Crisis and FAWE team decided to go yet further into the depths of the bush to reach an even more remote community. Beyond Neegbah, Jarstar community is a further 25 mins on the back of a motorbike (as I was fortunate enough to travel), or a two hour walk (almost three hours from the riverside). The women of Jarstar are now benefitting from the piloting of our Vocational Training Outreach Project, whereby our training team live in the community for four months, delivering lessons in locally relevant skills such as pastry-making, tailoring, and hairdressing, as well as adult literacy and business skills classes.

Women attending a VTC bakery class. I was lucky enough to try one of these very tasty fish pastries.

Women attending a VTC bakery class. I was lucky enough to try one of these very tasty fish pastries.

Today, my last day in River Cess, we visited two other communities involved in this pilot project (we hope to turn the pilot into a wide-ranging three year programme benefitting thousands of women in the near future), which were about a four hour drive from our guest house. For this journey, we had to cross two of the most rickety, dangerous-looking ‘bridges’ I’ve ever seen. At one of the bridges, to reduce the weight, Joe asked us to get out of the vehicle. After checking the bridge, and looking for the strong and weak points, he skilfully manoeuvred the vehicle across. We jumped back in on the other side.

Joe Cappard, FAWE driver, and the FAWE team assessing the bridge before crossing in the vehicle.

Joe Cappard, FAWE driver, and the FAWE team assessing the bridge before crossing in the vehicle.

Our timetable for the day, given the amount of travelling involved, gave us about an hour and a half at each community. It became apparent that the women involved in the Vocational Training are so proud of their new skills, and so thankful for the support provided by Children in Crisis, FAWE and our supporters, that the joyful conversations, the meetings, and demonstrations of their new skills were going to play havoc with the timetable.

As a result, by the time we finished at the second community, the early evening rains were coming down heavily (at a force I’d never experienced before!), and daylight had all but run out. I was a bit nervous at this point – the road, strewn with holes and ditches, was difficult enough to navigate during the day when it was dry, let alone at night and in the rain. What was this journey going to be like? And more importantly, given that mobile phone coverage doesn’t extend to the remote parts of River Cess, what would happen if Joe misjudged a divot, or if the vehicle let him down?

As it was, I had no need to worry. Joe drove in the pitch black with only his headlights for guidance (there is obviously no road lighting), handling all that the road had to throw at him. It was an amazing piece of driving. We arrived back at the guest house about 45 minutes ago. Ironically, the generator is broken, and so I’m typing this in the dark. I’ve made more mistakes in the last ten minutes than Joe did in four hours!

My experience of Joe before this trip was seeing the line for ‘Driver’ when looking at the budgets for the projects back at my desk in south London. I had always assumed that someone has to drive the vehicle, but it seemed strange that it needed a skilled, permanent employee. That assumption has been wiped clean this week.

Learn more about Children in Crisis’s work in Liberia.

Charlotte: Liberia – The River is boss

8 Nov Children in Crisis FAWE trained teacher crossing river on rickety bridge

when we reached the community people just threw up their hands and thanked God that we found them, thanking us over and over for coming so far, where nobody else had come before, to help them” 

Having recently joined Children in Crisis as the new Programme Manager for Liberia, I was excited to visit our programmes in Liberia and get to know our local implementing partners, FAWE Liberia. As I have only just returned from two years in Liberia with another large International NGO, I was very interested to see how Children in Crisis and FAWE fare in comparison – and I have to say, I was impressed. Not only are Children in Crisis and FAWE delivering world-class programming for children – we are also practicing what we preach – reaching the most remote and hardest to reach communities.

After arriving on Sunday evening in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on Monday morning we set straight off to River Cess – the county where Children in Crisis and FAWE are working. River Cess is a remote county in Liberia’s south eastern region – a region which is widely recognised as an area of huge need, but which is also notoriously remote and hard to reach, so that few NGOs venture there (Children in Crisis and FAWE are currently the only NGOs delivering teacher training in River Cess, and the Children in Crisis/FAWE Vocational Training Centre is the only vocational training institute in the entire county providing skills training and adult literacy for vulnerable women).

The road conditions travelling to River Cess were incredible – a slalom of red mud, rain and river crossings, making it a perilous journey only passable because of the skill and courage of the FAWE driver, and the powerful new four-wheel-drive vehicle we were lucky enough to procure thanks to generous donor support.

Children in Crisis / FAWE vehicle stuck in mud in Liberia

The Children in Crisis and FAWE vehicle gets stuck in the mud on the road between Monrovia and River Cess, trying to pass a truck which has been stuck in the mud for days. The team had to winch the vehicle out of the mud – this is a frequent occurrence whenever travelling to River Cess.

This is not something new for the team here – with such difficult road conditions, particularly during Liberia’s heavy rainy season from April to October each year, the Children in Crisis and FAWE vehicle regularly gets ‘hitched’ in the mud, as Liberians say! However, this is only the beginning. Once the team reach Cestos City, the capital of River Cess County (which is more like a small village than a ‘city’!), they have a much longer journey ahead, and one where the trusty 4-wheel drive can’t go. From there, they brave the motorbikes in pairs – and on these roads, it’s not for the faint hearted!

The FAWE Teacher Trainers regaled me with stories of slipping and sliding their way through narrow jungle pathways, or hauling their motorbikes over their heads to wade through rivers waist deep which intercept the thick jungle pathways. And then there is always that inevitable point where the ‘bush’ (the jungle) gets so thick even the motorbike can’t get through, and our FAWE colleagues continue on foot – often for up to 4-5 hours, and with numerous perilous river crossings along the way, forcing the team to wade through shallow waters, travel in dug-out canoes, or cross tentative bridges made of single tree trunks on their hands and knees because there was nothing to hold on to. The River really is boss in River Cess, as the name implies.

The Cestos River and its many tributaries branch across the county, paying little heed to roads or bridges in its path (or houses and schools, for that matter!). But FAWE have been working in River Cess for years, and the team know the terrain, and are familiar with the determination of the River – but their determination is even greater, and it’s truly inspiring to see the lengths they go to, to reach these remote communities.

So many of the communities we are working in are so remote and so far from the road, no NGO has ever ventured there before, let alone Liberia’s under-resourced government – during a recent baseline assessment (which Children in Crisis and FAWE undertook to identify the most vulnerable schools to target for the project this year) one of the Children in Crisis/FAWE Teacher Trainers described how “when we reached the community people just threw up their hands and thanked God that we found them, thanking us over and over for coming so far, where nobody else had come before, to help them”. She quoted one community leader who told them “no NGO has ever reached us before. We are so happy. Thank you for finding us.”

So, why do we do it? Because Children in Crisis and FAWE believe that every child has the right to education, no matter where they are – we are committed to ensuring all children receive the education they need for their flourishing and wellbeing and to help transform their lives. Where resources are few, where education is needed to heal the nation, and where it is too remote for others, we are determined to support children to read, write, think, pursue their life goals and contribute positively to their communities and their countries – and this means ALL children, not just those who are easy to reach.

Gallery of photos (click to enlarge and browse):

We also do it because equitable access to quality education and development opportunities is essential for maintaining Liberia’s peace. The brutal civil war, which tore Liberia apart between 1989 and 2003, was triggered by the frustration caused by the stark inequality between the few who ‘had’ and the vast majority who ‘had not’, and widespread poverty and exclusion in Liberia’s most remote rural areas left thousands of people (particularly disenfranchised young men) frustrated and vulnerable to being mobilised by warlords and militia groups. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important that Liberia’s post-conflict transition and recovery includes development for all, not just development for those who are easier to reach – not just to ensure Liberia’s growth and development, but also for lasting peace.

But doesn’t reaching the most remote mean spending more time, energy and resources, I hear you ask? Well, it’s not so much a question of how much you invest, as a question of what return you get from that investment, and I’ve seen first-hand that when you go the extra mile (quite literally!) to reach the hardest to reach, you get that effort back tenfold from the communities.

For example, while in Liberia, I was lucky enough to observe our fantastic Teacher Trainers in action during some Parent Teacher Association (PTA) training. Children in Crisis and FAWE are not just committed to improving access to and quality of education through training teachers and school administrators, building and rehabilitating schools and distributing school materials – we’re also committed to empowering and mobilising communities via PTAs to take their children’s education into their own hands to inspire lasting, sustainable change – this PTA training helps to equip PTAs with the knowledge and skills they need to do this. During the training, I witnessed first-hand the commitment and dedication of the parents and teachers in the remote communities where we work to grab this development opportunity with both hands and make life better for their children. Like our FAWE colleagues, they too are determined, no matter how long and perilous the journey they have to take to get there (to minimise the distance participants have to travel, make the most of limited resources, and so PTA members can learn together and share their experiences, we cluster the training into groups of communities, to get as close as possible to the schools, but with such sparse and remote communities, this still means a long journey for most).

Martha J Waye is a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) member from Yarnee District in River Cess. She is pictured here, presenting group-work back to her fellow participants at the recent Children in Crisis/FAWE PTA training in Cestos, River Cess, in September 2012. She walked for 4 hours and crossed the Cestos River for another 2 hours in a dug-out canoe to reach the training, but she was delighted to be there – Martha told us how happy she was to be part of the training, and how she would have walked even further to be there, because she is so happy that now she knows how to be a good PTA member and how to make the school better for children. She said she would carry all the good lessons back to her school and do everything the trainers taught her. She thanked FAWE and Children in Crisis for everything they are doing for her community, and for not forgetting their community because they are too far.

Children in Crisis and FAWE Parent Teacher Association Trainer

Martha J Waye – small in frame, but big in passion and determination – who walked for 4 hours and travelled for another 2 hours by canoe to reach the PTA training.

Children in Crisis and FAWE work hard to reach the furthest and most remote communities, who are often forgotten and miss out on basic services like education, but when we get there, the passion and commitment of community members like Martha make the journey worth every step. Their determination, passion and commitment to make the most of every training opportunity or resource provided and work tirelessly to improve their children’s education means that any investment we make is magnified and has a massive impact of the most vulnerable children. So, even if the investment of time, effort and resource we have to make is slightly higher to reach the hardest to reach, the return on that investment is so huge, and the impact on children so great, it’s worth it.

I will leave you with a single image of Principal Kofa Nagbe from Boboe Public School (he was trained by Children in Crisis & FAWE in 2011), who we met along the road one day on our way to Logan Town School. Unfortunately, we reached a point where the bridge was impassable (a heavy-duty log-bridge had been transformed into a raft-like structure, barely clinging to the banks of the swollen river below), so we had to bid farewell to Principal Nagbe, who has a long journey ahead on foot, through rivers and jungle, to reach his school and community. But he won’t give up – he will keep walking, no matter how far and no matter what the weather, because like so many of the teachers, community members and children we work with, they are determined to rebuild their lives and look forward to a brighter future.

Children in Crisis FAWE trained teacher crossing river on rickety bridge

I left Liberia feeling incredibly proud to work for Children in Crisis and in partnership with FAWE. It is truly inspiring to see the lengths the team are willing to go to reach the hardest to reach, and even more inspiring still to see how far communities are willing to go to improve education for their children. With such passion and determination among Liberians, whether beneficiary communities or our dedicated local partner colleagues, I have no doubt that Liberia will recover and re-build, even if it is a long road ahead…