It is hard to believe that we are near the halfway mark for 2012. The last three months have been so busy I haven’t taken time to breathe and reflect on the many activities that I am involved with. As a practitioner of mindfulness, I have learned that life should not be dictated by a clock or calendar. Instead it should be marked by the moments that shape our global outlook and promote our personal growth as we strive to make our contribution to this world.
During the last three months, I have been engaged in many activities that included taking a course on humanitarianism, volunteering with new organizations, and networking with many interesting and inspiring people.
Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance
The American Refugee Committee (ARC) offered a nine-week course about the many facets of humanitarian work in emergency situations. As a volunteer with this organization, I was interested in learning more about their work and reflect on how my experience in Liberia might apply to my aspirations in the international arena. This course gave a thorough overview of the challenges and opportunities working with displaced people in some of the toughest regions in the world.
Each session was taught by one of ARC’s executives; however, the information they shared applied to international relief work on a broader scale. We were given a glimpse of the different theories of humanitarianism, what it takes to coordinate a relief effort with multiple agencies, navigating the differences between various cultures, how to ensure staff care (mind, body, spirit) and protect them in hostile environments, and so much more.
This course opened our eyes to many things that are not necessarily covered in the media when a natural disaster hits or war breaks out. For example, one of the important aspects of helping people who are displaced is getting different perspectives from the those affected by the situation to better address everyone’s needs. This process includes getting the perspectives of children, because their vantage point (i.e. vertically challenged) and knowledge of the area is not the same as young and older adults.
I highly recommend this course to anyone who is seeking a career change in international work, wanting to be more involved on a global level, or learning more about humanitarian assistance.
Volunteering to Empower Others
This year, I started volunteering with WomenVenture, in hopes of facilitating a class. I have been in their career transition networking group since 2010 when I was unemployed and taken a few of their core classes such as Social Media. Also, I have been engaged in supporting others in their transitional period by providing resources or just simply listening to their stories.
In February, I had the opportunity to assist with a class called “Build a Business Website“. This three-week course was being redeveloped, because it was not achieving the goal that each participant would publish a website by the end of the course. The course facilitator of this course found an easier inexpensive site-builder that would allow the class participants to develop, publish and maintain their website.
Though this course had a few hiccups introducing the new site builder and curriculum, five of the six participants were published by the final class and the sixth was just about ready. My assistance to the success of this class was awarded with the opportunity to write a part of the curriculum and co-facilitate the next the class in May, which was cancelled due to low enrollment. The next one is scheduled in September and I am looking forward to helping the next group of participants launch their business websites.
I had another great volunteering experience with ACER (African Career, Education, and Resource Inc.) on April 28. They were hosting their third annual job fair at the Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park. I had become aware of ACER through some postings on Facebook by Wynfred Russell, Executive Director. When I saw the event announcement for the job fair, I asked if they needed any volunteers.
ACER job fair was unique, because it provided a more holistic approach. This was event for the whole family and went beyond just career development. Besides having representatives from companies and post-secondary educational institutions, it also offered free health screenings, activities for kids, teenage talent shows, information about Bottineau Transitway Project and much more.
I applaud ACER’s effort in recognizing job loss or job transition is a family affair. I was able to witness this first-hand as I worked at the registration table. Throughout the day I saw families of all generations and different cultures taking part in the various offerings. This event provided something for everyone. This was quite evident when a woman returned to the registration table and said “This was the best event ever, because all my needs were met.” She shared how she got information for furthering her education, her healthcare needs and job prospects. Her beaming smile and energizing enthusiasm was a clear indicator that this job fair was successful.
Networking With More Distant Stars
Uniting Distant Stars is a blog that was created to further my interest in appreciating and understanding other cultures through active dialogs with people in discovering that we are all “stars” and there is much more that unites us than divides us.
In the last three months, I have been able to meet and chat with interesting and inspiring people who are from or worked in different parts of the world. With each discussion, I have learned so much more about how this interconnected world is evolving and how we each have a part in making it better place.
Happy New Year Everyone! I hope that 2012 brings about great adventures, new possibilities and fulfilled dreams! Though we live in a rapidly advancing and changing world, we need to take some moments to breathe and appreciate the many splendors of life…otherwise another year will slip by before we know it. So, as this new year moves forward, I wish you all the best as you start each day with a blank canvass to create a life that that each one of you deserves.
Since my last post, I was able to share my experience with some of my supporters on December 15. It was an attentive crowd of retired women, who many have been active throughout their lives in community outreach and most of them continue to find ways to serve as volunteers or activists. I gave them an overview of my PowerPoint that I had presented in Liberia and then followed with pictures and video clips of my trip.
We enjoyed a thoughtful Q and A session afterwards discussing the challenges and opportunities for Liberia. Based on their interest from my presentation, they decided to follow it by watching the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” that they will view this week. This is a powerful film that shows the sacrifice and courage of Liberian women–both Muslim and Christian–who demonstrated for peace and ushered in the end of a long and devastating civil war.
Now I will return to finishing this three-part post by sharing my second and final week in Liberia.
Before leaving Kakata on Sunday, November 7, many of the pastors were invited to various churches to give the sermon. Most of the pastors committed to preaching at two churches so they could reach out to more people. I was asked to join one of the pastors at the two churches he had committed to. I was invited to give a brief statement, which I thanked them for their hospitality and shared what had been accomplished during our week in Kakata.
Afterwards, we returned to the guest house to gather and pack our luggage before stopping at Kakata’s City Hall to say our final good-byes at their closing program. Since we did not have to much time to visit, one pastor went in on our behalf to express our gratitude and farewell. The rest of us remained outside saying goodbye to people that we had made connections during the week.
Pastor Destaye, Hawa and Naomi standing by our team’s luggage before departing the
Booker Washington Institute guest house (courtesy of Pastor Crawford’s camera).
As we were heading out of town, we made one vital stop at the police station to secure our luggage that was stacked in the back of the pickup. Our favorite police chief came to our rescue and borrowed us some tarpaulin and rope, which some of her officers helped tie down our luggage. As we waited, I treated everyone to an ice cold glass-bottled soft drink before we departing for Monrovia.
Kakata’s Police Chief Goldoe overseeing the securing of our luggage
outside the police station (courtesy of Pastor Crawford’s camera).
Enjoying a cold drink while taking this group shot
(photo taken from Pastor Crawford’s camera)
Pastor Destaye and I cheering a successful week!
(photo taken by Pastor Crawford’s camera)
We arrived in Monrovia before dusk and joined our team to have dinner before settling into our respective accommodations. The men resided at the home of a Liberian man, whose family still lives in Minnesota, and is close friends with some of the pastors. He provided free lodging for the men and also free nightly meals for the entire team. The women also had free lodging at the newly built home of one of our teammates, Gladys. Our two locations were within 10 minutes of each other in the Dwazon area.
Our location did provide one challenge, because we were on the eastern outskirts of the metropolitan area and our travel time could be anywhere from one hour to four hours (going one-way) factoring the time of day and traffic congestion.
On a side note, let me briefly illustrate where we stayed using this Map of Liberia (click here). Monrovia is located in Montserrado County (third one from the left along the Atlantic in yellow). I was staying along the coastal highway in the eastern part of Montserrado, bordering Margibi County. The international airport is on the same highway heading east to the border of Grand Bassa County, which is indicated by an airplane icon near the place marker for Robertsfield. Furthermore, Kakata is due north from the airport (not quite one inch distance) in the center of Margibi County. I hope this illustration gives you a better idea of where I was moving around during my two weeks in Liberia.
Now getting back on topic. The following day (Monday) was scheduled a free day, so I setup two meetings.
The first one was with THINK (Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness) Liberia, which was located about 15 minutes from where I was staying. Since our group had limited transportation, THINK was most generous in transporting me to and from my location. THINK is an organization that I had been following on Facebook for awhile, because I was interested in their work in helping former child (girl) soldiers with education and basic life skills training. So, I was eager to learn more about their program.
I was able to visit both their office and the site of their training program (see the pictures below). They have converted a single family house into a training center and dormitory for about 20 girls in their program. About half of the girls have babies or toddlers, which they are welcomed and nurtured by everyone. THINK’s program offers academics, life and job skills training to the girls who have suffered one or more of the GIANT problems caused by the civil war that Rosana Schaak, THINK’s Executive Director defined as violence, separation, prostitution, illiteracy, addiction, slavery, and HIV/AIDs.
THINK’s training and dormitory facility
Main classroom for academics and life skills training
Outdoor kitchen – they use a ‘coal pot’ for their cooking, which is the apparatus with smoke rising up
They used bunk beds so that they could comfortable house all the girls.
My second appointment was with the American Refugee Committee (ARC) Country Director-Abraham Leno. I have been volunteering at ARC headquarters in Minneapolis for one year. I was aware of ARC’s work in Liberia from my previous trips, so I was looking forward to this meeting. We had planned to meet around lunch time after our team checked out the site of the next conference on Bushrod Island (just north of downtown Monrovia) at The Bethel Bushrod Island Missions Church (see picture below).
The Bethel Bushrod Island Missions Church (photo taken by Pastor Crawford)
This only took about an hour, so I arranged for Abraham to pick
me up at a Money Gram near Liberia’s Free Port. Well, our plans were quickly derailed when a riot broke out not far from the ARC headquarters in Congo Town (suburb east of downtown Monrovia) as Abraham was on his way to pick me up. One of the political parties whose headquartered in Congo Town organized this demonstration to oppose the October 11 election results for the president and their participation in the runoff election the following day. Sadly, two or three individuals were killed as the situation became tense between the demonstrators and the police. Gratefully, Abraham and his driver were able to find safety, and we were also able to reschedule and meet on Friday.
Strangely, after I called one of the pastors that was in the area to come get me at Money Gram the phone service went dead. Our team was using the same telecommunications company, which also happened to be located in Congo Town across from the riot area. So somehow during the chaos their service was comprised for a few hours.
The communication may have been down, but it did not stop us from making our dinner appointment at the Bethel Pastor’s house in Brewerville (small town north of Monrovia’s metropolitan area) where we enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal. It was now time to make our journey home and rest after a long, exhausting day. However, we soon discovered that the riots diverted the traffic from downtown Monrovia to Somalia drive causing a major traffic jam. This two-lane road turned into six lanes as everyone was heading the same direction going nowhere fast.
This was not a strange occurrence to me, since I had lived along this stretch during my second year in Liberia. So as we crept along, I kept telling my fellow passengers that eventually we will meet up with the oncoming traffic. And sure enough, we did at the New Georgia Estate junction (where I lived). It was here that we were now reduced to one lane by the new traffic controllers (i.e. former combatants). Normally, the police are in control since there is no traffic lights; however, when situations like this happen they give up and head home for the evening.
Well, it took us about four hours to get back home. My fellow teammates were overwhelmed by what they experienced, so we decided that everyone must be prepared to bring along what they need for the day, because we would not return until the revival meetings ended at night.
The next day (Tuesday) was the runoff election for the Presidential candidates. We started off the morning in prayer asking for peace as the Liberian people headed to the polls. Also, there was much reflection on reconciliation and forgiveness for the Liberian people. Many of my Liberian teammates had experienced the war before finding refuge in the U.S. and had lost many loved ones. They too were still haunted by the realities of the brutal civil war and knew it was time to forgive those who harmed them and families. It seemed that there was a great weight lifted in the room from this prayer vigil, and I hope that they were all able to move on to the next phase of healing.
This session ended about lunch time, so the rest of the day was considered free time. Some of the pastors headed back to Kakata to finalize some plans for the land of the future library. The rest of us stayed back and took sometime to relax. I joined some of the group by walking down to the beach. Then I went to my room and took a much needed nap since I was working on an average of four hours of sleep a night.
Liberia’s Atlantic Shoreline
As the day ended everyone in Liberia could breathe again, because peace was maintained at each polling station. Regrettably, some Liberians opt out of voting due to fears from rumors that more riots were planned. Regardless of the results of the election, I believe that most Liberians were happy that they were able to maintain a peaceful election (minus the one incident) and this is another positive sign that this nation is looking towards a better future.
For the next two days, we held our conferences and revival meetings at Bethel Bushrod Island Missions Church. The crowds were much smaller than in Kakata, because Monrovia is the economic center for Liberia. Most people are either at their jobs, market tables or hustling for work so they can provide for their families. Also, the city is grossly over populated, so finding a taxi or bus is quite difficult.
Here I am presenting to a group at Bethel Bushrod Island Mission Church.
On Thursday, I was asked by Hawa (our dental assistant) to help her as she would clean teeth for the conference participants. Well, I soon found out that there would be no cleanings since everyone she saw needed teeth removed…usually a minimum of two. My job was to hold the heads of the patient as Hawa worked to extract the infected tooth. As I held the person’s head I could feel the pressure as the tooth resisted being removed. Please don’t be alarmed here, each person received Novocain to numb the pain and then given pain medicine and antibiotics for aftercare.
Here is Hawa extracting a tooth as another woman hold the head of the patient.
Hawa explaining to the patient about what she should expect in the next few days about pain and discomfort.
We concluded our conferences and revival meetings at Providence Baptist Church located downtown Monrovia. Originally we had planned to have our morning/afternoon conferences on Friday and Saturday, but we cancelled the second day to attend the funeral for the mother of one of the pastors of our group. This was his first time home in about 15 years and two weeks before he arrived his mother passed away. So, his return to Liberia was bittersweet.
Providence Baptist Church in the background, which is the oldest church in Liberia. From left to right Rev. Goba, Gladys, Hawa, Rev. Kaffey, Rev.
Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr. (Providence’s senior pastor), Rev. Dr. Tabla, Pastor Crawford, me, Rev. Dr. Howard, and Rev. Collins.
So, Friday was our last day of conferences and it was decided that I would present to the combined group since mine was focused more on healing and reconciliation–the theme of our conference. This was my third time presenting during these two weeks and I enjoyed getting the feedback from the participants. Again, as I stated in my last post I will share my presentation in an upcoming post.
Giving an opening prayer before giving my final presentation.
Saturday was the final day of our mission and we ended it strong. The revival meeting that night focused on reconciliation by having representatives of all 16 ethnic groups come up to the front. I believe that all groups were represented as they joined hands and formed a circle. This was a powerful moment for everyone there that night and hopefully this will continue.
Prayer vigil for healing and reconciliation among Liberia’s ethnic groups.
The circle of unity and hope for Liberia’s future
Wow! Just like that the two weeks were over and I would be making the long journey home. So, on my final day in Liberia I was invited to attend the services at World Harvest Church in New Georgia Estate. This is a family-run church (Pastors Stephen and Annette Tour) that has seen tremendous growth since I left in January 2010. I was asked to make a brief presentation, which I shared with the congregation the highlights of our team’s mission and how each and everyone of them can be an instrument of peace and reconciliation for Liberia.
World Harvest Church in New Georgia Estate. This was taken shortly after I presented Pastor Tour with a new world map, which they were in need of one.
After the service, I was invited to lunch at the Tour’s house and got to visit with their family for awhile. Before I knew it was time to change into comfortable clothes and head for the airport, which I was escorted by Pastor Stephen and my Liberian family. I was able to say my final goodbyes and proceed into the terminal for what seemed to be an extra long check in process. While I was riding the bus to my flight, I saw the most beautiful sight of two international airliners on the tarmac, which has not occurred since before the war. To me this was another sign that things are progressing positively for Liberia.
As I conclude this post, I want to Thank all my supporters again for making this trip possible. It was great to be back in my second home and being able to see some positive signs that gives me hope that things are changing for the better. It is my wish that I can return soon to work in the capacity of empowering and equipping disadvantaged young Liberian adults to become contributing members of society. Blessings to all!