Supporting Education in Liberia

It is absolutely amazing to trace the ripple effects of a simple gesture of kindness that started four years ago. These waves of compassion have reached the shores of good-hearted people from all walks of life. By January 2012 this expanding sea of good will result in an adopt-a-school project in Liberia.

It was back in late summer of 2009, my second year of living and volunteering in Liberia. I had no viable source of income, was running low on necessary supplies and had no means of buying Christmas gifts.  My Mom, Donna Cannon, went into action and reached out to a few friends and family to help put together a “care package” and some gifts to send to Liberia. What started out to be one barrel ended up as two.

Since I was robbing my retirement fund to survive, I returned to Minnesota in January 2010 to seek employment. Later that summer, my Mom nudged me into sending some Christmas cheer to my Liberian friends and family. Again we shipped two barrels with food, supplies and gifts to bring joy and hope to even more people. On Christmas Eve, my Liberian family made popcorn and Kool-Aid for a neighborhood children’s party on Christmas Day.

The Christmas Eve elves made the popcorn and filled 
50 bags with each having a piece of candy.
This kids received a bag of popcorn and Kool-Aid. The Kool-Aid 
was poured into a water bag and frozen over night.
The neighborhood kids enjoying their Christmas treat.

By the next year, I was gainfully employed. Again, with the help of family and friends, we filled three barrels of toys, school supplies, food, flip-flops (known as slippers in Liberia), and first-aid kits. Unfortunately, this shipment did not arrive before Christmas. It was not clear what caused the delay, but it finally arrived in mid-January 2012.

When the items were received and inventoried by my partner in Liberia Kelvin Fomba, he was so overjoyed by the abundance that he sought out a small impoverished school to support. With the help of Momo B Moor, a physics teacher from Monrovia Open Bible Standard School, he found a school in great need of help. Kelvin, Momo and few others distributed the school supplies and toys to the children at Russwood Christian Academy. This was the birth of our adopt-a-school project.

Exterior of Russwood Christian Academy
Meeting Russwood Staff before distributing the supplies. 
Kelvin (in the white shirt and hat) with Momo to his left.
Some of the students inside the school.
Momo distributing supplies to the children in January 2012.

Russwood was founded on March 10, 2009 by Reverend Matthew Y Kargar in Congo Town. This school was the offspring of a church founded by Pastor Russ Wood from the U.S. The school was named after Pastor Wood, because he helped open it. This small community school serves children from impoverished families in grades kindergarten to sixth. Since its founding this school has received only sporadic support. Reverend Kargar said that they welcome a partnership since they hope to expand and better serve their students.

This year has been filled with many blessings. In June, my cousin who teaches at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Brooklyn Park notified me that they were replacing their old reading program and wondered if they would be of use in Africa. My answer was a definitive “Yes.” So four of us–my mom and brother, and another special lady who I consider my second mom–took three cars on a very hot July day to pick up this amazing collection. It included textbooks, workbooks, teacher lesson plans and so much more for grades K thru 6.

Though I had no immediate plan on how to ship these books to Liberia, I knew that my dear friend Lynda Gardiner’s husband John was planning to send a container home. I reached out to her and explained that I had received these books, but did not have the capacity to ship them to Liberia. I was delighted when Lynda and John agreed to help out. The books were recently packed so that they are ready to be shipped. John is finalizing his plans on when to send his 40-foot shipping container since he plans to travel home for the first time in about 20 years and wants to be there when it arrives.

The complete collection of reading books for kindergarten to sixth grade.
The reading program was packed into 28 boxes and are ready to be shipped.

In late July, I began looking for good deals on school supplies and decided to post photos of my first week’s purchases on Facebook. I was overwhelmed by the response to help from family and friends beyond my usual supporters. Previous years, this annual campaign was emailed to the main supporters, so it was great to see how others were excited to be part of this project.

First week of purchases in July 2012

For six more weeks, I received in-kind and cash donations for toys, school supplies, flip-flops, tooth brushes and teaching aids. The items purchased for that given week were shared on Facebook and an email update. Each week the support grew until we were receiving donations coming from Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Some of these supporters were from Ghana, Chile, Eritrea and Liberia. Two of the supporters have advanced Multiple Sclerosis and enjoyed seeing the pictures of what was purchased with their donations. A young Liberian woman donated from her employer some pencils, post-it notes, t-shirts and other items imprinted with the company’s old logo. Finally, my Mom’s dentist office, Forestview Family Dentistry, donated a box of children’s toothpaste. So this campaigned represented the spirit of Uniting Distant Stars where people from diverse backgrounds come together for a greater good.

This is what was purchased or received from donations on week 3.
160 pairs of flip-flops (i.e. slippers) from toddler to adult sizes
Half of the toothbrushes that were sent.
The donated toothpaste from the dentist office.

This year we switched from barrels to large wardrobe boxes, because a box holds more volume than a barrel. So, we started out with filling one box, then two and finally three. On September 18, we shipped out three boxes with over 1,000 pounds of supplies that we hoped would arrive before Christmas.

Three large wardrobe boxes filled with over 1,000 pounds of supplies.

Well, as I said before, this year was filled with many blessings. This week I received notice from the shipping company, IB XPRESS, that the boxes estimated arrival is November 5. My eyes could not believe what I saw, so I had to reread the letter and was overjoyed with such wonderful news. For the last three years the shipment usually arrived the week of Christmas or in the case of 2011 nearly a month late.

Once these boxes arrive at the port, it takes about 10 business days for them to clear customs before being transported to the warehouse for pick-up. Kelvin and his team of volunteers will inventory what was received and start making packets for the kids. When we shipped these boxes it was around the start of the school year and at that time we were told there were about 160 enrolled students. Well now it has been confirmed that there are 211 students in this tiny school. We have enough notebooks and pencils to give to each child. We will have to give each child either one toy or a pair of flip-flops as their special gift since there was a limited number of these items. We received a few backpacks, so these will be awarded to the top performers of the school to encourage academic achievement.

Here some of the backpacks that were sent. 
They will be given to the top performers of the school.

We will be organizing a lunch and program in early December with the school staff, students and the parents. This is when the items will be distributed and we will explain our partnership with their school. We want to engage the parents so that they can take an active role in ensuring their children’s academic success, since this project is in the developmental stage.

We will be posting updates of the December program and also announce when the reading books arrive. I will be making my sixth journey back to Liberia next year and look forward to visiting Russwood Christian Academy and seeing what more that we can do to improve learning environment. Again, I want to Thank everyone who helped launch this adopt-a-school project, because what started as a ripple crossed the Atlantic and became a wave of hope.