Liberia has been plagued by numerous systemic illnesses caused by poverty and war. These social diseases have hindered this nation’s recovery process leaving Liberian children vulnerable to undue suffering. These children are in danger of being prey to sexual predators. These children have learned from a generation of war to confront issues or solve problems with violence. These children are encouraged through peer pressure that teenage pregnancy is fashionable. These children are compelled to be street sellers to help support their families who are unable to subsist on $1 (USD) a day. These children are lured into marriage before age 18 as means of survival for them and/or the families. These children receive limited to no education in a tuition-based learning environment that is strapped for funds and trained teachers. The children of Liberia deserve to be protected from these chronic diseases that can be eradicated through the curing power of love.
We cannot generalize that these social calamities are solely based on African culture, tribal customs or Liberian parental care, because these same problems have afflicted children in both developed and developing nations. We can fault the parents for some of these issues; however, they too have been traumatized by 14 years of civil war and victimized by extreme poverty conditions that has been aggravated with the recent global financial crisis. The sad reality is that most Liberians (including the children) have not had proper trauma counseling from a trained mental health practitioner.
In fact, in a 2008 article “Liberia: Mental health problems breed violence” posted on IRIN News illustrated how the lack of this necessary detraumatization counseling has left many people struggling to cope in everyday life. This article is about how the only psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Harris, in the nation is overwhelmed with helping over three million Liberians recover from their emotional wounds. In fact, the demand for patient counseling is greater than the supply of trained trauma counselors. Notably, the civil war ended in 2003; however, an emotional war in the minds of many Liberians wages on.
Sadly, many Liberians, they have tried to numb this emotional pain by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, and substance abuse is becoming a concern with the children. Liberia might have more than their share of drinking establishments, but access and use to illegal drugs is a growing problem. In the past year, Liberia is seeing an increase of drug trafficking by international and domestic suppliers. In fact, West African nations have become the transit route for large quantities of cocaine from Latin America en route to Europe. At a local level, cannabis production has increased as Liberian farmers have found selling marijuana and hashish more profitable than growing food crops. As it stands now, Liberians can purchase cocaine for about $5 (USD) and marijuana for less than 50 cents (USD) within the capital, Monrovia, according to Liberia’s substance abuse prevention policy.
How can a nation rebuild from the war’s destruction without providing the very much needed mental health counseling of its people, especially the children? Clearly, detraumatizing a nation does not happen in a vacuum. This is something that will take a great deal of time and effort by those involved. However, whatever can be done to help Liberians overcome their emotional wounds will ultimately ensure the children live healthier and safer lives.
It would seem that the needs of Liberia’s children are priority, because one can see many signboards for international non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and religious organizations that are based here for various capacity building initiatives. However, there needs to be more attention with the quality and quantity of mental health care providers in Liberia. Because rehabilitating this nation cannot be limited to rebuilding structures and systems, it must involve the hearts and minds of the people. These humanitarian groups and any concerned individuals can collectively work on bringing in more licensed mental health practitioners that can counsel patients and train Liberian health workers to become trauma counselors, because therapy for some people may take years.
Liberians, like so many other people in world, want the best for their children. However, the tragedies that have befallen this nation from experiencing 14 years of war have left many parents and children in crises. There is an urgent need to nurture and develop Liberian children through unconditional love, because they represent almost 50% of the population, and they are the promise of this nation’s future. So it is befitting for all those concerned to come together to create a culture of love to heal, protect and mentor the children of Liberia in becoming the nation’s brightest stars.