Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Middle of Nowhere

Yesterday we got the chance to travel out into rural Liberia, (the bush). The Community Development Program of the UMC here had project where they built wells and latrines for 3 villages in Grand Bassa and Margibi Counties. Yesterday was the dedication ceremonies for those projects. We were along with the Human Rights Monitor who had brought the need for clean water to the attention of the Community Development Program.

We left at just before 8 AM and got home a little after 8 PM. It was fun to spend that much time with several people from the church office that we don't spend much time with, but it was a long time to be in a van driving on those "roads". Some of them really were nothing more than paths going through the jungle, but those were almost better than the rocky paved roads. Thankfully we never got stuck, but there were some close calls.

Here in Monrovia we have seen a lifestyle that has redefined poverty (little running water, electricity, widespread unemployment, etc). But in the villages, it is redefined again. The villages are so isolated that many of them never leave. The nearest schools, clinics, markets, electricity, running water, or clean water (until these wells were built) are 5 or 6 hours walks away. They live in huts made of mud and thatch that leak or collapse during heavy rain. In one villages where we had a chance to talk to some villagers we found out that the for village and surrounding area (population 1,000) there is no school (no clinic either).

There is one lady in that village who volunteers to teach the children all by herself, all 125 of them. She has just an 11th grade education herself and teaching the children in a small one room church. There were 6 deaf children in that village alone who have no way of communicating with anyone. The teacher there doesn't even know that sign language exist. These children will never be able to read/ write or communicate beyond simple gestures or crying. They don't and will probably never know their own name, or even what a name is.

As a result of this visit (and another planned for this weekend to Bomi County) the Human Rights Monitor is taking advantage of our presence to focus on an universal education campaign. The Director will be visiting with the Ministry of Education tomorow to discuss the plans for educating the rural areas and especially those children with disabilities (in urban areas as well). There are even more remote parts of Liberia than where we were. Most of those children will never recieve an education, especially those who are deaf. Even in the capital city most parents see educating children with disabilities as a waste of time. Tricia will be facilitating a Deaf Educators Workshop this week to train teachers and promote deaf awareness. She will also appear on several radio programs to promote the importance of universal education.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A look on the lighter side


Tricia and I have spent a good portion of the last few days in the bathroom, so instead of filling you in with those details I am going give you all a list of the food that we miss most and are craving. We sat down and quickly filled a sheet of paper with some very detailed requests.


There is a pizza place here but it just isn't the same. We want Monical's pizza with bread sticks and cheddar dipping sauce. We didn't talk about toppings, but there should be some French dressing involved.

We would also like some Villa from Mattoon and Tobin's from Bloomington. We would enjoy some homemade Alfredo pizza from Tricia's mom and I have very specific request from Papa John's. BBQ sauce, hamburger, extra cheese, bacon, mushroom, ham, and banana peppers.


We want to go to a good sandwich shop. Tricia's order: a croissant with mayo, melted provolone cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. Aaron's: a hogie with roast beef (really quality roast beef), BBQ sauce, mushrooms, banana peppers, swiss cheese, and tomato. Toasted.

Tricia has more sandwich requests: Grilled cheese with tomato soup; and fake BLT with mayo on toast. I would take any sandwich that Tricia makes.

Tricia's Other Cravings:

Toast with cinnamon and sugar.
DQ french fries.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch with cold milk.
Dark Chocolate
A big salad with green lettuce and veggies, ranch, croutons, and cheese.
Macaroni and Cheese.
A Jamaican Rum & Coke
Veggie Burger with Chipotle sauce from Chili's.
Jamaican Coffee
Dark Chocolate

Aaron's Other Cravings:

Wendy's cheeseburger
Fruity Pebbles
Big bowl of mom's spaghetti
A cookout at dad's with burgers, cottage cheese, and mac and cheese.
Big breakfast with eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, ham and bottomless pot of coffee.
A jumbo magarita
Chocolate pie
A Steak'n'Shake Frisco melt at 1 AM (Tricia will take a Strawberry Shake)

I am craving anything with mushrooms and BBQ sauce, and Tricia would do anything for some cheese. It's funny the things you miss.


We also thought it might be fun to let you know that we started a game of Rummy when we first got here and decided to keep a running tally for the summer. Unfortunately I have fallen quite a bit behind. Score: Tricia-6410 Aaron-5340. We still have a long way to go.

Word of Wisdom:

However far a man urinates, the last drop always comes back to his feet.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Deaf Schools in Monrovia

Sorry it has taken so long to post. We have not had access to the computer as much, and have been busy.

This past week has been packed full. Tuesday and Wednesday, we did a lot of traveling around the greater Monrovia area to visit other schools for the deaf. In all, we were able to visit five schools. The schools varied in sizes and styles; there was a boarding school, a school within an orphanage, a one year old school with only chalkboards to accommodate learning, and a school that integrated students who are deaf into general classrooms with hearing peers. Even though the schools were different, at each one, we were met by bright-eyed, eager children and young adults who surrounded us and loved to get their picture taken.

After visiting these schools, it is apparent the lack of support that deaf people receive from the community or the government. These schools are functioning on very little, with many students and few teachers. It is not surprising to hear, that some students attend school very little or stop coming at all. It is hard to become motivated to go to school when the future does not look bright.

The last Thursday was also a big day for the community of people with disabilities in Liberia. There was a march through town and the final stop was the capital building to bring a petition before the legislature to ratify the UN Convention on the rights of the disabled. Aaron and I were able to walk alongside our deaf brothers and sisters. I was actually able to see many of the students I met at other schools during the march. We will see if the legislature will put their support behind their citizens with disabilities.

This week I will be at the school, hopefully doing some interviews with the kids. Next week, there is a workshop planned for the teachers of which I will be conducting.

We will try to post as soon as we can. Hope everyone is well back home.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Out and About

Hello Everyone:

We have been busy lately visiting places in and around Monrovia and meeting lots of new people. Let's hope I remember everything:

Children's village-

The other day we drove out to visit a childrens villages located on a large peice of land own by the UMC on the outskirts of Monrovia. The village has 19 cottages for the children to live in and a newly built school on the grounds that provides education up to 9th grade. Almost half of the cottages are currently empty, although there are about 75 children who live there. Many of the cottages need some repair as does the the chapel building. On the other hand, the grounds are very nice our brief meeting with the program director was very encouraging.

Mr. Kotoh-

Mr. Kotoh is a blind man who has worked as an advocate for the blind in Liberia (and now disabled peoples in general) for over 20 years and has much to show for his work. We visting a workshop that he was holding at boarding school for the blind facility that he has helped build and develop through his advocacy. We had a very good meeting with him discussing his career in advocacy, the state of disabled in Liberia, and the future for other groups (especially the deaf).


The other day the director of the Human Rights Monitor took us out to visit the Owengrove district where the Firestone Plantation and factory are. We visited a small village just across the river from the factory to get a sense of the environmental impact that Firestone has had on that village. Also there, we saw a small concrete building with two small vents near the top that the distict had been using a prison before the Monitor worked to have it shut down. We were able to meet with the distict commissioner, magistrate, and a local school principle while during our visit. The school at one point had an enrollment of 400, but it has recently dropped to 200. During our visit we saw 3 students. It was the middle of a school day. All of these people were very gracious to interview us when we arrived unannounced, but we really enjoyed talking about their accomplished, goals, and challenges. I wish I had room to right about all of that.

The Beach-

Then finally we made some time to head out to a clean beach last night. It was a cloudy day, but still plenty warm to enjoy the water and the relaxation. In fact this entire weekend has been very nice. We didn't get a chance to go to the market on Saturday like we had planned (plans change quickly and often here) but spent the reading listening to the waves just outside our compound, taking turns laying on a hammock hanging in the shade of a couple of palms. It's odd to see such poverty and stuggle in a place that's so close to paradise.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Aaron's Turn

Sorry it took so long for me to share what I have been up to. But surprisingly, our internet connection hasn't been as reliable as we had hoped.

We are actually getting pretty busy, and we haven't started the busy part of the trip yet when we start traveling around rural Monrovia.

I have been principally working with the United Methodist Human Rights Monitors, basically it is an office of the church that works to protect human rights here in Liberia. They do a lot of work in the rural areas educating people about their, and bringing human rights violations that they observe to the attention of the government and the press. I have spent a lot of time discussing the human rights situation in Liberia, getting to know the officers, drafting and editing project proposals and doing some other multimedia things. Also this weekend we celebrated Peace with Justice Sunday with a parade of students and indoor program where they invited me to give a short speech. I also appeared in an interview on their radio program, which basically makes me a celebrity.

In the future we will do some traveling to different areas where they work and see some of the situations in the country where human rights are threatened, including the Firestone district. We also met with a lady who runs an interdemonoation youth and children ministry. The children put together a special welcome service for us and we had a lot of fun with them yesterday afternoon. We will spend a few of our Saturdays getting to know those kids a little bit better; and hopefully some of you back in the states will fall in love with and decide to sponsor them.

So this has been a big work week, but we really enjoy the work we are doing. If they paid us for this we might not ever go home. Actually thats not true, I am barely surviving this internet shortage. We will let you know about all of the other exciting things we are doing in the future. And unfortunately there probably will not be many picture because the connection is so slow.

It's almost dinner time, so I have to go.

Thanks for reading!