Kevin in Liberia

Its Purpose: to raise awareness of current social, political, ethical, and spiritual issues within a relief and development context in Liberia. Its effectiveness is simple: It relies on me, the author, to provide insightful, and often debate-sparking material that will encourage you, the reader to get engaged through comment contributions, emails, and promoting others to read, re-think, and respond to the important issues discussed.

I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom. ~ a prayer by Blaise Pascal

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Concerned Reader

Over the last few months while I've been blogging I have received a number of emails from an American radio talk show, French journalist, Liberians currently outside of Liberia (the majority of them in the United States), and many other dedicated and concerned readers. While the majority of my readers generally enjoy the stories I have to share there has been concern about the tone of content of my blog and the potentially negative images of Liberia that it might convey.

What follows is an email from a dedicated reader and concerned Liberian living in the United States as well as my reply. I'm looking for feedback from my readers concerning this email and any other similar, or not-so-similar feelings regarding the content of my site.

Kevin:

I am a Liberian living in the United Staes of America and a regular reader of your blog. Although, I may not agreed with everything that you write, I find your site interesting. However, in recent time I have read several issues critical of the system. From Air port Officials being un- aware about the arrival of a plane or to better put when a flight is delayed to the insincere wood carver. This is good though but when this blog is not balance with some positive developments going on in the country, it rasies some concerns for some of us. I know the country is recovering from a prolonged civil war and majority of the people live in abject poverty and squalors but some positive developments are going on. I have looked forward to read about some positive issues. However,The more I wait, I continue to read about dishonesty, insincerity, and see ghasty pictures about poverty. I know that there are lot of insincere and corrupt Liberians. Yet I strongly believe there are few honest ones but their stories are not told. I also do not see pictures of the beautiful land scapes and natural habitats.

I am raising these issues because I read your blog along with my kids and they may not have the intelligence to analyze your writing. And for this reason, they asked me a lot of stereotypical questions. I am taking them home soon and I do not want them looking at the entire populace as dishonest, corrupt and bunch of "primitive people". Please write something about the small percentage of people that are hard working, sincere and "civilized". I just need a balance piece of writing.

In your most recent blogs, you stated that you trusted only a single doctor in the entire country with the exception of the doctors on the Mercy Ship. This is your opinion and you are entitle to it. However, if you are writing for a global audience,this kind of writing send a wrong message. I do not know the nationality of Dr. Scarla, but from his name, he may be an expatriate. I know of many good and professional Liberian doctors in the country but my kids do not undersatnd this.

When I read your last posting dated March 13, 2006 regarding your Boat(canoe) ride with the 'Crew' from the Mercy Ship, I was delighted that you guys had a beautiful ride on the Mesurado River. However, I became disgusted when I read you and Beth's articles(girl from Mercy ship) that the people of Clara and Vai Towns were drinking that filthy water. I immediately called Liberia and asked my friend who is a health worker to go and investigate and the situation. He said he talked to the inhabitants and the people asked him to rexamine his head because even an insane man will never drink from the river. I am not disputing your allegation but I hope it is just not true.

Kevin, after your tour of the Mesurado River, I was waiting to see pictures of the beautiful wetland, mangrove swamps, Islands and lakes which I believe you might have seen but I was disappointed because I did not see any picture to elate my spirit. Please bear in mind that I know you are not wrting to please me or satisfy my curiosity but I am a part of a huge audience that visit your site. I hope you see my writing as a constructive criticism from one of your ardent, staunch, and regular "fan". I don't want my kids to see you as a western reporter who only report the negatives in Africa.

Thanks
Ben.


My reply...

Hi Ben,

Its great to hear from people like you. Thank you for the constructive criticism.

I write things on a first hand basis as I see them and I try not to “candy-coat” anything. I don’t write to please or make friends. I do agree with you that there are a few honest Liberians because I work with some. As a Westerner coming over to Liberia for a year as a relief/development worker I will admit that I still can’t fathom what the Liberian people have gone through or how they can be as optimistic as they are.

I would recommend you reading my post about the Bong Mines. It is a very positive outlook on the natural beauty of Liberia. I also have a post on there from last year on Robertsport. I think I have given an accurate description of the natural beauty of the country and I believe that this country has some serious potential for tourism in the years to come. Regarding a trustworthy doctor in Liberia. The reason I trust Dr. Sacra (the one who stitched me up) and the Mercy Ships doctors is because of their results. On more than one occasion I have had friends of mine go to Liberian doctors and either have drugs prescribed for them which they are allergic to and giving the patient the wrong treatment in the case of an pregnancy case actually killing the baby and the mother (one of our staff member’s daughters) just to name a couple. I’m not sure if you can blame the doctors because Liberians need to take ownership of their healthcare system and that means having trained medical personnel with the capabilities of dealing with situations like these. I plain fact of the matter is that a lot of these doctors were most likely trained before the war and have maybe lost a lot of what they learned while they were just trying to survive over the last 15 or so years. You can’t blame victims of war but I don’t believe you can run away from the fact that they have problems. That’s why the international community has such a large presence…because it has problems!

I could try and contact some of the other people who were on the boat ride to get you some pictures of the mangrove swamps but I’m not sure if you’d want to see them. There is garbage caught and all among the mangrove swamp. What surprised me the most is that the garbage is not strictly confined to the shores where people live. The garbage floating around in the water has found a home on the shores of islands on the river and amongst the mangrove.

The issue of drinking water in the river…it is not only this river in which people drink. We do a bi-annual survey of our communities that we are working in up in Nimba County and within the communities we are working in 23% of residents use rivers or creeks for their source of water (drinking/cleaning/cooking etc). This is a major worry when it comes to outbreaks such as cholera etc. I would tend to think that people in an urban setting would hopefully be a little more educated than those in the bush but I would argue that in Monrovia that percentage is in no way zero. I would also say that in no way is it a majority of Clara/Vai Town residents that drink the water…but there is at least one.

I’m wondering if you read my article that got published on the Open Source radio show (there is a link to it on my blog). Its about the feeling in Liberia around the inauguration of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson. I would like to think that it was a very optimistic outlook on Liberia. I also put a post on the blog about the different projects that we are running in Liberia currently serving close to a quarter million people. These are the positives that I see in Liberia. When I see freshly paved roads that don’t spoil in four months, public running water, or electricity I’ll be the first one to write about it. Speaking of which…I really need to put a photo of the two “working” traffic lights near Freeport. I would love to write about people’s lives that are being saved through the work done in our clinics or by our community health ambassadors but I’m not on the ground enough to give an accurate description of individual cases. I don’t think that would be fair unless I was their first hand.

Well, take care and thanks once again for the concerns. Feel free to contact me whenever you would like. That is why I’m here.


K.

5 Comments:

  • At 4:45 PM, Blogger Preston Lancashire said…

    Hi Kevin,
    I see you've remained a bit tight lipped about potential wife material!

    I read Ben's letter and I can understand his point of view.

    But, I actually have a better image of Liberia now than before I read your blog, I never for one minute thought that all Liberians were out to steal/scam everyone, I realised that with the wood carver you were just re-telling a story.

    I have found most of your blogging to give an honest account of what you actually see, your not a professional journalist after all.

    Keep blogging and keep up the good work.

    Ian

     
  • At 6:15 PM, Blogger Gareth Evans said…

    Yo Kev

    I understand Bens thoughts.

    But, having lived in Africa for three years the last those being in Liberia; I do think you give a fair impression of Liberia.

    If I was ill I would only go to Dr Sacra or "the Ship". That is just common sense. I think there probably are good Liberian Doctors but they are under (or Non) funded and ill equiped. How can a Doctor diagnose properly without being able to carry out 'proper' scientific tests?

    As far as litter goes... wow!!! It is everywhere. As you are in the WatSan (Water and Sanitation) business I would tend to agree with you that 23% (seems low) of the population community you work in use the streams or creeks. I even think it could be higher, that is 23% of the reported rate. I would imagine there is a stigma associated with using the streams or creeks and the actual could be higher?? Just speculating...

    There are a lot of wells being dug, but often I have heard that it is done without the buy-in or ownership of the Liberian community. I have heard stories where NGOs (Equip?! Tearfund probably...) have provided all the necessary equipment for building latrines and wells. But when the community is asked to dig the well or latrine they refuse to do it with out being paid. In the end a big NGO will fly in and dig the well for them. But there is no ownership from the community and so when the pump breaks or the latrine needs cleaning or a repair... it doesnt happen. I digress.

    Liberians on the whole are looking for change, and I knew I could trust a lot of my staff. (I did reduce the number of staff from 51 to 27! The accountant got fired because he 'borrowed' some money. The internal auditor got made redundant because he didnt report it... etc etc. The staff that remained on the whole I could trust!). I also had friends I could trust, Teta, Peter, Moses, Bob David, Rev Kulah to name a few. But these are people I had relationships with.

    I would say your views on the populace is pretty much balanced. How many times did I get frustrated with a Waitress who within two minutes couldnt remember my order, would ask again and then still bring the wrong order?!!!! That person had one job to do and yet it wasnt being done effectively. Silly example. But a serious point - especially when it comes to Airport personnel or other more important jobs.

    I wouldnt say this is necessarily a reflection on the Liberian people. But I think it is a reflection on their training and education. It will take years to put that right.

    Insincerity and dishonesty - an everyday part of life when people live day to day, hand to mouth.

    Sorry about the long post, that probably went off at a tangent. But I believe as I know you do, there is a lot of good in Liberia. But that also the day to day life is pretty grim.

    Keep on giving your honest reflection of living in Liberia.

    Also post more pics of the ocean... missing the beach already.

    G

     
  • At 10:03 PM, Blogger eThib said…

    I found myself agreeing with both you and Ben, myself. Yes, there are beautiful beaches and georgeous views, but yes, they all seem to be covered in garbage. The only garbage cans I've seen are a few downtown. And Liberian's don't spray paint 'DO NOT PEPE HERE' all over their buildings for nothing.
    And Gareth is right, sometimes you can lead a horse to water, but he won't drink unless you pay him to. Or you give them enough supplies to build three structures, and you return 2 weeks later, and they've got one up, and are asking for more supplies. Sad to say, every person I deal with seems to have an agenda that differs from mine drastically, usually along the lines of how much of my money I should part. Trying to fund my school in downtown Monrovia (out of my own pocket), I asked the 'treasurer' how much certain items cost, only to get quotes TWICE what I was paying in the market (and I was paying westerners prices).
    Liberia will turn around one day, but it will have to be Liberians that take ownership of it, otherwise, it's just anohter welfare state, sad to say.

     
  • At 7:51 PM, Blogger Askinstoo said…

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  • At 3:52 PM, Blogger american in liberia said…

    Hi Kevin,
    I started reading your blog when you first came to Liberia. I read it almost every day but I stopped about 6 months ago because I felt it was negative. I haven't read it in awhile so I don't know if it's changed but I definetly felt that way before I stopped.

    The things you have said about Liberia are mostly true but I felt the tone was one of "american superiority" for lack of a better phrase. I guess it's more how you said it and not what you said.

    Just my $.02 from someone who doesn't know you personally, so maybe a little less bias.

     

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