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, April 10, 2006

Another Concerned Reader

Dear Kevin,

You asked for comments on the tone of your blog and its accuracy. I'll start by telling you a little about me which doesn't matter except to provide some context.

I'm a 49 year old Black American who visited Liberia 35 years ago. My great grandfather's brother moved to Liberia and the two branches of the family kept in contact. Some of the Liberians attended college in the U.S. My dad met some of them and in 1971 we went to Liberia for two weeks along with an additional month in Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. Liberia was a very different place in 1971 than it is now, but my image of the country includes educated people and a reasonably stable society. I'll add that I want to do nothing more than go back to Liberia and assist people there in rebuilding society. I have tremendous respect for what you are doing in Liberia, and the fact that you are doing as part of a mission.

My concern about your blog and many others about Liberia from the development community is what appears to me to be a world weary tone that we have to help these people even if they don't deserve it. This comes across in several ways: the lack of understanding of the short and long term history of Liberia, the lack of understanding that current conditions have a lot to do with 14 years of civil war and civic disruption, and the constant focus on "white kids in Africa." Most obvious and I think what Ben is getting at was the failure to mention any Liberians in Liberia who are educated, competent, compassionate, and honest. This sounds very negative, and I apologize and mean no hard feelings. Like Ben, I am a faithful reader of your blog, enjoy reading about your interpretation of what you see, and respect your commitment to the people of Liberia. I hope you have a safe trip back to Canada. I look forward to hearing from you and would very much like your opinion on the role that Black Americans can play in the reconstruction of Liberia.

Sincerely,

Another Concerened Reader



My response...

Good to hear from you! I love when readers take the time to get in
contact with me.

I'm not sure I agree with you on all issues but I respect your opinion.

Being part of the relief/development community here in Liberia I have never heard the idea that Liberians don't deserve help. I often have discussions with other NGO workers on the problems that Liberians face trying to rebuild their lives but I have never once heard the notion that they don't deserve it. My view on the situation is that educated/non-educated, honest/corrupt, competent/incompetent – anyone who has had their lives torn apart by 14 years of civil war deserves to be helped in an attempt to get their lives back on track. I believe the development/international community here in Liberia has a fairly good idea of the history, both short- and long-term, here in Liberia. There are different NGO workers here in Liberia that have been here for 20+ years and who have PhDs in the study of Liberia and I believe they have done an excellent job of portraying their viewpoints on differing issues that have brought Liberia where it is today: the two-tiered society caused by the Americo Liberians in the mid 1800s, conflicts between indigenous clans, the imposing of Western rule of law on top of tribal rule of law, the existence and dominant role of secret societies (eg. Poro/Sande Socities as well as Freemasony) in Liberian politics, as well as the fact that a vast majority of Liberians have adopted and have engrained the idea that corruption is ok – standard operating procedure. I had the opportunity to attend a two-day USAID Strategic Planning Workshop here in Liberia a few months ago. USAID happens to be one of the biggest relief/development donors here in Liberia and to see the direction they are going to take in the next few years was very interesting. One whole day of the two-day workshop was dedicated to the problem of "Corruption". One point that came up was that presently in Liberia corruption is seen as ethically right, and this is obviously caused from years of just trying to survive during the civil war – no doubt about it. I also believe that the government has a very important role to play in setting the bar as far as what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in civil society. It's a shame that over the past 26 years the government, starting with the Doe regime in the 1980s then followed by Taylor in the 1990s and just recently with the National Transitional Government of Liberia(NTGL), have set the bar extremely low by running stupendously corrupt governments. Its great to see that newly elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is taking the issue of corruption straight on by firing all Ministry employees and making newly elected government officials declare their assets before being sworn in. In no way can you place the blame directly on the people of Liberia for the corruption problems faced at this present time but for me there are still no excuses. My take on the whole corruption issue is that it is not going to be an overnight fix by any means. I believe that through honest successive governments dedicated to the betterment of the people of Liberia and through extensive education the problem of corruption can be conquered. Its like teaching someone who has been paralyzed from the waist down to walk again. As Liberians would say, "small small".

I am curious to know what you mean by the constant focus on "white kids in Africa". That's a term I've never heard before and I'm curious to know what that is intended to mean.

As far as the role that Black Americans can play in the reconstruction of Liberia, that is a very tough question. The biggest things that Liberia needs at this moment is their infrastructure back in working order, whether it be physical/capital infrastructure (roads, bridges, running water, power, garbage collection/disposal, and a fully operational port) or governmental infrastructure (revenue collection, salaried civil servants etc.). To me it often seems extremely hard to "help" when you're in North America. I know some people send financial help over to support differing projects going on in Liberia – and all of that helps don't get me wrong. I believe that as the international community continues to pour in money for the reconstruction of infrastructure, more and more onus will be put on the Liberian people to take ownership of their natural resources, problems, and their lives in an attempt to reach that position of sustainable development that "us", the development community, hope and pray for. There are, I suppose, three methods that one can help in the rebuilding of Liberia: 1. Financial support, 2. Actually coming to Liberia and physically helping out, and 3. Prayer.

Thanks again for going out of your way to email me.

God bless.



Concerned Reader's Reply:

I think we disagree on some points but agree on many. I think our main area of disagreement is due to very different perspectives. I saw Liberia for two weeks 35 years ago. You have lived there for a year. I also think that our perspective differs on the history and culture of Liberia and how that has influenced recent events.

My comment "white kids in Africa" was probably unfair. Here's what I meant. It bothered me that all your pictures and much of the text focused on surfing and hanging out with the other folks with the development and missionary communities. All (most) were white. All(most) were young. It struck me how invisible Liberians are in your blog. I'd like to know more about what young Liberians are doing. What about those going to University of Liberia, the Baptist Seminary, or Cuttington College? Those who weren't child soldiers, or corrupt, but just people trying to get some education?

Having said all that, what I want to do is go to Liberia, possibly on some time of short term mission trip through American Baptist Churches USA. I'm praying that I can work something out in the next couple years.

Again, have a safe trip back to Canada and to the people that have kept you in their prayers.

Another Concerened Reader

4 Comments:

  • At 7:23 AM, Blogger eThib said…

    I agree with 'Another Concerned Reader' that the Blog tends to eschew educated & competent Liberians to focus on the 'lower classes', But let's rememver, Kevin is working for an NGO, so mainly deals with the latter, not the former. The leadership team in my NGO deals with them on a weekly basis, and I've heard good reports about Liberia's current leadership. On the downside, this country really is in the grip of corruption...from the Gov't officials down to the marketplace vendors. Dishonesty here is a lens that you have to view things through daily, and there's an 'acceptance' of it, even among the Christians, that boggles my mind...and I'm from New Orleans!
    And as far as education, it does seem to be a top priority in this nation. Liberian's seem to hold education in a higher regard than most places I've seen, and that's a really positive sign. I would have loved to have seen Liberia 30 years ago...you can still see the echoes of it's former glory everywhere.
    Finally, I suspect that Kevin's Blog shows more 'White Kids in Africa' as a way to show his friends & family back home how he's doing. The fine folks in Vancouver are just as interested in Kevin's life (and marital status, apparently) as they are in the rebuilding of Liberia. I'm guilty of this as well in my own website. If you'd like to read different opinions/news, go to MVAnastasis.com, and you'll find a collection of websites & Blogs from NGO workers currently serving here, and gain a broader picture of Liberia and the rebuilding of it. God Bless.

     
  • At 12:42 PM, Blogger Gareth Evans said…

    Ethib is spot on I think.

    But we have to remember also that there is and was a 'brain drain' out of Liberia. That doesnt mean there aren't any excellently qualified, non-corrupt, brilliant people Liberians left in Liberia, there are. Kevin works with some. I worked with some. We all know these people.

    Sadly though the majority are not educated - 14 years of war does that. And the people at University now are not receiving a quality education - some of my staff worked part time and went to uni part time, but their lecturers failed to turn up sometimes, and there are no books, the curriculm is old, etc etc

    Corruption is rife. I dont need to say any more.

    I have seen photos of Liberia from way back and it looks lovely. Kev's photos are shocking, but they show Liberia as it is now.

    I know Kevin loves Liberia and Liberians. As does everyone who goes there.

    It would be great if Liberians could return home and build their country.

    Oh yeah and Kev... how are the women?!

     
  • At 6:27 AM, Blogger ms said…

    Great exchange all! I too would like to see more about regular people in Liberia but understand eThib's point about this being Kevin's personal blog. I was originally linked to Kevin's blog from the OpenSource radio show and have kept and eye on it. Its great to get even a basic sense of Liberia even if depressing considering the U.S. has such a history (or not so much) with Liberia.

    'Another Concerned Reader' please reach out when you attempt to do something in Liberia I would love to play some part. Possibly something like what a friend of mine did in his native Cameroon http://akumalamschool.org/ or like what eThib documents in his blog from March 11: http://ericthibodeau.com/recent.htm

    Kevin have a nice trip back to Canada.

    P.S. I am from New York and here at least, taking a cab is not considered public transportation. :-)

     
  • At 12:31 PM, Blogger Kevin Aja Fryatt said…

    Hey guys,

    Taxis back in Canada aren't considered 'public transport' either but taxis are what Liberians call 'public transport'. Just another example of the cross-cultural meanings of different words in the English language.

    Cheers!

     

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