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

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Waiting for the Surf at Robertsport
Posted by Kev-o-rama

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Liberian Rice Swamp Harvest
Posted by Kev-o-rama

Monday, April 10, 2006

Liberian Rice Swamp in Full Bloom
Posted by Kev-o-rama

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.


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