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

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA Compound)

A lot of the trucks used by Liberians are what look like WWII/Alaskan Highway "hand-me-downs". This particular one on the left is used by an NGO, most likely for transportation of project supplies.

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Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA Compound)

This is a view from the lawn in the front of my house at the ELWA Compound. I couldn't ask for a much better view. The view is of the atlantic ocean. Thousands of miles directly across this expanse of water lies Brazil, South America.

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Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA Compound)

This is a view of the ELWA Compound where I live. A lonely dog watches candidly. There aren't many lonely dogs on ELWA.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Improving Access to Water and Sanitation in Liberia

Many rural and urban residents in Liberia lack access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation in their communities. According to the 2006 Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey, although water is abundant in Liberia, only 32% of all households surveyed had access to safe drinking water. The Survey also found that less than a quarter of the households surveyed had access to an improved sanitary facility, usually a public pit latrine. In areas that were worst affected by the civil crisis, and in others where road access is difficult, residents struggle to get safe drinking water, and are constrained to drink water from creeks and streams. The Government of Liberia concludes that ‘water, sewerage and treatment facilities are out of operation, except for a limited supply of water in parts of Monrovia, and that garbage collection ranges from minimal to non-existent’ (Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy – final draft). During the rainy season, poor water and sanitation and hygienic practices contribute to an increase in cholera and other water-borne diseases.

More than 95 international and local NGOs and UN agencies are engaged in providing water and sanitation facilities in the country. The interventions include borehole drilling, shallow well rehabilitation/construction, family, institutional and communal latrine construction/rehabilitation, hygiene promotion, response to disease outbreaks and emergencies, and capacity building (training). As of November 2006 over 1,000 wells fitted with hand pumps and 350 latrines have either been constructed or rehabilitated. However, due to inadequate reporting by agencies, it is believed the actual number of water and sanitary facilities constructed or rehabilitated in 2006 may be higher. Hygiene promotion is maintained alongside construction or rehabilitation activities. The WATSAN Cluster led by UNICEF and three Government line ministries coordinate activities of agencies involved in water and sanitation (WATSAN) at the national level. At the county level, coordination is done through sector working groups. The Government of Liberia is reviewing plans to take over coordination of Cluster activities. Coordination activities include monthly Cluster and sector meetings, joint assessments and monitoring, coordinated response to emergencies and other needs, and maintenance of activities database.

The Government of Liberia has set a target of providing nine water treatment facilities in fifteen counties of Liberia to provide safe drinking water to residents by June 2008. The long-term targets set for the Millennium Development Goals for Liberia seek to provide coverage of 63% for both improved water supply and sanitation for all residents. In line with Government’s objective of ‘increasing safe drinking water and improved sanitation for all in both urban and rural areas’ the WATSAN Cluster has set out its priorities for assistance in 2007 to include participatory community hygiene promotion in cholera hot spots, construction of new facilities and rehabilitation of old facilities in areas of relative low coverage (Lofa, Grand Kru, River Gee, Sinoe, Rivercess and Gbarpolu Counties), and integration of mechanisms for maintenance of all WATSAN facilities, improving urban water supply in main towns, rapid emergency response and information management capacity building of local NGOs, and update of WATSAN information systems. Overall, a concerted effort to coordinate and monitor agencies’ activities is crucial to avoid duplication, ensure efficient use of resources and steer agencies’ activities in line with the Government priorities.

Courtesy of UNMIL Coordination Section (HCS)
November 2 - December 3, 2006

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Liberia: Part Deux - Rebuilding and Reconstruction

After seven long enduring months back in North America the time has come to resume my work in Liberia, a country that cries out for you when you’re not there and often leaves you on the verge of tears when you are. Seven long months were highlighted by a drawn out application process with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief (aka SP), a process that I’m glad I went through, but in the meantime contributed to me feeling very lost at times. I wasn’t fortunate enough back in April 2006 to have any sort of debriefing or re-entry coaching in order to get me ready to face western culture once again; I paid for it dearly. Whether it was social, mental, or spiritual awkwardness, my first few months back in Canada were extremely hard. I often found myself questioning things I never questioned before. I found little things that were just ‘normal’ to me prior to working in Liberia often very irritating and even annoying. Over time these things unfortunately worked themselves out in my own mind but I knew it was time to get back over to Liberia. It’s a shame how comfortable we can all get while living in North America, myself included.

So here I am with one hour and nineteen minutes left on a trans-atlantic flight that will eventually lead me back to Roberts International Airport, an airport just outside Monrovia built by the US Military about 60 years ago. Unlike last May when I first came over to Liberia, this time I know exactly what I’m getting myself into. I know the job and what it entails, I know the culture and the neighborhood I’ll be living in, and I know, for the most part, all the people I’ll be working with. This time around is also very different in the context of what I am leaving behind. Even though I feel like at this point in my life I belong in Liberia and not North America, I still have a lot of apprehension in my blood. The last two months of my prior stay in Liberia introduced to me an amazing girlfriend named Seren who has blown any previous concept of what it means to love and be loved. Leaving her behind is probably the hardest thing to do at this moment but something that is necessary regardless. She plans to come and serve in Liberia as well in the near future and we both need to have faith that God will provide an opportunity and a way.

In May 2005 I had so many different thoughts going through my head not having been in a war-torn country before: What are the people like? How dangerous is it over there? How has the war affected the Liberian people? After living in arguably the poorest country in the world for a year and opting to go back for two more, a whole new realm of questions exist that are a product of my current knowledge of the country and my time spent there: Is foreign aid beneficial to the Liberian people or is it just making them more dependent on ‘rich’ countries? Am I a missionary or a relief/development worker? In an often pressure-packed environment, how can I take a more compassionate approach to Liberians as a whole? What can I do to ensure that I keep the focus of our work in Liberia at the forefront of my mind?

The position I accepted is a two-year post as Field Finance Manager/Accountant. This position is very much like my previous position but without a lot of the clutter that caused a lot of stress and confusion in my last position. Indeed, there will be times when I will want to pull my hair, or gouge my eyeballs out, but I will be surrounded in an environment that looks out for the physical, spiritual, and mental well-being of their employees, an environment filled with some of the most quality people I’ve ever met.

I’m looking forward to what I can imagine happening in the next two years in Liberia. Some events that I can foresee happening are: 1. The Conviction and Sentancing of Charles Taylor for War Crimes/Atrocities (and the jubilation or potential violence that follows), 2. Full Compliance to the Kimberley Process by the Liberian Government and the Subsequent Lifting of Diamond Export Sanctions by the UN, and 3. Partial Re-Construction of Water and Power Infrastructure. There are many other events and much more progress that will realistically happen in these two years but these are the three main events that I can realizably see happening. Do I see corruption coming to an end in the next two years? The next five years? …even the next ten years? No. I don’t think corruption will ever cease in Liberia, much less the entire world, but with anti-corruption campaigns, more governmental accountability, and increased economic status of Liberians one would hope that these would all be factors at reducing the amount of corruption in the country. Some of the cultural issues within Liberia, corruption being one, are issues that I believe will take a generation to change. I hope I’m wrong.

A partial goal for my blog this time around is to expose what it was like for Liberians during the civil war that plagued this volatile country for 14 years. While I was in a deep sleep a week or so ago I got the brilliant idea that I would interview various Liberians, profiling their trials and success stories throughout the war in an effort to expose the atrocities that can be caused by large-scale greed and corruption. Through this process I hope to also expose some very moving stories of survival and change as these people look ahead to reconciliation and redemption. If I talk to enough people I’m positive that their stories will blow your mind and hopefully change the way you view the world. My initial intention is to create a standardized survey containing a variety of questions, mostly open-ended. I believe that with a well designed survey and some additional probing that I’ll be best able to convey their stories as accurately as humanly possible.

I also believe that through the purchase of a Canon 20D camera I’ll be able to provide more telling pictures of Liberia and the people who call Liberia home. This camera was an expensive investment but in order to capture the essence of Liberia I felt that it was necessary. I am looking forward to a more increasingly interactive and informative blog. Part of this is my responsibility through providing the necessary information and resources but part of this relies on you, the reader. In order for the entire international community to better understand Liberia, I believe that constant participation and dialogue from my readers is necessary. I look forward to getting back on the ground and ‘into the thick of things’ as they say. Keep posted and keep posting comments. I want to hear from you!

Currently in the Brussels airport…

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