Yesterday we had a fitting end to our trip as we attended Hope for the Deaf’s closing ceremony. We originally planned on going to College of West Africa’s commencement as well, but because apparently every other high school in Monrovia was also having their commencement yesterday, traffic was so terrible that we could not make it in time. It took us 45 minutes to travel one block.
A young graduate of Hope for the Deaf
Tomorrow we’re packing up to head home on our Monday flight. We’ve enjoyed our time here, but we are very excited to be home again.
Today we visited St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. We weren’t drawn to this church to get the story of their school, but to learn about the church’s bloody history. We were able to speak with the current pastor of the church, who provided us with a wealth of information surrounding the church’s history.
On July 29, 1990, Samuel K. Doe’s rebels entered St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. They proceeded to open fire on to hundreds of citizens who were seeking asylum in the church’s sanctuary and school building. 500 innocent people were massacred that day.
It’s hard to describe exactly the feeling that was brought on by being inside the church’s sanctuary — where the original windows, punctured with bullet holes, casted an eerie glow on to the pews. Just as striking was what we saw outside: a parking lot and a basketball court settled nonchalantly over the site of two mass graves. Marking each grave was a simple, large white star.
We didn’t travel far from home today as we only went down the road, where we discovered a unique school. After our meeting with the Director of Education of all of the United Methodist schools in Liberia, we visited Hope for the Deaf. This school caters to those with hearing impairments between the ages of 8 and 24.
When Hope for the Deaf was founded it was the only school in Liberia that tailored to students with hearing disabilities. The school teaches students the traditional academic curriculum, as well as basic skills like sewing for the girls and shoe making for the boys. This gives these deaf students vocational skills that allow them to enter the work force. Without this training, these students may not have any other means to sustain themselves.
It was both refreshing and exciting to meet with the principal who is very enthusiastic about what he is doing. When David Worlobah was in high school, he found his passion for working with the hearing impaired, and even traveled to Zambia to study American Sign Language.
Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few days — we’ve been working around power outages.
A student at Hope for the Deaf greeting us with an “I love you”
A hearing impaired student showing the shirt that she had made.
Despite the rain, we visited West Point Township today, the most impoverished and densely populated area of Monrovia. The principal of John Kofi Asmah United Methodist School, Sam Quarshie, came with us to the school, otherwise we would have never found it.
It was raining once we arrived in West Point and parked at the church, out of sight of the school. In order to get to the school we had to walk through a maze of homes, mostly smaller than 10×10 feet. Thank goodness Sam knew where he was going, because all sense of direction was lost after maybe the third turn down a narrow alleyway.
One of the alleyways on our way to the school. Should have brought boots.
When we finally made it to the school, we had a short tour and then sat down to talk with Sam. The school building is only a couple of months old, and an impressive three stories high. In the middle of Liberia’s worst slum, this is probably the nicest school facility we’ve seen so far.
West Point is a peninsula that protrudes from downtown Monrovia and is adjacent to Monrovia’s port. There are approximately 70,000 people living in West Point, and it is not a very large space of land. At first glance, it seems to be no larger than the average U.S. college campus, and it’s becoming smaller due to erosion into the ocean. West Point is primarily a fishing community.
The view from the top story of the school of the slums and fishing boats of West Point.
Palava huts, like the one pictured below, are used as a place for people to resolve conflicts in their community. Rather than resorting to strong argument or fighting, disagreements or misunderstandings can be sorted out inside of the palava hut, which is specifically designated for the purpose. These huts originated here in West Africa, and we got the chance to see quite a few while we were in Nimba County.
A palava hut, sighted in Ganta, Nimba Co. Looks like this one got a lot of use!
So we had just about exhausted the schools in Ganta by the end of today. Our original plan was to stay in Ganta until Friday, but we decided that it would be better to go ahead and head back to Monrovia today. Also, on Friday there is a huge funeral in Ganta for Reverend Herbert Zigboo (who was very influential in the Methodist Liberian community) that is going to be bringing hundreds of people into town, and things are going to get very hectic. So now we’re back in Monrovia and we will be getting in contact with some people here before we start visiting more schools and their administrations.
Earlier today we visited Ganta United Methodist School, talked to the principle, and got a tour of the school from our friend Mandrick and two students. One of the most interesting parts of the school was former boys’ dormitory that had been destroyed during the civil war. There were men working on the reconstruction as we walked through the building, but they hadn’t made much progress as there were still pieces of concrete and burned wood covering the ground.
What’s left of the boys’ dormitory hallway
After that we started our long trek back to the capital city. The only thing worse than the ride to Ganta was the ride back from Ganta in the dark. Thankfully we made it through the bumpiest part while it was still light, but once we got closer to the city the sun went down and the traffic picked up. Trucks zooming past and motorcycles weaving through traffic while you can barely see them was pretty scary. Safe to say it was one of the more stressful moments of our trip so far. And who knew that 9 o’clock at night is rush hour in Red Light, Monrovia? (By the way, it’s named Red Light because it has the one stop light in all of Monrovia (that hasn’t worked since before the war)) It was bumper-to-bumper-to-motorcyle wheel-to-wheelbarrow-to-kneecap traffic.
Rush hour at night in Red Light
But we made it back safe and are excited about the Bishop’s air-conditioned rooms and Rebecca’s cooking.
Today we traveled west of Ganta to visit three more schools. By the time we got to the third school we were exhausted from the heat and strenuous car ride, and apparently the kids were exhausted too — we found out on our way there that they had been waiting on us since 8 a.m. (we got there around 1:30)!
After yesterday and today we’ve decided that three schools per day is a little too much to try to fit into just a few hours. From now on we’re going to do the best we can to have a more personal interaction with the main leaders of the school so that we can find out more intimate details about the institutions’ histories.
Because it is Liberian tradition to have large, loud and long welcoming ceremonies for any visitors (especially white ones), a lot of our time has been taken up with said ceremonies. Though exciting, these experiences aren’t exactly what we’ve been looking for, as it’s difficult to encourage people to tell us their personal stories in this crowded setting.
Our hope is that as we get the opportunity to have more one-on-one interactions with school representatives, we will be better able to make those individuals comfortable enough with us to tell us their personal experiences through the country’s civil war and the consequential struggles that they have dealt with.
James has, however, gotten some great pictures along the way.
Kids awaiting our arrival at Kpain School