January 17, 2006

From Liberia: "…a noticeable shift toward peace"

From Liberia: "…a noticeable shift toward peace"

Canadian Kevin Fryatt has been working in Liberia for eight months at the development aid organization EQUIP Liberia. We emailed him yesterday after reading his blog, Kevin in Liberia, and he responded with a letter on life and work in Monrovia and the hope he sees in its new President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

I have found Liberia very different from other international experiences I’ve had, primarily for the fact that Liberians have gone through such a devastating and demobilizing 14-year civil war. The effects are very noticeable and present even though I believe I am, embarrassingly enough, beginning to become accustomed to the effects of war, human injustice, and torture. Is there any reason why a human being such as myself should become immune to seeing child fighter amputees begging outside almost every grocery store in Monrovia? Monrovia is the only capital city that I presently know of without publicly-supplied power and running water.

Life in Liberia, for myself and a vast majority of Liberians, isn’t easy. I’ve talked to other NGO workers over here who have been to many diverse places in Africa and who have said that Liberia provides the greatest day-in/day-out challenge that they’ve ever faced. The two most evident things that I notice while here and that have made the biggest impression on me are:

  1. The lack of the common sense and problem solving that you take for grant in a country that hasn’t been ripped apart by war.
  2. Corruption and how it is so engrained in the minds of almost everybody you meet; it doesn’t matter what race, religion, sex, or belief system.

The tone of my email sounds very negative but I think it gives a very accurate description of what is going on on the ground. I will say something about the Liberian people though: they are a resilient people and I often wonder how these people could have participated in a civil war when the majority of them I meet are genuinely friendly.


This year’s Christmas card from Kevin in Liberia

I was privileged to witness history on the 16th of January when I attended the presidential ceremony of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. My personal opinion was that, in her inauguration speech, she presented a very real depiction of the situation on the ground and made a few bold statements about bringing power to parts of Monrovia in the next five months. It will be interesting to see if she can follow through with that promise. Her speech was conservatively optimistic and conveyed the truth. There is no “quick fix,” as she termed it; being here for eight months has allowed me to gain the knowledge and understanding that it will take a long time to rectify what the civil war did to the infrastructure and various cultural aspects of Liberia.

Liberians are in love with the new president. Living through the elections and now the “crowning of their new queen”, I can say that I have felt a noticeable shift toward peace. I don’t know if I can pin it down on any one factor but its that type of feeling you get when the hair stand up on the back of your neck and you know that something is different.

Kevin Fryatt, Kevin in Liberia, from an email to Open Source on 1/17/06

This letter was edited lightly for style.

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