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August Update

The FUEL team published a newsletter with some updates for our friends and followers. Please check it out and share with your networks. See our newsletter here, or find it posted to from our Facebook page. Leave us a comment to let us know what you think of our projects. Highlights include the launching of our library at UCA, and solar electrification of the school there. Jump in to the newsletter to learn more!

Photo: Boys reading in the new library at UCA.

Boys reading in the new library at UCA

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A FUEL Youth Success: Bookdrive 2011

In November of last year, FUEL Youth board member Sean O’Connor connected with his former elementary school, Saint Philomena’s School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to chat with the sixth grade class about FUEL’s work in Liberia. Over a Skype video chat, the students asked what it was like in Liberia and what challenges face FUEL in its efforts as well as how they could help. The students were working on a project with their teacher, Ms. Samantha Hedden, to develop a model for a non-profit that fit their philanthropic interests. FUEL served as inspiration for them in this process.

To FUEL’s surprise, the students quickly mobilized and within a few weeks, collected over 27 boxes of books to support FUEL’s library programs in Liberia. In early February, a friend of FUEL, Dan O’Connor, drove the books down to Philadelphia, where they left on a cargo ship bound for Liberia. FUEL Youth will be having a library dedication ceremony at their school outside of Monrovia in April of this year, as well as administering library workshops to introduce this new resource to the students, faculty, and community.

The contribution of Saint Philomena’s School is only 1 example of the fantastic response to FUEL’s Fall/Winter 2011 book drive in the United States. Students from Concordia Lutheran School in Peoria, Illinois also took part, as did FUEL Youth supporters from all across the country, who bought books from an Amazon wishlist set up by FUEL.

Thanks to all the supporters of the book drive. We look forward to keeping you updated with the library progress come April! But our thanks only go so far. A big thanks from the students at UCA who the library will benefit. Check it out below!

Thank You FUEL Youth

 

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Posted in Friends of FUEL Youth, Projects

Liberian winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize!

Great news in the past week for Liberia and women around the world! The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was given to three women, and 2 of the 3 female laureates were Liberian women! This demonstrates international recognition of the crucial role of women in rebuilding Liberia after the brutal civil war.

The two Liberian women who won the prize are current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and women’s right activist, Leymah Gbowee. Both women were pivotal in bringing an end to conflict in Liberia. Johnson-Sirleaf ran against former warlord Charles Taylor in presidential elections and as of 2005, is the first democratically elected female president in Liberia. Moreover, she has been passionately committed to rebuilding Liberia after the war with her economic expertise and commitment to education and ending corruption. As fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, Johnson Sirleaf is worthy of the prize “many times over. She’s brought stability to a place that was going to hell” (Washington Post).

The timing of the Nobel Peace Prize is particularly interesting given that it comes in the middle of Liberia’s current elections in which incumbent Johnson Sirleaf is running for a second term as president. Some say that winning the Nobel Peace Prize will give Johnson Sirleaf the boost she needs to win the ongoing elections, especially due to the recent run-off. Others have complained that awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize now shows overt Western support for her regime and shows foreign tampering with national elections. However, it is important to note that many Liberian voters in the rural areas are not aware of and thus will not feel a substantial change due to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The other winner is 39-year-old Liberian Leymah Gbowee. Gbowee is a prominent women’s right activist in Liberian civil society. With chaos and violence gripping Liberia during the civil war, Gbowee decided to do something about it. She organized mass movements and empowered Liberian women to stand up against the brutalities of Charles Taylor’s regime, leading 250,000 women who risked their lives to protest until Taylor signed a peace deal. Gbowee’s tenacity and courage were further displayed in 2003 when she led hundreds of female protestors through war-torn Monrovia to demand the disarmament of armed men raping women during Liberia’s civil war. Even after the peace deal, as rapes continued, Gbowee led a group of women dressed in white to Monrovia’s City Hall to articulate their demands. Gbowee said, “We the women of Liberia will no more allow ourselves to be raped, abused, misused, maimed and killed!” Gbowee’s movement has been credited as being a necessary component in ending Liberia’s civil war as well as human rights violations in Liberia. Gbowee’s efforts are featured in the lauded documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

Clearly, both are strong women of remarkable personal character and integrity. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee noted that it gave these women the award due to their work on enhancing women’s rights, especially on the African continent, which is a fundamental component of spreading peace around the world. The total prize money of $1.5 million dollars will be split amongst the three female winners. Only 12 women had won the prize before the recent round of 3, making these two Liberian women the latest to join a small and elite group of powerful women making positive impacts in our world! This great news is wholeheartedly welcomed by FUEL Youth.

In a brief overview of other news coming from Liberia during this exciting time, the first round of voting gave Johnson-Sirleaf a lead with 44% of the vote against 32% for Winston Tubman. To win in the first round, a party had to win 51% of the vote; since this did not happen, a second round run-off will occur between the CDC under Tubman and the UP under Johnson Sirleaf. Mr. Tubman had said he would pull out of the election due to concerns over rigging, but has since gone back on this claim. For now, the run-off has been scheduled for November 8th, so we will all have to wait a little longer to find out the results!

2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winners


Leymah Gbowee

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Updates from Liberia

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf


Liberian women pleading for peace


Since writing last week, things have gotten even more tense in Liberia in the run-up to October 11th’s election. The most recent news coming out of Monrovia is that the opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), is upping its criticisms of incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration. During a live press conference hosted by CDC vice presidential aspirant George Weah, Weah’s continuing criticisms of Ma Ellen amplified in intensity. Weah has labeled Johnson-Sirleaf as a “war monger and war financier” (AllAfrica), implying that she was complicit in the killing of 300,000 Liberians, yet Weah has no evidence to back up these insulting claims. The presidential candidate for the opposition CDC, Winston Tubman, has again claimed that his party will win the first round of presidential elections to defeat Johnson-Sirleaf.

Johnson-Sirleaf has sought to shut down CDC’s claims that she is too old, at the age of seventy-three, to be re-elected as President. She claims that she still has the energy and ability to continue directing Liberia’s recovery after the civil war. Another criticism the CDC has leveled at Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration is its suspension of Ambrose Nmah, who is the Director-General of the state-owned Liberia Broadcasting System, alongside other senior staff. In his place, professor Alhaji G.V. Kroham, a former presidential candidate and former leader of a rebel group that opposed Charles Taylor during Liberia’s civil war, is acting as the new Director-General. The CDC is completely against these actions, and demands that Nmah be reinstated immediately. In the CDC press statement released September 28, 2011, the CDC claimed that Johnson-Sirleaf suspended Nmah because he dedicated too much time on the Liberia Broadcasting System to discussing the CDC. The party stated, “With the dismissal of LBS’s Director General Ambrose Nmah, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has finally abandoned the pretense of presiding over a free press.” (AllAfrica). These very harsh and libelous claims are creating a major strain between the President and the opposition. The CDC also claims that Johnson-Sirleaf’s replacement candidate, Mr. Kroham, is problematic since he used to be the leader of a rebel group during the civil war. In another statement reflecting the CDC’s troublesome rhetoric lately, they say “the President, herself a financier of war, is recycling warlords and tired politicians. We ask how can Alhaji Kromah be a voice of the Liberan government…when he is a major culprit in the devastation of our beloved country?” (AllAfrica). The CDC says that there must be a new generation of political leaders entirely removed from the terrible Liberian civil war of 1989-2003.

Given these developments on the ground, the ECOWAS’s (Economic Community of West African States) Rep. to Liberia, General Obeng, has issued a caution to Liberia’s political parties to be careful when making damaging claims so that October 11th’s polls remain peaceful. He has urged the candidates to exercise restraint in the coming weeks. To back up this caution with action, General Obeng said that any Liberian political leader who encourages violence and chaos during or after the elections may be able to escape persecution locally, but will not be able to international persecution under the International Criminal Court (ICC). This threat of ICC persecution carries weight given recent African leaders who incited election violence and were forced to face the ICC, including former president of Cote d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo and officials in Kenya who were blamed for stirring up post-election violence in late 2007-2008. To complement General Obeng’s calls, US Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Greenfield, has also urged Liberians to be cautious against incitements and/or messages of violence in the run-up to the elections. She is specifically targeting the youth and urging them to stay away from encouragement of violent behavior. In wake of these fears, Liberian women have continued pleading for political candidates to ensure peace during the elections. The women have organized as “Women Coalition for Peace” and call for restraint on behalf of political candidates as well as the media.

On a related note, the head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Liberia says that the EU will cancel their observer mission for the upcoming elections. This cancellation is due to fears that the elections will not be free, fair, transparent and peaceful. Instead of observing the elections, the EU delegation to Liberia will conduct “diplomatic visitation” during the elections. Am I the only one who is wondering what that political rhetoric really means? This backing-out is interesting given that All Africa claims that EU taxpayers have paid upwards of 90% of the costs for October’s elections in Liberia. Liberian journalist Kenneth Best argued that the EU mission to observe the polls should not have been cancelled, and in fact is more relevant than ever given threats of post-election violence and vote rigging.

US Ambassador to Liberia Greenfield has said that the world is watching Liberia, and hopes that it can set a good example for the rest of Africa on how to conduct violent-free and transparent elections. These elections are also significant for the future peace of Liberia and its continual struggle for development after the brutal legacy of the civil war. Again, we at FUEL Youth are anxiously watching reports about developments on the ground in Liberia, and hope that all will go well!

Check out more at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201110020105.html http://allafrica.com/stories/201110010014.html
http://allafrica.com/stories/201109301188.html

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Water Access in Liberia

Access to a steady supply of clean water is a perpetual problem in Liberia and other African countries. This issue is of particular relevance to FUEL Youth and its activities in Liberia. In 2003, FUEL Youth founder Edward Fahnbulleh returned to his home village of Messima in Grand Cape Mount County, Liberia after nearly two decades of civil war. When arriving, he was shocked to find a high mortality rate amongst young children in the village. One of the primary causes of this mortality rate is the prevalence of water-borne diseases, mostly from livestock, which find their way into the village drinking supply during the rainy season. Realizing the critical importance of establishing a clean water source to reduce child mortality rates, Edward set out to build a proper well for this village, and since then the rainy-season death rate amongst youth in Messima has greatly decreased!

FUEL Youth decided to take further action to establish a clean water source as part of efforts to advance community development on Swaggart Island, part of Bushrod Island, which is located right outside of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. In 2009, FUEL Youth started to help construct a water tower next to the United Christian Academy (UCA) as part of a planned water infrastructure to offer a clean water source to the community of Swaggart Island. The youth at UCA currently have no constant clean water source. The Swaggart Island Community Water tower will support the youth at UCA as well as all community members on Swaggart Island.

An exciting development in water access is a new water plant under the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC), which claims it will be able to supply “pipe borne water to nearly 1.5 million inhabitants” both in the capital of Monrovia and its suburbs. This is an impressive development to help improve infrastructure and clean water access in Liberia after the devastation of the civil war. As a result of this water plant, the amount of safe drinking water will increase from 5.5 million gallons daily to 10 million. LWSC, in tandem with the World Bank, will work to further increase the supply of pipe borne water into Monrovia, and the government will receive a significant boost to enhance safe drinking water in Liberia. We at FUEL Youth find this to be a very exciting development, as we have seen firsthand the struggle to secure clean water sources. LWSC has said these developments would not have been possible without the help of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her international connections. Other joint initiatives, including ones with World Bank and USAID, to provide further pipe borne water are underway, which is a great sign for the future!

To learn more about steps to improve the health, environment and quality of life for those living in Monrovia, visit: http://allafrica.com/stories/201109200912.html

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Liberia’s Upcoming Election

You can imagine the electric feel on the ground in Liberia right now, with less than 3 weeks to go until the October 11th elections. The atmosphere is heating up in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

The election holds special significance as it comes at a time where Liberia is trying to fully recover from the disastrous civil war that raged from 1989-2003. This is the “first domestically organized vote” (Reuters) since the war, after the 2005 U.N.-organized election that resulted in Johnson Sirleaf’s victory. Thus, it is important that it runs smoothly and does not plunge the country back into conflict. Liberia is also one of the poorest nations in the world, and vitally needs stable elections.

Who are the major players in the upcoming election? The incumbent, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, known locally as ‘Ma Ellen’ or the ‘Iron Lady’, is the first female head of state in Africa. Many have predicted that she will emerge victorious in the coming elections, as she did in the 2005 elections, to carry out a second term. Johnson-Sirleaf runs as part of the Unity Party (UP). The main opposition is the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), under presidential aspirant Winston Tubman and vice presidential candidate, former A.C. Milan soccer player George O. Weah (who ran against Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf in the 2005 election). The CDC is giving the ruling UP a tough battle for victory. Tubman and Weah claim that Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration has failed the Liberian people and argue that change is needed. Both presidential aspirants from the UP and CDC have impressive backgrounds as both are Harvard-educated, with Johnson Sirleaf as a former Finance Minister and World Bank employee, and Tubman as Justice Minister and representative to the UN. The other major player is Charles Brumskine, running as part of the Liberty Party, who has had a long history in Liberian politics and is a law expert.

Let’s take a critical look at Johnson-Sirleaf’s first term in office. Her supporters are confident Johnson-Sirleaf will be able to further pull the country out of the economic crisis that has marked its post-civil war years. Highlights of Johnson-Sirleaf’s rule include negotiating Liberia’s outstanding debt after the civil war, raising civil servant and teacher salaries, improving infrastructure, enhancing educational opportunities, having no political prisoners, and presiding over a period of economic growth. Critics have attacked Johnson-Sirleaf’s for not ruling out endemic corruption enough during her time in office. Moreover, as part of her election campaign in 2005, she claimed she would only run for one-term, but has reneged on that promise. This is troublesome, since Africa has a history of notorious rulers who have been reluctant to give up their time in power, but Ma Ellen claims that she needs another term to carry out her desired goals. Johnson-Sirleaf has emphasized that taking office in 2006 with the country in a precarious situation left little resources to carry out her goals, but is confident that 5 years later, more progress can be achieved. The Unity Party pledged that if re-elected to the presidency, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s administration will rebuild the hydro-electric dam by 2015, create 20,000 jobs annually, build paved roads to every county capital, complete community colleges in all counties and increase salaries of teachers and health workers, especially those working in rural areas.

Of particular importance to FUEL Youth is the emphasis that Johnson-Sirleaf has put on expanding educational opportunities as part of rebuilding Liberia after the civil war. At the grassroots level, Johnson-Sirleaf has solidified her support with endorsements from major grassroots organizations, including the University Students for the Re-Election of Madam Sirleaf (USROMS). These students point out the notable transformations in Liberia during Johnson-Sirleaf’s time in office, with large benefits to education. This shows that the education sector of Liberia supports Ma Ellen’s prioritization of education as a vital component to rebuild Liberia, a message that we at FUEL Youth agree with. During Johnson-Sirleaf’s first term, she has increased money spent on education in the national budget and pledges to continue to expand educational opportunities. Johnson-Sirleaf has increased teacher salaries and provided education and training opportunities, demonstrating the importance of incentivizing good teachers to teach the next generation of Liberians. The 2007 executive order of the government also stipulates a ‘free education policy’ that is compulsory for all students from Kindergarten to Junior High. The President hopes to train even more teachers in the country, through “tuition-free programs for teachers pursuing teacher training programs” (All Africa) as well as stipends. This focus on education is very exciting for FUEL Youth and its goals to enhance education in Liberia. However, while the 2007 policy to expand free education for school-aged children was a promising first step to address the many needs of Liberia’s growing youth population, there are numerous problems that the Liberian government must still address. For instance, at least 50% of schools in Liberia were destroyed during the civil war, and over 60% of teachers in Liberia lack proper training to teach the next generation. Thus, Ma Ellen’s call for free and compulsory education falls short of its promise until it addresses some of the underlying structural issues, which is why FUEL Youth is so committed to helping further expand and improve education in post-war Liberia.

Last Saturday, up to 40,000 Johnson-Sirleaf supporters thronged the capital as part of her re-election campaign. These crowds brought traffic and general activity to a standstill in bustling Monrovia. People walked from surrounding areas of the city to be part of the excitement gripping the capital. In an ebullient manner, Johnson-Sirleaf danced on the truck carrying her through the capital to the stadium where she gave her speech. Huge numbers turned out to the stadium to show their support for Ma Ellen, countering critics’ claims that Johnson-Sirleaf and her Unity Party had low approval ratings. Fans waited for hours for Johnson-Sirleaf’s arrival in a thrilling atmosphere of support and adoration saying, “We love you Ma Ellen” (All Africa). Johnson-Sirleaf was overcome by the display of support, and looked flabbergasted while trying to hold back her emotions. The environment seems electrifying currently, and makes you wish you could be there! However, we at FUEL Youth are keeping our fingers crossed that all this jubilant outpouring ahead of the elections will remain calm.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has voiced concerns over threats to peace in Liberia ahead of the upcoming elections. ECOWAS’s President, Mr. Gbeho, said that the “explosive rhetoric” (APANEWS) being used by Liberian politicians is troublesome after substantial efforts to create lasting peace in Liberia after the brutal civil war. Top politicians have claimed their parties in the lead, and if they don’t win, they may be tempted to claim it is due to rigging; these claims are prompting severe tension. Opposition vice president candidate George Weah has said, “We will resist her plans to cheat and will not accept results from any fraudulent elections. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, consider Yourself WARNED. We have evidence that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is bent on cheating in these elections” and the CDC will not accept any “fraudulent elections”. Mr. Weah has upped his virulent attacks on the president and continually vilifies her. Weah’s proclamations that he will “massively defeat” the incumbent Johnson-Sirleaf is troublesome, since he has suggested that results to the contrary will be evidence of rigging. This bodes negatively for the CDC as an opposition party, since its vilification and mud-slinging tactics instead of focusing on what it can do for Liberia suggest that it lacks the political maturity to be the ruling party in fragile Liberia.

There are also concerns over small-scale violence ahead of elections. There have been isolated attacks on individuals that are believed to be “politically motivated” (All Africa), raising concerns over Liberia’s stability during the run-up to the election on October 11th. Market women have denounced the election violence, including intimation and burned cars, since it has the potential to morph into larger conflict. There are fears that the use of inflammatory language may create political crisis if it is not controlled. Mr. Gbeho ended with “We are worried about this country’s future” (APANEWS), providing a cautious outlook of the elections. As Mr. Gbeho rightfully says, leaders of Liberia need to practice restraint and uphold the democratic process to keep the country together in such a turbulent time, rather than fanning the flames. Amidst these concerns, the UN Security Council has said that a full peacekeeping force, UNMIL, will stay in Liberia after the October presidential election to maintain peace. There are also claims that Johnson Sirleaf is considering bringing in Nigerian troops to enhance security during the elections.

The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Victor Gbeho, has called the peace in Liberia “precarious” (APANEWS) after recent cross border raids from Liberia into Cote d’Ivoire. These raids came from armed men who claim they are loyal to defeated Ivorian presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo. ECOWAS is concerned that these rebels will be allowed to gain traction while Liberia is focused on elections. The UN is helping Liberia’s fragile neighbor, Cote d’Ivoire, to bolster security along the porous border due to Liberian “mercenaries” (CNN) carrying out attacks cross-border. Stability in Western Cote d’Ivoire holds significance for neighboring Liberia, especially since Cote d’Ivoire suffered from its own post-election violence earlier this year. While Liberia’s security is of utmost concern for FUEL Youth, the possibility of regional instability also bodes negatively. We are full of hope that leaders will take necessary steps to help ensure lasting peace.

In a controversial side development, the Liberian Supreme Court had said that six political parties, including the Unity Party of incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, should halt their political activities ahead of the upcoming election. The petition claims they must freeze political campaigns until the court rules over the ten-year residency clause, which states “presidential aspirants must have stayed in Liberia ten years before contesting for the presidency” (APANEWS). This Court order comes at a time when election activities and campaigns have been heating up across the country. Due to the turbulent time in which it finds itself, the Court is having the hearing Tuesday. Members of an opposition party, the Movement for Progressive Change, filed the petition to claim that Johnson-Sirleaf, as well as other presidential candidates, don’t meet the ten-year residency clause. The petition seeks to block President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and other presidential candidates from contesting the upcoming elections. Johnson-Sirleaf has dismissed these claims, saying that her attempt to run in the 1997 presidential election rigged to favor warlord Charles Taylor shows that she is qualified to run in the 2011 election.

All Africa says that Johnson-Sirleaf stands ahead as the frontrunner. Liberia has maintained a fragile peace since the end of the war in 2003 and the upcoming elections will really test the strength of that peace. FUEL Youth is hopeful that there will be robust participation and that the elections will be free and fair to maintain the stability for the future of Liberia and its youth. Here is to hoping things will run smoothly.

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Building up School and Community on Swaggart Island

The United Christian Academy is the only community school on Swaggart Island, which sits just 8 miles outside Morovia. UCA was built and initially operated by FUEL Youth’s Edward Fahnbulleh in 2005, and has blossomed to accommodate over 300 children, with the oldest children in the 8th grade and a supportive community with plans to expand the school to accommodate a high school facility on site.

The US embassy has recognized the school and generously donated bathroom facilities in 2008. FUEL Youth is now finishing up a water system (water tower, lined water well, pump) to make bathrooms and clean drinking water a reality.

FUEL Youth was pleased to see Swaggart Island’s local elected official visit the site this past week, and announce his support for the work FUEL Youth is doing on the island. Here are a few picture from Senator Roland Kahn’s visit.

Swaggart Island is a small island that’s part of the river wetland system of the Messurado River that drains into the Atlantic Ocean at Monrovia. The beautiful wetlands that surround the island provide fish and food sources for locals. But heavy rains in June, July and August can cause the small bridge to Swaggart Island to get flooded out, which traps locals on the island, keeping working adults from getting to and from their jobs on the mainland. See the map below to learn more about the geography of Swaggart Island.


View Swaggart Island, Liberia in a larger map

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Parent Teacher Associations: Helping to Lift Liberia

A dear friend of FUEL Youth, Toni Schneider, was able to visit the UCA campus in the Fall of 2009. Toni hails from the United States but is in Liberia working with the Ministry of Education and the World Food Program on an initiative to develop strong parent teacher associations across Liberia. Read Toni’s story of her visit.

UCA is a FUEL Youth-supported school right outside of Monrovia offering an education to over 340 students from the immediate area where there was once no opportunity for education at all. UCA faces challenges, but Toni’s story tells of a inspiring community ready to lift up and foster a school that works for their children.

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My counterpart slowed his pace and removed his shoes. After more than three hours of cramped rides in bush taxis along Somalia Drive from Duala Market to the Steven Tolbert Estates, I’d had enough. I rolled my eyes in exasperation at his “bush baby” behavior, frustrated that he was about to meet a FUEL Youth school principal without any footwear. But my mutterings ceased when my next steps were met with a kur-splash!

Borbor Swaggart Island is, in the truest sense of the word, an island. As community organizer for the Ministry of Education and UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Parent Teacher Association development program, I had seen the worst of the worst when it comes to rural schools, including children coming to school in without shoes, taking their lessons out of doors, and going home hungry when the principal and head cook improperly managed WFP food rations. But what I had never seen was a community cut off from the rest of the city when the tide comes in. See more ›

Posted in Friends of FUEL Youth, Uncategorized

We’re back…with great news!

We can now report that all FUEL Youth team members have made it home to Washington, DC, safely (Edward stayed a couple weeks longer), but we’ve got even better news… FUEL Youth has officially been granted 501c3 status from the IRS!!! Needless to say, the FUEL Youth team is absolutely thrilled with this news, as the 501c3 process has been a long and sometimes tedious one for our group of non-lawyers. We are very excited to see what the future has in store for our young nonprofit.  In the immediate future, FUEL Youth will be pulling together all of the photos, videos, information and stories from our recent trip to Liberia for an event with our friends and supporters here in the Washington DC area, so stay tuned for more information on that….

Let’s update you on our last day in Liberia!  It was definitely a bittersweet day.  We headed out to Gardnersville for one last hurrah at UCA.  When we got there, all of the kids and teachers had gathered in the auditorium.  We began to get a little suspicious of what they had planned for our last day at school.  Songs commenced, and shortly thereafter, FUEL Youth was presented with certificates of appreciation for our work at UCA.  The gifts did not stop there though!  One by one, each member of the team was gowned with Liberian outfits…bright tie-dyed orange, green, and brown fabrics made into two piece outfits- very becoming!  We’re hoping there will be an opportunity to sport our new threads in the DC area in the near future.  After being gowned in these spectacular outfits, Bendu- Eddie’s wife- presented us with yet another gorgeous outfit she had sewn for each of us.  We were incredibly touched by everyone’s love and kindness.  The kids ended the program in song, one class singing, “we hope to see you in January 2009!”  And they very well might 🙂

After the program ended, we had to start the difficult process of saying good-bye to the wonderful community of UCA and Gardnersville.  Our hearts absolutely sank as we climbed in the car and waved good-bye to our new family and friends.  We headed back to Vivien’s to pack up all of our belongings, then began the caravan to the airport.  It was getting dark by the time we got there, but we still had an hour or two to spare, so Mansour (The lovely Lebanese man Ali stayed with on her last journey to Liberia) took us on a driving tour of the Firestone rubber factory and park, which was located right next to the airport.  We then headed to the airport and did our last round of incredibly difficult good-byes to everyone.  We definitely had to wipe some tears from our eyes as we waved and headed inside, but we also were leaving with a new-found sense of inspiration and excitement of the work and plans we have ahead of us for FUEL Youth!

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Final Days in Liberia

We couldn’t quite remember where we left off, but we think it was yesterday morning. We headed downtown to Broad Street to take care of some business, including a special pick up from Western Union from a special man, Mr. Daniel Musisi. He wrote a message with the money transfer which the Western Union agent is supposed to read, which read, “How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck would”. Disappointingly, the agent only handed us a paper with the message written on it.

We had some time to kill downtown, so we stopped by the National Museum to have a look. Liberia has a very interesting history, so if you don’t know much about it, give the Wikipedia page a read (at least). Among other things, we saw some Vai script (Vai is Eddie’s native tongue). It’s not really a written language, the script come much later than the language, and it’s not widely circulated. But people do study it at the University of Liberia. Our favorite piece at the museum was the fertility mask, for which we do not have a picture, as they were not allowed. The museum was torn up pretty badly during the civil war, so it was nice to come support it as it moves forward.

The next stop was the University of Liberia for a meeting with the Cape Mount Students University Association, which is a group of students from Grand Cape Mount County, where we are building the new school, and where Robertsport is. We were a bit delayed, because a water line in the engine kept busting, so we did a little street-side mechanical work. Once at the University, we had a meeting under a tree. There was a group of about 25+ students who welcomed us. (**It’s interesting to note that the average age of the college student is probably closer to 30 than 20). The point was really to welcome us and talk about the activities that FUEL Youth supported in Cape Mount last year, namely, the tutoring program to help students pass their high school exam. We’re really glad this meeting happened, as we learned a lot and it helped pave a positive way forward. All the Cape Mountonians had really thoughtful and insightful things to say and suggestions about how to make a tutoring program like ours work better.

After the meeting, some friends gave us a campus tour. The campus is bursting with students and energy. It has a law school and teachers college. But again, it was torn up badly during the war and is on a long road to recovery. They don’t even have a computer center for students to complete assignments, yet many professors require typed assignments, which leave students scrambling for facilities, and having to pay at Internet cafes. They NEED a computer facility for students. We hope they can make the right partnerships and the right moves to get themselves there.

We headed home next to shower and freshen up for our first evening out “on the town.” Our first stop was the Heartbreak Hotel, a fusion restaurant that serves Lebanese, Liberian, and Western food (and has AC!!) for a meeting with the man who heads up the administrative section of the Peace Corps here in Liberia. A friend of one of Sean’s friends, he was quite helpful in discussing the realities of Liberia’s development situation. Peace Corps itself withdrew all of its volunteers in 1990 when Liberia’s Civil Wars began and only just recently started placing volunteers in Liberia this past October 2008. Even still, Peace Corps has only sent 13 education focused volunteers, all of whom have previously served successful tours in Peace Corps , to help contribute to Liberia’s redevelopment. Liberia has quite a road ahead of her, though it seems like the majority of strong international development organizations like the Peace Corps are ready to step back up to the plate. And the majority of Liberians seem willing to accept the help.

Next, Kula took us to a place very near the beach in Sinkor called The Garden Cafe.  On Wednesday and Friday nights they have live bands there, so we were very anxious to hear some great Liberian music.  It was a beautiful evening, so it was perfect that the seating and music was out on the patio.  We ordered a round of Clubs (Monrovian brewed beer) and sat back and enjoyed.  So many surprises surfaced over the next few hours.  It began when three american men entered and they can really only be described as…..well, rednecks.  Incredibly unexpected.  The band started up shortly after and to our amazement, their first song was Enrique Iglasias’s “Hero.”  Songs that followed include: Red Red Wine, Sexy Thing, and other delightful surprises.  They also played some great Liberian and Ghanaian songs as well.  At one point, a song was dedicated to our table so Christine danced up to add some money to the tip jar, only to be coaxed into dancing with the lead singer.  No worries, we’ve got great pictures of this.  Later, the two back up dancers got the table (sans Sean and Vivien) up dancing.  The last and final surprise of the evening might just have been the best.  Never ever in our lives would we think we’d come across a MULLET in Liberia, but nonetheless we did.  It was exciting to be able to teach Vivien and Kula a new vocabulary word.  Mullet: noun. Business in the front. Party in the back.  They caught on quickly.  The group was pretty wiped after that, so we headed back to Vivien’s.  Vivien managed to convince Ali to check out a couple of the night clubs Liberia has to offer (as if it was that difficult), so they headed out for a little while more.

The next morning (Thursday), we visited Love International Elementary School, which was built by and is overseen by a really great couple. The wife serves as Principal to the School, while the husband serves as District Representative to Grand Cape Mount county (which encompasses Messima and Robertsport where we visited last weekend). It was an incredibly informative meeting – to hear their story of opening the school in 1997 (as so many children had no school to attend), their successes and challenges, etc.  The school itself was a great example of what we want UCA to be (self-sustaining, meal program, appropriate class curriculums, and an internet cafe!), so it was a productive visit. Not to mention that we were able to establish contact with an elected official from Cape Mount, which will prove to be helpful in future efforts.

From the school, we headed to P.A.’s Ribhouse to get a few cokes and biscuits and say goodbye to Fatumata, our favorite server.  From P.A.’s, we headed into the chaos and thick smog of central Monrovia to the Brussels Airline’s office where we checked into tomorrow evening’s flight, and then we decided a final trip to the beach was in order. Have we told you how beautiful the beaches in Liberia are? They’re pretty amazing – the water is warm, the waves are strong, and the UN guys in speedos are slightly out of control.  We enjoyed our final swim and documented the occasion with some poses by a very picturesque palm tree.

We’re closing the evening out with some delicious -though rather expensive- food and drink at a Lebanese-owned restaurant around the corner from where we’re staying.

Its unbelievable that tomorrow is our final day here in Liberia.  We can’t even begin to articulate how amazing this journey has been – so I won’t try to here.  But I cannot wait to get back stateside and go through our photos, update our website with everything we’ve documented and learned on this trip, and do what we can to move the vision of FUEL Youth forward.

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