Liberia is the second poorest nation in the world behind the Congo. They lost a generation of men during a civil war which raged for fourteen years ending in 2003. Every family has a grim story of loss. While working with Liberian youth, Seth’s team used an activity taught in FFA where students practice falling backwards into the arms of a peer, stretching their boundaries to truly trust one another. Not surprisingly, this activity was difficult for a culture where neighbor fought against neighbor.
Seth’s task, along with his teammates Jason and Ken, was to help local leaders establish 4-H clubs in five schools and to further the school garden initiative. They helped clear and plant gardens, teaching them to use mulch and compost to return nutrients to the soil since they have no commercial fertilizer and don’t use animal manure to enrich previously farmed ground. They are typical slash and burn farmers, moving each year to a new plot, using a machete to clear the plants and then burning the refuse. This constant moving means farmers often walk over an hour each way to get to their fields.
Seth witnessed first-hand the problems of international aid. As help is provided, a culture of reliance follows. Seth saw a people that have become accustomed to asking for things. There are a few solid jobs, good pay can be had at the Firestone rubber plantation, but most people live a meager existence, growing some of their own food with a little income from selling charcoal.
A huge problem is transportation. Though they have vehicles and gas stations, the roads require a 4-wheel drive and even then it’s difficult. They have a little commerce within their own villages, but getting products to the city is nearly impossible. Heavy rains can stop all transportation and make walking to school a chore.
He saw some hope during his stay. The kids elected officers in each of the 4-H programs. This was a fun activity for the kids and in each case the girls really stood out as leaders. Public speaking is highly valued in their culture so they were skilled at that. Local leaders are slowly learning to trust one another and take steps to surmount their many challenges.
Seth begrudgingly wrote me a Christmas list when he got home. He called it “my materialism list.”