Challenging A Male Dominated Space In Vanuatu: The Parliament

Every year for the last 60 years, women from all around the world gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to discuss issues affecting women and develop strategies surrounding setting standards and formulating international conventions to change discriminatory legislation and foster global awareness of women’s issues.

For 2 weeks women from governments around the world, civil society, national organizations, local non-profit organizations, come together to discuss how to shape global policies on gender equality, empowerment of women, etc.

Mary Jack at the 60th CWS- New York
Mary Jack at the 60th CWS- New York

With several consultations leading up to the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) slated to be held in Istanbul, Turkey in May, there have been a call for change in the way the current humanitarian system works and responds. One of such calls that has resonated across most of the regions has been more localization of humanitarian response, more support to women organizations and women led organizations.

In 2014 during the height of the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia, the government of Liberia closed all schools in the country as an effort to help curb the spread of the Ebola virus. As a way to helping ensure that children were kept academically engaged, I led a team of volunteers who went to several communities in Liberia providing few educational packets to children so that they wouldn’t miss out on their lessons while schools were closed. This initiative led to over 7,000 children being reached in 7 months. I was invited to talk about the work we did during this Ebola crisis period and what we have been doing since.

It was at this 60th CSW that I had the privilege of meeting Mary Jack Kaviamu, who along with other women from Liberia, the Philippines and Australia came to share their testimonies of the roles we played. We were provided an opportunity to share our stories and experiences as first responders and women leading local humanitarian action in our respective countries. Particularly during a time of crisis or disaster.

And this is where I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing woman name Mary Jack. I learned quick quickly that beneath her quiet demeanor, soft spoken voice is a strong, resolved and committed woman who is passionate and committed to improving the status of women in her home in Vanuata.

Over the next 6 days I got the chance to learn about her efforts (along with other women) in responding to the Cyclone Pam and what she has been doing before that and after that disaster when their homes and lives were affected. Mary delivered a powerfully, moving and emotional testimony at a side event organized by ActionAid and OCHA where we participated in the event ‘Women as First Responders’.

Mary spoke about the level of violence against women in her country. Not just physical but emotional.

Mary decided to break her country’s custom and run for a seat in the parliament. Currently the parliament has 52 seats, all occupied by men.

It has been hard to see how a woman can break into that male dominated space. Men in her country see politics and parliament as a space reserved solely for men and the cultural norms is one that does not allow women to speak out. If a woman attempts to engage them in that space, her level of education is called into question, her wealth and many are told “this is not your place”.

Mary- Determined. Passionate. Determined.
Mary- Determined. Passionate. Determined.

When Mary ran for Parliament, she received many threats and experienced emotional violence and although she didn’t win that election (357 women casted their votes and she got no male votes), she learned a lot from that journey. Mary though, is not discouraged and she intends to re-strategize and this time around intends to try at the local level. Elections though are expensive and she hope to get more support this time around to enable her go to more communities.

Currently she is working with several women groups, mobilizing women to come together to speak for themselves and brining to the forefront to government the many issues they are facing.

After Cyclone Pam, Mary realized that her home got damaged and that many other women had problems like hers and she volunteered to manage the space for women to come and share their stories. She organized training on human rights and women rights to have deeper understanding on their rights to be empowered to speak for themselves. Women in Vanuatu have less access to education to and girls are unable to complete schools due to resources.

Mary has 3 children, two girls and one boy and tells me that she is proud to be a part of a movement to try to change this culture that compels women to be silent. She hopes that one day women in her country will be able to speak for themselves and break the custom and culture of silencing women.

She has been involved in activism for 10 year and is not discouraged. She says that the tradition and culture has been a big barrier to women leadership. Women are not allowed to speak for themselves and she wants to take the opportunity to play a role that motivates women. To break this culture and custom.

It is always amazing, motivating and inspirational when you hear the testimonies of other women and it reinforces to me how the role women play in development work, humanitarian responses and crisis period.

The role women play, the narrative and image usually—so it’s refreshing to hear real stories of women taking leadership roles in unique situations.

You can read more about Mary’s story on a blog she wrote earlier here https://vanuatudaily.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/standing-up-to-be-counted-women-of-vanuatu-demanding-their-place-in-the-political-life-of-the-nation/comment-page-1/

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Meet Vivacious Victoria

Recently I met a smart, determined child name Victoria Maizee. Victoria is 14 years old and was born blind.

A gentleman who works with an organization called Destined Kids, contacted me several weeks ago asking for help for a child “his heart reaches out to”. After few calls and persistence, I stopped to meet the family after work and immediately I felt a tug in my heart as well.

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Young Victoria

Victoria is in the 8th grade and attends a community school in the NeZoe community in Monrovia.

Her story (and that of many others in her condition is heartwarming).  At 7 am daily, Victoria’s 8 year old younger brother Noah -who is not blind-walks her to school daily (he is not currently enrolled in school) and returns home to help his parents around the house. Victoria has to rely on a friend in her class to copy the notes which she then takes home and have someone from the neighborhood read to her while she transcribes to Braille on poster sheets.

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Despite these challenges, she still excels in her lessons and this past 1st period, she came up with an average of 90%. Remarkable!

Victoria attended the Liberia School of the Blind where she learned how to write Braille and other much needed basic life skills.

I met her mother Deddeh- who also happens to be blind- who told me that she was not born blind, but contracted Measles at 16 years old and it affected her eyesight. She went to several hospitals during the war years, seeking treatment, but it did not help, she still lost her sight. She said, this led her to stop going to school and she stopped in the 5th grade.

Deddeh, Victoria's mother
Deddeh, Victoria’s mother

She told me that not long after, she was fortunate to be part of the group of women trained in Cote D’Ivoire where she was taught how to bake, a skill that she and her family now relies on to feed and sustain them. She bakes daily and sells short bread, corn bread etc., which she sells right in front of her home. I have promised to one day watch her do this!

Her husband she told me was also not born blind, but like her, got ill and lost his eyesight. He is currently unemployed and ill. He was not at home at the time I went there.

I asked Victoria how is she able to cope with school, being the only blind child there. She told me that it is difficult but she is determined to finish high school at the minimum.

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The school is very supportive and also has a teacher who is blind who recently graduated from Cuttington University. When I spoke to him, he indicated that being a blind person, “you have to be double smart! No play play”. He said he is very supportive of little Victoria and always encourages her to stay determined and true to herself. That she could be the first one in her family to graduate from high school if she continues on this path.

Victoria was quite shy in telling me her learning needs and after a bit of prompting, shyly said that a small typewriter would go a long way in helping her type up her notes daily

Victoria is currently being supported academically by KEEP with tuition support, educational supplies and other needed items that supports her remaining in school.

If you would like to help support her education in any way, please contact me inbox

 

8 Year Old Noah, Victoria's brother
8 Year Old Noah, Victoria’s brother
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Victoria at school

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KEEP Provides Back-To-School bags

What better way to celebrate Valentine ’s Day than to show love to others?

This past weekend KEEP continued its efforts to provide some children with “Back-To-School” bags. Like before, each bag contained notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, crayons. We also got a donation of Geometry sets, so those went in the bags of kids in grades 4-6.

Also, this time around, we decided to reach out to orphanages and families that have been directly affected by Ebola-either by losing their parents or guardians.

Our first stop was at the Love A Child orphanage on the Robertsfield Highway.  Mother Rebecca Wreh runs the Orphanage (lady in black and red t-shirt)

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32 children at this orphanage received bags with supplies. we managed to get a few to pose with us.

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We later went to the Eluwo Orphanage in Ceasar’s village (Rehab road).

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The kids there were caught unaware by the visit and were super excited that we took book bags for them. The home has a backyard garden where they grow cabbages, corn, pepper, etc.

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Mother Eleanor Wuo was so appreciative that she insisted giving us cabbage from the home’s backyard garden. I was so touched!

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We also made a visit to several homes in the Banjor Community where many children in that area lost their parents to Ebola.

Thanks to all who have and continue to support our various efforts.

Previously on January 31 we give out over 150 bags to children in the Baptist Seminary Blocks B&C communities.

 

Give People Their Flowers While They Live-An Appreciation

There is a running saying in Liberia that Liberians are all mostly talkers. That we like to talk a lot, but tend not to put our money where our mouths are. Since we commenced the Kids Engagement Project, I can happily refute that old adage as 95% of the support we have received thus far has been from all Liberians.

I like to tell people that “even Jesus, the Son of God, wanted thanks when He healed the Lepers, what more about mere man?”

There is also a saying we have in Liberia that “Give a man his flowers while he is alive” and so I would like to highlight a few of the material donations and support we have received over the past weeks starting with the most recent going backwards.

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When the project started, I emailed several friends and family. Some responded, some didn’t. Some replied with “thank you Brenda, nice project, keep it up”, others responded “I will get back to you”.

Mr. George E. Taylor was one of those who simply replied “ I will get back to you”. Several weeks passed and I didn’t hear from him. Last weekend I got a surprised text from him. He told me he had sent a few books and supplies for the project and to collect from a friend. I was happy. To have gone thru the headache of sending exercise books, pencils, crayons, erase, reading and coloring books, etc. from all the way from the United States, I was appreciative and thankful.

But, that wasn’t all.

He also sent me a money transfer number with cash donation for the kids’ project. The amount blew me away. Let’s just say that George, my old college mate from the University of Liberia days, is the highest donator to our project thus far. He didn’t want me to do this but I convinced him that I would in order to motivate others to help and to prove that indeed, Liberians do support each other and that Together, We Can. Thank you so much George.

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Lawrence Morris taught me when I was in grade school in Gbarnga, Bong County, on Cuttington Campus during the civil war. I think it was 5th or 6th grade. cant remember now. But I remember saying to myself that when I grew up, I wanted to be smart just like him. I wrote my “Prof” and he has come through. Not only did he bring a lot of these supplies from the USA in his luggage, but also met with several organizations in the USA about the project and got more items coming via ship in the next few weeks/months. Lawrence aka prof. thank you so much, the book bags are very handy and timed right now as we use them to carry the packets around the communities.

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I also want to say a special thank you to Madam Korto Williams and ActionAid Liberia and the Leader Fund for donating a lot of reading books and worksheets to the project from the very beginning. I remember she told me “Come by, I have few books to give to you”. Got at her office and was beyond surprise and happy. The readers and story books are really helpful as they help the kids reading skills, improve their reading comprehension and enhance their vocabulary.  

Donations from ActionAid Liberia
Donations from ActionAid Liberia

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Madam Williams presenting
Madam Williams presenting

 

Jackie Parsons was also one of those I wrote who said ” oh I got some things at home, I will give to you, Brenda”. She continues to be a great support and I really appreciate her efforts. She has driven all the way to our home on the highway twice now to bring supplies and knick-knacks for the project.

Thanks Jackie
Thanks Jackie

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I also want to say many thanks to Mr. Anthony Wilson. All I can say about Anthony’s donation is that, it was of such magnitude that it is only in the last 3 weeks I have had to purchase exercise books. He also got us about 20 dozen pencils. Tony, thank you so much.

Kind Courtesy of Anthony Wilson
Kind Courtesy of Anthony Wilson

Then there is Nat B. Walker, my former boss. Whenever I tell him thank you for his supporting to reaching out to more kids, he says, “yes, thank me for helping to give you more work!”. He always comes thru when we are in a snitch with pencils, crayons, cash, notebooks, etc. Nat, thank you so much.

Compliments of Nat Walker
Compliments of Nat Walker

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I would also like to say thank you to Relief Inc. (Phebe Dennis Fortt) and Mr. John T. Richardson and Sis Josephine Salee of Feed the Future for the donation of some books and supplies to the project. They have come in handy for places like Orphanages that have reading rooms/spaces for the kids to read and keep their minds active during this crisis period.  Thank you.

Donations by Relief Inc.
Donations by Relief Inc.

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I met Wadei Powell online. She sent me a message asking how she could help. I give her the list of supplies we needed and also complained about the production. She said “I will see what I can do”. Since she got back, she has become a core member of the project (more on that in another blog later) and has worked a lot from behind the scenes in helping us get copies, talking to her friends for supplies and even digging deep to bring some when we are jammed. Ma Wadei, thank you ya?

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Ambassador Miatta Fahnbulleh (Aunty Miatta), has also blessed the project with supplies. She asked me “what all do you need?” I said “pencils, notebooks, erasers, sharpeners… ” she said “oh, the pencils I got lots of pencils”. We only just exhausted her donation of pencils this week. She also sent some biscuits that I now use as “rewards” for the kids who complete all their activity sheets. Thank you so much Aunty Miatta.

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Then there is my childhood friend who resides in the UK. She and her family saw my numerous posts on facebook and made contact with someone in Liberia to bring these items for us. Thank you So much Attia and Scooby.

Mr. & Mrs. Alpha Collins
Mr. & Mrs. Alpha Collins

I am saying thanks to all of you publicly for your material, cash and moral support. There are many others who have really blessed this project in many ways that I will highlight as we go along. People who commit their time, effort, resources. But, that is a story, for a different blog.

Remain blessed and favored.

 

Ebola Orphans

 Today during the course of distributing educational packets to children in the Red Hill community (just after the St. Paul’s bridge), we came across a group of children that had lost both their parents to the Ebola Virus Disease. I counted about 9 of them. Their ages ranged from about 2 years old to about 15 years old.

They had been under quarantine for 21 days and today was their last day and so they were in a joyous and thankful mood.

Inquisitive eyes
Inquisitive eyes

I saw these children and started crying. I couldn’t imagine what they must be feeling. Their mother’s sister has taken them in and told us that the rest of the family were waiting for the 21 days to end to make a decision on how to how take care of the children.

Our community liaison told us that the community has been very supportive in providing food and supplies weekly to this family and supporting in many ways to ensure they don’t feel ostracized, stigmatized or alone.

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I looked at these children, so happy, gleeful and excited over receiving (among other things) coloring pages and pencils and whatnot and just said a silent prayer of thanks to God for life. For health. For being good to me and my family.

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I cannot imagine what these children must be dealing with. The confusion of not knowing where both their parents are. Of being told to stay in their home all day, not interacting with anyone else. Not playing with the other children. They seem too young to grasp the enormity of all of this.

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I asked their aunt if she wouldn’t mind us taking a few pictures to share with you all and she said she didn’t.

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Speaking with the aunt
Speaking with the aunt

We have been to many communities, and I must say I am very impressed with how organized the red Hill community leadership is in dealing with and responding to the Ebola crisis. The level of support I am told they give to this family and 3 others in similar situation is really amazing and laudable.

If you are able to help them, please let me know and I will forward the contact info of the family and the community liaison.

you can follow our daily activities on the facebook page facebook.com/KidsEngagementProjectLiberia

Project Kids Engagement On-The-Go

The response to the project has just been amazing.

Not only are some parents actually making time to tutor their kids, but the kids themselves are excited about learning. We ran into a few parents who sell by the road side whose kids had received educational packets and…see for your self. These pictures, these moments just made all the hours of work worth it. Keep it up family.

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We did a follow-up trip to some of the homes we had initially given packets to and the kids were excited and anxiously displaying their completed assignments/worksheets.

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Sadly some parents didn’t have the time to help the kids with their lessons but promised to do so this week. We will check back to make sure.

We also saw the need to target some markets around the city as there are also many children of school going age that are roaming the market all day idle, which isn’t also safe for them during this Ebola Crisis period. The reception and feedback from the parents was amazing. We held discussions with them on not only keeping their kids safe, but also to keep them engaged academically whilst we await the reopening of schools and started off at the Rally Town market. There are so many pictures and stories from this trip that I will need a separate blog post just to capture most of the fun, but here are a few for now:

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We will be going to another community in the next few days and will update the page as we go along. Please help support the initiative with exercise books, reams of paper, pencils, erasers, crayons, sharpeners, cash, etc.

You can follow the project activities on the facebook page set up here: facebook.com/KidsEngagementProjectLiberia.

If you would like to donate to help keep the initiative alive, please send me an at email moore.brenda@gmail.com or use the GoFundMe site: http://www.gofundme.com/project-kidsengagement

Thank you for the many kind words of encouragement and I would like to say special thanks to those who have contributed towards the project and who continue to invest time and energy into this initiative.
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Kids Engagement During the Ebola Crisis in Liberia

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A few weeks ago, I was tutoring my kids and a question ran through my head: how are other parents keeping their kids busy and engaged during the compulsory schools closure?

Later that day on my way to work, I passed many kids in my community who were just sitting around idle, or playing or just walking around in the community looking like they had nothing to do. Then the thought hit me: why not print a few worksheets that you could share with them to keep them busy.

Thus was born Project Kids Engagement. The idea is to provide weekly school exercises to the kids in my community (the Baptist Seminary/Gbengbar town area) and create an awareness for parents to make time daily to tutor their kids and not allow the indefinite closure of schools due to the Ebola outbreak to keep their kids behind in their lessons.

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The target was 150 kids initially but after I did the first distribution on September 14, 2014, I quickly realized there are a lot more kids in my immediate neighborhood than I estimated, so I took the number to 200. They were really happy and excited and their parents were receptive to the initiative and promised to work with their kids to do the exercises.

A brief discussion is held with the parents to encourage them to make time during the day to teach the kids and check up on their progress and efforts.

The start-up kits for K1 & K2 include:
• 1 box of crayon
• 2 pencils
• 1 sharpener
• 1 erase
• 1exercise book
• 1 Disney character coloring book
• 1 So-GO-LO book
• 1 ABC tracing book
• 1 ABC coloring book.
• 1 assorted math worksheet (counting, number sequence, etc.)
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For the 1st – 3rd graders, the sets are a bit different with more math, reading comprehension and other helpful worksheets, but also include the crayons, pencils, etc.

I sent out emails to several friends asking for their support and the feedback has been amazing. So far, I have done two distributions with the first actual follow-up distribution scheduled for this weekend.

Once again thank you so much for helping to make this possible and putting smiles on the faces of these kids and helping to keep their minds busy and engaged during these difficult times.

I intend to do this weekly till end of December. We are all optimistic that the Ebola crisis would have been brought under control enough by then for schools to be reopened by January 2015.

If you would like to support this initiative, please send me an email moore.brenda@gmail.com or call me 213886510731 or go to a GoFundMe page set up for the initiative http://www.gofundme.com/project-kidsengagement

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My kids love helping me sort out the packets for distribution
20140912_103619My kids love helping me sort out the packets for distribution

I would like to thank the following persons for their support to the project:
1. Blidi Elliott
2. Maria Harrison
3. Angelique Weeks
4. Masah Sobboh
5. Ernest Gaie
6. Cornelius Poneys
7. Musu Doe
8. Georgene Wilson
9. Jennifer Anderson
10. Arnold Johnson
11. Wilfred Passawe
12. Kweme Clement
13. Gyude & Lakshmi Moore
14. Alimata Johnson
15. Jackie Parsons
16. Sametta Togba
17. Nat Walker
18. Korto Reeves Williams & ActionAid Liberia
19. Anthony Wilson
20. Nada Adjami Tondo
21. Massah Sobboh
22. Emmanuel Payegar
23. Alexander Swen
24. Richardson Ndorbor
25. Wil Baku Freeman
26. Siah Manobah
27. Hugh Collins
28. Ne-suah Beyan Livingstone
29. Tuma & Evita Johnson
30. Alyce Anderson
31. Barbara Cooper
32. Solomon Vincent
33. Yuade Merab Moore
34. Varfee Siryon, Jr.
35. Omar & Jeanne Fahnbulleh
36. Wyanie Bright
37. Tanya Weefur
38. Aubrey Winkie
39. Denise Barrette
40. W. Moore
41. Brian Watson
42. Terence Sakor
43. Francis Gibson
44. Dr. Joseph Baysah
45. Joyetta Satiah
46. Musu Wangolo-Stewart
47. Elvira Cooper
48. Nellie Sando Beyan
49. Pah Suku, Jr.
50. Vicky Ward
51. Monique Morrisey
52. Alvina Smith
53. SELF Liberia (Friskies Fest)
54. William Ward, III
55. Vivian Ward
56. Jle Tarpeh
57. Wede Wallace
58. Josephine Lee Brapoh
59. Florence A. Akins
60. William E. Ward, II
61. Mercedes Martin
62. Hannah Gardiner
63. Weahde Greaves
64. Peter Jackson
65. Linda Strange
66. Lisa Warfield

67. Tanu Dworko

68. Miatta Fahnbulleh

69. T. Nelson WIlliams

70. Delmeza Honeyborne

71. Tony Ichel Salifu

72. Salikri Sayeh

73. Josephine Lee Brapoh

74. Florence Aikins

75. Miatta Fahnbulleh

76. Min. Axel & Fatu Addy

77. Musu Redd

78. Judge Richard Klah

79. Deddeh Howard

80. Deddeh Supuwood

81. Caleb Dormah

82. Rufus Berry

83. George E. Taylor

84. Jeanine Cooper

85. Pearl Jardia

86. Theodora N. Brooks

87. Vickie Jackson & Run For Liberia (RFL)

88. African Cultural Student Association – St George’s University

89. Saran Kaba Jones

90. Marjohn Cooper

91. Naz Tubman

92. Zwaa Frankfort

93. Johan Supuwood

94. Thelma Nyanway

95. Mahmud Johnson

96. Louis Ceasar Junior

97.

Kids and schools closure

a few weeks ago, I wrote about the closure of schools in Liberia and the effect this is having on kids in the country.
schools are still closed and looks to be closed for another few months. this means kids are idle and left behind with school compared with kids in other countries around the world.

A few friends have become concerned and thought to raise funds to get school supplies, worksheets, etc to kids in the country. any help and support you give will go a long way…

thanks
Brenda

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/promoting-education-in-the-aftermath-of-ebola

Challenging Our Cultural Norms & Traditions to fight Ebola

With the Ebola outbreak, Liberia has entered an unchartered territory and is struggling to deal with this plague that is ravishing our country. Ebola has claimed the lives of so many of our people. Over 500 Liberians dead as of August 24. That’s an alarming figure if you consider with each life, the number of people affected.

All that we have known and practiced are being questioned, challenged as part of prevention measures. How can you attempt to change decades, centuries of cultural practices in a few days or weeks? How can you change an entire society’s way of life? Understandably so, we resist some of these changes. In as much as we understand the reasons for the change, we find it hard to embrace it even at the risk of our lives and that of our loved ones.

Grief

There is a long standing joke that “Liberian people like funeral business”. The same is true for most Africans when it comes to burial rites. We demand that our beloved dead ones are given a “befitting” burial regardless of relationship we had with the person while he/she was alive. You may not have spoken to that relative for years, but once that person is dead, bygones are bygones. We do not speak ill of the dead and “put hands together” and bury that person.

This entails weeks of planning the funeral, from the kind of casket and souvenirs, to the repast. Relatives residing abroad come in for the funeral in all fanfare and pageantry. We “spread mat”, meaning we open our homes to friends and relatives to come in to help with the planning, cooking and burial preparation. Relatives from “up country” come to town to grieve with us and to comfort us during the difficult time. People are expected to openly grieve their departed love ones. The few who try to hold their grief in and behave “dignified” are regarded with raised eyebrows and subtle mummers are heard that the person is trying to act “qwee” or “white” and in some instances even regarded with suspicion. “Why aren’t you crying?”

We are open mourners. None of that stoic, well behaved poised crying you see on TV for us. Oh no! We get that grief out. We yell, scream, throw ourselves on the ground and cry. Sympathizers hold us, comforting us. They hug us. They cry with us. That is what we know. That is what we expect.

Once the actual burial is completed, it is common to see people who had been bitterly wailing and yelling, crying inconsolably only a few hours before, laughing with family again. Holding a “cold one” and telling fond tales of the departed person. Funerals are also a time of family reunions and re-acquaintance, renewal of friendships. Meeting new additions to the family, including new boyfriends, girlfriends, baby, etc. All of this is a ritual. A process that goes on anywhere from a week to a month. In fact, in some Western African countries (Ghana and Nigeria, particularly) the dead can be kept up to 6 months just awaiting funeral preparations. One could say this is a way of dealing with grief which is why you probably don’t see so much depression and suicides in our culture. We mourn and move on.

Then so in comes Ebola. We are now told to stop all of this. Now if someone we love dies, we are not to touch the body. Our society is far from what we see in the movies where you see someone faints and the person nearby picks up and phone and dials “911” and within minutes there is an ambulance there to whisk that ill person away to the hospital for treatment. In stark reality here in Liberia right now, people who do call the 4455 number (Ebola Response Center) have to wait hours for a response team and in some cases, a day or two. During this agonizing time, this is when the person is most infected. As such, family members are cautioned to stay away.

Do not touch. And when the burial team arrives, the body is taken away. Immediately. There is no opportunity for closure. The stigma of the illness alone isn’t allowing us to loudly mourn as much as we would want. We don’t want people linking us to the dreadful disease and have others thinking we touched the dead and are now infected. Instead of comfort, we are now afraid of being shunned and stigmatized. We are also now told to burn our dead. Yes, burn the bodies. There is no gravesite that you can show or go and decorate and memorialize on Decoration day. (No grave to fight over, ha!)

Bonding

We are an affectionate set of people. We love touching each other. Whether to console or to greet. You meet someone and the first thing that is expected is to say hello and extend your hand for a handshake to show you hold no ill towards the person. Refusing to shake someone’s hand is taken as a serious slight. The ritual has been established. Decades old.You greet the person verbally, shake hands and hug the person. Some do the customary kiss on both cheeks or pat the person on the back. Some men are fond of snapping fingers and doing elaborate handshakes. All this is done joyfully, smiling and talking. We are now told we have to stop this also. These days we have become Asians. You meet someone and you smile and do a slight bow or just say hello or wave. No touching, no handshakes, no kissing and certainly no hugs. Everyone you meet now smells of chlorine. The prevention measure now popular in and around the country. From offices and local businesses, to homes… fewer visits, fewer meet ups, less contact. We try to stay alive. In fact, Ebola now has this distrust for everyone you meet.

Food

People in the rural areas live off the land. For them, it’s quite simple: They farm. They hunt. They sell. They are now being told to not hunt (with no alternatives being provided) and not eat animals in the wild. After a full day on the farm doing various chores, people come home and have communal meals together, often eating in one big bowl with females eating together, males in another and kids in another.

For people in the city who have the luxury of buying imported chicken and meat, it’s easy to remove “bush meat” from their palate, but this is almost impossible for the many whom this is their main source of meat protein. A way of life. Centuries old traditions and beliefs have held us together, served as the glue for families and communities. Handed down, generation after generation. Normalizing life, even after years of civil war. Yet, the reality and sheer number of death rate has us all shaken and scared and pushed us to come out of our cultural comfort zones and consider changing, adapting to collectively combat the plague.

However, in as much as there is a lot we are resisting, we should also consider adapting. There is a saying in Liberia “such is the time, such is the condition”. We find ourselves in a difficult time and condition and we need to change fast. Re-orientate ourselves if we are to survive to tell the story.

Then, maybe then, just maybe, we can go back to life as we knew it.

State of Emergency and Schools Compulsory Closure

Our country has been plagued (for lack of a better word) by the Ebola virus and hundreds of our people are dying. We are paranoid about people we meet and are now extra careful when we do have to go out to work or to the local markets or supermarkets, church, everywhere. I know if many had the option, they wouldn’t leave their homes unless really necessary. As soon as you get a headache, you start panicking. As part of efforts to curb the spread of the disease, the President announced the closure of all schools in the country.

As a parent of two young kids, my initial reaction was “whew! I don’t have to worry about them contracting the illness from school”. But shortly afterwards, another harsh reality hit me: what happens to them now that they are going to be home all day, every day for the next 4-5 months? What happens to the school year? How will government mitigate the wasted time? How do I deal with all that idle time that will now be on their hands?

To make matters worse, the rainy season is already in full force so the kids cannot play outside in the yard to get out some of the pent up energy. Anyone who has young kids knows what great a challenge it is to keep them cooped up in the house or yard all day. So imagine having to deal with this for possibly weeks and months.
As most homes do not have access to the government provided electricity (LEC), keeping them busy watching television all day isn’t too viable an option. Plus it’s expensive to run a generator all day, each day for them. Besides, after a while that too becomes boring for them.

learning

The thought of bringing in a tutor for them daily is off the option list because you don’t know where he or she goes and who he or she will be interacting with (again, that paranoia) and we want to limit our kids’ interaction with “outsiders” as much as possible.
Thus, initially, I started leaving them odd school work each day that they had to complete by the time I got home in the evening and then we would take an hour to review. But, after a few weeks, I ran out of things to teach them and wasn’t quite sure if I was giving them the appropriate lesson for their individual educational levels. I pondered on this for a few days then it hit me: why not get the text books for the next school year and follow the guidelines?

And so that is what I did. I went under the old Ministry of Education building (the one on Broad Street) and got the MOE books for mathematics, language, science, social studies, etc.
Not only do I now have a better sense of what I am doing with them, but I don’t feel this deep silent nagging that their school year is being wasted by the compulsory prolonged schools closure, albeit for all our own good.
Over the past few days have had conversations with other parents who are also complaining on similar issues I had of the kids missing out on school work and when I explained what I am doing with my kids, they all went ‘aah, makes sense, I will do same”.

arthur

I have therefore decided to share my “idea” with many other parents and have compiled a few other tips on dealing with the kids during this difficult confined situation.

• Try to get the Ministry of Education prescribed text books for your kids for the next school year and come up with a study plan for each child for the next few weeks. What I did was to get a few notebooks for them to do the various exercises.

• Have a planned structured day for them where they know what to expect (as is done in school daily for them). For example, Monday at 9:00 math, 10:00 reading, etc.

• Leave lessons with them to read and review each day.

• Make time each day after you get home, even if it is an hour or 30 minutes to review the lessons with them and clarify areas where they have questions or don’t understand.

• Every two weeks do a mini quiz with them and each month a test to review the areas covered.

• If you have access to the internet, download some of the available free resources for kids to augment the text books.

• Get a cheap phone (they have some for as low as U$15) that you can use to check up on them during the day on their lessons. Take advantage of the numerous 3 & 4 day free call promotions the cellphone companies are offering so you not using too much credits on calling them.

• Get them involved in helping with other chores around the house. Turn the activity into a game for them so they don’t see it as an unwanted chore but something fun. As an opportunity for them to learn other skills at home, helping out in the kitchen (make sure there is always adult supervision), washing dishes, sweeping, etc.

• There are educational discs that are sold around town for preschoolers and young kids you could purchase a few to mix up with the regular cartoons they watch (for those who can afford TV, that is).

• And most important of all: Be Patient! Many of us parents aren’t good teachers and are quick to yell at the kids, smack them or threaten and scare them when they aren’t learning the school work as fast as you would like them to. Don’t frighten them into learning or have them associate learning with pain. Make it fun.

This is also an opportunity for you to bond with your kids on a different level and to refresh your memory on some of the elementary school work we have forgotten. For me, I am now relearning the multiplication table. 8X1=8, 8X2=16, ……

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