A Typical Day In The Life Of A Liberian Doctor

Written by: Deddeh E. P. Supuwood, MD.

Everyday we hear all around us that quality healthcare delivery in Liberia is lacking and it is not a fantasy, neither can it be over-emphasized. As health care workers in Liberia, we face the challenges of coming in contact with patients that are in need of so many things but are compelled to watch helplessly as we offer very minimum or no service at all to these patients. I cannot express in words exactly how this makes us feel. In fact, it has almost become a normal practice as doctors in Liberia to say to our patients “I know what is happening to you but unfortunately I don’t have the means of treating you right now”. Sad, isn’t it?

As a young medical doctor who has so much passion for what I do, I have had this experience one too many times, both in my personal and professional life. Growing up, my family and I had to go through an exceedingly long and emotionally difficult battle: my mother was diagnosed of breast cancer at the age of 41. We watched helplessly as she fought this disease for eight years and we watched as it gradually invaded her body until she finally succumbed to it. Having lost my mother to this silent and common yet unknown killer, I promised myself that if given the opportunity to study, I would study cancer to save others from meeting same demise as much as I could.

I watched and listened through the years as I heard stories of people dying from cancer both in and outside of Liberia. What makes Liberia’s situation even more peculiar is the fact that we do not have a cancer center in Liberia where people battling this disease can get proper health care- just another of our many sad stories.

Fortunately, the opportunity came, and I was awarded a scholarship to pursue my dream of becoming an oncologist (cancer doctor). Being eager to offer my service to my people, I returned home for a short vacation and decided to go to work.

It was a sunny day and a terribly busy one too in the outpatient clinics. My colleague had alerted me that she was referring a patient to me and I sat in the screening room waiting for her. As she walked in with her relative, I watched this very frail woman who had obviously lost a lot of weight. What was even more striking was that this woman’s abdomen was grossly and unevenly distended (big and knotty stomach), and she had jaundice (commonly called “yellow janus” in Liberia). My heart sank as I had already started going through the possible diagnosis in my head. Eventually, we went through the entire process of history taking and examination and labs were ordered.

Quite a few hours later, we had all the lab results put together and there it was! Exactly what I thought – this lady had liver cancer! What was even more frustrating for me as her doctor was that I could not offer her much help after that as the single medication she needed was nowhere to be found in Liberia. How do I tell this lady that she has liver cancer yet I cannot do anything about it? How do I tell her relative that all they needed to do was take her home and make her feel as comfortable as they could until she finally succumbed to this disease? This made me realize the burden and urgent need we have to establish a center where people like this lady can seek medical care.

We continue to fail our patients because of many circumstances that are beyond our control. We fail to invest in quality health services in Liberia. We continue to watch helplessly as people die from preventable diseases in our country and what we forget is that good health is the key to a productive life. If we must prosper as a country we need to take ownership of our health sector, invest in it and make it available, assessable and affordable for our citizens. Through this endeavor we all can be healthy, happy and continue working together to make Liberia a better place for everyone.

About the author: Deddeh is a Medical Oncology Resident at the National Cancer Institute in Cairo, Egypt. She hails from Liberia, West Africa and recently served as Deputy Case Management Pillar Lead, Montserrado County Health team Covid19 response.

How Dare You

Lately, I have seen something that is disturbing. It is the politicizing of rape and abuse.

Three words come to mind when I see or hear the crime of rape being politicized:

How Dare You!

For years, you sit in a position of trust and influence and, and you say or do nothing to address the issue of the rape of women and children as well as other sexual and gender-based violence.
Suddenly, it’s election year, and because you want votes, you feel it is the time you finally have awakened from your stupor – suddenly your eyes are opened, and your voice is returned – to proclaim “stop rape and abuse”.

How dare you!
How dare you!

You sit supinely, quietly, watching the news – reading the news. Each new day a new incident reported, or under-reported, including deaths to victims. The stories are mind-numbing and sickening with reports involving the rape of babies and little girls.
Those who survive the criminal ordeal to the violation of their bodies often do not feel lucky to be alive as they wear the physical scars and mental traumas and “guilt” for the rest of their lives, as if they are actually dead.

You turn your face away, and point your nose in the air because your family is safe. In fact, you think it’s only a “women’s rights issue”, and “these NGO people just want to talk”.

But 2020 is elections year. Now, you realize that we have an issue of rape in Liberia?
How dare you!
How dare you!

You claim to be interested in “the people”; which people?
You want to run for office, so you do photo ops at the detriment of the trauma of scores of women and girls! And you want us to be silent so that you’re heard.
Now, you want to organize rallies and meet-ups?

How dare you!

Now, you want to conveniently care about your sheep? Their pains make your electoral gains? How dare you?

How about all the times you were too busy – your pulpit was too precious to be soiled by victims “who dressed to invite rape”?

Do you expect us to simply forget all the times you refused to call out your friends, colleagues, and pastors. How can we just forget that you have not been there for the babies, the children and the women?

You refused to call out that ‘Father of The Year’ because he gives a lot to church programs, and he is a dear friend and colleague. We must simply forget?

Now, you speak about corruption. You speak about prosperity. You speak about going to heaven and salvation.

But you are silent on rape of babies – of angels! Of women!

HOW DARE YOU!

You see and know a girl is being abused, but you do not want the family name to be “dragged in the mud”, so you pretend not to know. You smile and console. You cajole, “it will be all right, these things happen.:

Would your position be the same if it happens to you, or your child?

You do not realize that rape kills a child before she can even get a chance to live? Where is your conscience?

How dare you?

You boast about it being cheaper to “keep” small girls because older women have too many demands. So you purposely seek out high school vulnerable girls to “raise”. You lure them with $20 and $50, while you exploit their bodies! As you do this, you jealously and zealously guard and protect your own child from any fly coming near her.

How dare you!
HOW DARE YOU!

You seek out little girls and boys and say “green plum sweet with salt” whist your own children are safe and protected abroad. You are brave and shameless to say “all these girls spoiled, they are used goods”.

Are you not the real user? How, how, how DARE YOU!

You use your affluence to protect those who rape and violate. You use your networks and secret societies and clubs to shield rapist. And you deny that rape is an issue even as you read near daily of rape all across the country.

You use the courts to break a family’s spirit. You use a broken, underfunded justice system to let rapists walk away while victims find it harder to even be heard.

How dare you!

We are not stupid. We see you.

Shame on you.

#weareunprotected
#FixTheSystem
#FixOurSociety
#StopProtectingPerpetrators

Brenda Brewer Moore

Liberia: The Pros & Cons of Working From Home During Covid-19

Had you told me a few months ago that I would have to work from home for a few weeks, I would have given you an incredulous look and asked “how”, or “why”. In fact, I have asked a few colleagues the same thing and each one answers first with a sheepish smile then shakes their head in disbelief.

The coronavirus disease started in China in December 2019. None of us imagined that what was reported to have broken out in Wuhan would break up our daily lives, the way we worked, and play, only a few months later. It has not only changed our routines, but the virus has also infected over 10 million, and killed over 500,000 globally, as at this writing.

My primary work is field-based. It means I have had to travel outside my home and headquarter office in Monrovia all across Liberia including remote villages and difficult-to-reach places. I have had to conduct business meetings, hold briefs with partners, organize public launches of various related programs and fundraisers, engage in one-on-one sessions with parents and children, as well as group meetings in communities. It seemed farfetched that I would ever consider the prospect of working from home.

It just would not work. Well, these thoughts were pre-Covid-19.

Today, we mostly work from home – a Covid-19 reality to protect ourselves and the people we love to serve.

Now lets face it, many of us complain and have to deal with long commutes daily. The long seemingly unnecessary traffic and bad roads. I know the effect on my body from some of many, if not all of my trips outside Monrovia. So the question is, why have we not easily embraced working from home? 

At 12%[i], Liberia has one of the lowest electricity penetration rates in the world. Less than 20% of the population has access to electricity. The cost is still amongst the highest in the world. Working from home inevitably means access to electricity. With over 80% off the national electric grade, it would mean most desirous of doing so must rely on private generators. The retail price of diesel to power a generator is U$3.5 a gallon. Of course its safer to work from home but its an unaffordable privilege and has serious challenges for many. 

Most employees look forward to going in to work to charge their phones and gadgets for use when they return to their homes. In fact, years back, I used to take a rechargeable fan to work so as to charge it for use at night.

And then, there is the challenge of the internet. Liberia’s internet connectivity, like electricity is at 12% penetration rate. As well as infrastructural challenges which would make what might be a simple and easy thing to do in other parts of the world a nightmare in Liberia, discussions are ongoing to increase the surcharge on internet use which would be another factor for those actively working from home.

To enable a response to the outbreak inevitably reaching Liberia, first a health emergency, and then a state of emergency were declared shutting down schools and businesses and restricting gatherings and imposing social distancing. Organizations like mine had to redefine the way we would work and adapt our operations, or risk permanent closures. Some of the adapted measures included:

Non-essential – quite a few organizations had to declare some of their team members “non essential”. So those without “critical functions” were asked to stay home. Ofcourse all functions in a small organization where one team member is tasked with multiple responsibilities, are critical. But such was the need to adapt including to available work and resources. Suffice to say, some organizations have been able to retain their non-essential staff on full salaries and benefits while others have had to institute a pay cut. As in all cases of any salary cut, the employee has to sign approving and accepting notices. Despite the unforeseen health emergency which has impacted the economy and work, salary cuts cannot be done arbitrarily or without prior consent. 

Intermittent work schedule– Some organizations opted to reduce the number of people coming in to the office space by scheduling their team members to come in on particular days only. This has enabled them keep up operations, and not have to declare any staff “non essential”.

Redundancy– When all else fails, redundancy is what some organizations have had to resort to. Now, redundancy has strict labor guidelines employers must follow to ensure they are in adherence to the Labor Laws of Liberia. The employer must make a reasonable  business case to the Division of Labor Standards outlining why they have to lay off staff. In the future when the business has improved and these positions become available again, the law mandates that employers gave preference to team members made redundant previously. 

Team members declared to be “non-essentials” have either had to deal with a pay cut, or face the real prospect of redundancy. Like one HR Professional I spoke to said “How do you justify keeping a contractual driver on payroll? How can he ‘work’ from home?”.

Some companies provided staff with few extra gallons to cover fuel/gasoline for the running of their private generators at home so that they work from home. Others provided chargeable power banks to recharge phones and laptop when they run out of power. Bigger companies provided solar panels to some of their employees to keep them working away from their offices.

Working from home has also meant, for big and small organizations, the subsidizing of internet data usage and connectivity.

Especially across various counties with competing challenges, how have some Human Resource Professionals coped with working from home and maintaining a level of connection and interaction with their teams? 

Weekly check in meetings– Scheduling of weekly meetings to check-in on team members. These calls can be group calls or one-on-one. It provides staff an avenue to share concerns, fears and “feel needed”, all of which are proving to be important contributions to remaining engaged and being productive in the strange situation of working from home. The phone calls makes it more personable, a valuable loss for many employees now forced to work from home.

Whatsapp Groups– Some offices have created whatsapp groups to enable team members keep in touch, share updates and concerns about happenings and conditions. This has helped teams feel connected, share the new learning experiences even while separated for extended periods of time. 

What have been some of the challenges with actually working from home?

Hands down, from all I spoke to, the biggest challenge has been that of electricity. Unsurprisingly, it is immediately followed by issues with internet connectivity. 

As already indicated, most homes rely on self-run generators, commercial community electricity provided at exorbitant fees, or in rare cases, state provided “LEC”. 

Constant interruptions– Now being home all day means the kids, if you have them (a typical Liberian household comprise an average of 5.6 persons, according to the most recent LIGIS census),  want to hang out more. Locked out from school and having their parents around more often then they are used to; who can really blame them? 

Parents, other than adjusting to working from home, now have to parent more, and become the teachers their children need, miss and must have. And so, the home is not just converted into the new office, it is also the new school, and even the new play place. 

With parents around, children want attention. And so every so often, they interrupt. When in the flow writing, or analyzing, or preparing a complicated report, splitting attention and concentration is not the ideal enabling environment. In fact, it can be a bit annoying and stressful.

One HR Professional I spoke to told me she has to start work at 10pm most days as that is when her kids are asleep, the house has less noise and distractions, and the internet is faster! She works up to 2:30ish am, before heading to bed.

Internet connectivity– even if affordable, presents a difficult challenge. Depending on where one lives, one might have good steady internet, or struggle with inconvenient blind spots. The signal might be stronger in the kitchen and weaker in the room. Even worse, the signal might be stronger on the back porch, or in the yard, and extremely weak throughout the house. Imagine trying to work at night using the internet, and battling mosquitoes (Liberia is in the tropics), or working from the most inconvenient space for work in the house!

It begs to mention again that the cost of the internet data is anything but cheap, and these numerous Zoom and Skype calls gulp up data like water poured on hot sand. 

One professional told me there are times he has to drive in his car on the road to take work calls as the network at his home is very bad and most times he is unable to participate in meetings. He also pointed to challenge of sending a simple file which he said takes up agonizing hours of waiting frustratingly to upload. Sometimes, uploading or downloading would come close to being completed after the long wait, and then, suddenly, the connection would be lost, and the process has to be restarted, from scratch!

Work-life balance: Another downside in working from home has been a reduction in work-life balance. You can no longer leave work, at work. Work is now at home – the office is the home. From across differing time zones, and trying to keep pace, we have had to take longer and longer zoom and skype calls, often at odd hours. And when videos are required, have to look your best when you’d rather be at rest. They are also time consuming and draining.

Be that as it may, it was interesting to observe that all 3 individuals interviewed for this article are in agreement that while the distractions at home have proven… well, distracting for work, they have enjoyed the reconnection with their families and children, and the family life and bonding they seemed to have forgotten, if not traded to office life in which the kids are sleeping by the time they get home from work. As one puts it, they seem to enjoy “judging complaints all day”, and just spending more time living in your home space. Often, between work and long commutes, except for off-days, many only use their homes to sleep, shower and change clothes. 

Having a semblance of control over one’s time has also been another advantage of working from home. One is able to space out work in a way that offers flexibility in and control over time. And one can dress, or be unmasked, as they would prefer, to work.

So what advice do we have to share as HR Professionals:

1. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. 

You have to know how to prioritize your tasks in order of importance so you know which ones need urgent attention or which can be pushed off to later. And no, checking your facebook status every 20 minutes is definitely not a priority. 

2. Make a Rolling List

Write the things you need to get done down. It helps you remember to keep track of what has been done, and what is outstanding. It is also a great way to just track how you are spending your working hours and being accountable to yourself, your professional requirement, and to your employer. This list will come really handy when it comes time to track achievements for performance evaluations. 

3. Structure Your Day 

Even if fluid, it is important to plan out your work day in a way that provides you a sense of order. It helps to keep you with a professional mindset and in work mode. This can take the form of logging in at 9am daily after you have had breakfast, breaking at 1 for lunch, or just allowing for a mental health break. Maintaining a sense of structure to the day helps keep the mental edge and professional instincts required to be productive.

4. Set Boundaries

Make sure members of your team understand that while you are working from home, 10pm work zoom calls are not optimal use of time. Be clear about when you will be available to respond to non-urgent tasks, avoid taking work calls or meetings at night, and show similar respect to others in managing when you call them. Unless it proves to be absolutely necessary, in which case, it should be made clear that it is an exception and not the rule, boundaries must be set.

The boundaries must also apply to family members. Inform of the times in the day that you cannot be disturbed except for emergencies. Of course kids, especially younger ones, enjoy absolute exceptions and hold priority, especially if you are a mother, and the nurse, if you have one, cannot come to work for safety reasons.

5. Keep Updated

Rules are changing as the virus change our lives. HR Professionals must keep updated with the latest pronouncements of the government especial the agency responsible for labor matters.

This can be done through direct contacts, or through constant engagements with other HR colleagues. It is also important to learn about how other organizations are adapting to the situation so as to keep abreast with the trend and be informed about new ways to approach the new challenges.

Admittedly, our lives have changed. So also is the way we have always known to work and interact. Now, we must adapt. We must change. And the change critically affects offices and homes, merging the spaces, behaviors, attitudes and timing into one.

In any case, with the crazy Monrovia traffic, its hard to tell if anyone misses the morning and evening commutes!

Originally published on FrontPage Africa- https://frontpageafricaonline.com/opinion/commentary/liberia-the-pros-cons-of-working-from-home-during-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR2cAiDWi3wBV8apoH4ze1jyFQNEXipEYV1RmvN5l3YcFZJhujjtCHOXgGM

The Silence Of The Church On Rape

#ThursdayinBlack

#WeAreUnProtected

Lately, I have been reading a lot of speeches and writings from the past. One was Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail.

The letter was in response to a group of other “men of God” who wrote chastising Dr. Kings’ role in the civil rights movement and protest in Birmingham, for which he was arrested and jailed.

Too many things stood out to me especially about leadership in times of need and difficulties. I will not be going into all of them here. What I want to draw attention to, in this piece, was his comment about his disappointment in the leaders of the church (white), and their general lack of action, “appalling silence”, as black brothers and sisters were engaged, beaten, jailed and even killed in the fight for equality, social justice, and civil rights.

As I read the letter, a long-held and nagging thought took even clearer and compelling shape in my mind. What has been the role of the church in Liberia as rape, sexual violence and abuse has continue rob many of Liberia’s women and children of innocence, dignity and even life itself?

Where is the Liberian Church? How can the church be so silent and turn away as babies become mothers and children know not whom to trust? How can the Liberian Church look away as the staggering statistics of deaths of infants and girls, on account of rape, continue to haunt the society with increasing impunity? How can this not be a concern of the Liberian Church?

All about us, I hear loud silence – the “appalling silence” of the Liberian Church!

Where is the voice of the Council of Churches on members of that body who have been accused of rape, or are victims of rape, sexual violence and abuse?

Where are the sermons condemning these dastardly acts against innocent women and children?

Where are the calls to action of our Pastors and Bishops – the supposed moral consciences of the society? Where are the mentoring sessions for boys and young men to teach positive behaviour?

How can our pastors and bishops claim to care about our souls and show no care about our agonizing and raped bodies housing our souls?

Why are the silence and lack of care for victims not supportive of the increasingly unpunished crime of rape? How can any “man of God” be quiet as the society lay blames on the victims “for the way they were dressed”, and excuse the rapist?

How can the Liberian Church conscionably preach the promise of heaven and ignore the raping hell of earth for women and children, including babies?

Indeed, pulpits are great spots to advice, stimulate conversations and counsel good behavior. They are, and must continue to be elevated places for the advocacy of social justice and change, like Jesus advocated!

And yes, rape and the sexual abuse and violence increasingly perpetrated against women, girls, boys, children and babies violate the sanctity of life and stands counter to the moral code. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ would condemn rape today, as he condemned social injustices yesterday.

And so, why is the Liberian Church silent? Why are the pulpits seemingly unconcerned and uncaring? How many more babies have to die for the Liberian Church to be awakened to the inhumanity and cruelty of rape?

I am not trying to condemn – although I am deeply disappointed. I am trying to understand.

No doubt, the Church has a role to play in our collective efforts to address violence and its causes and impacts on all of God’s children. It is long overdue that the Liberian Church is heard on the growing incidents of rape, sexual violence and abuse. And the voice of the Church cannot be ambivalent or uncertain. It must be loud enough to be heard, as it must be strong in condemnation.

There are those who know my personal life’s story and say “but your ma was reverend” and insinuate that because of that, I should not be questioning the silence of the church on rape.

I will say it BECAUSE of exactly that I am asking the Church to stand up against rape. The church has a role to play, and that it should wake up and play it’s role – loudly.

The rape of our girls needs to end, and the Church can help, as it has a duty to assist the society through moral challenges.

Rape is immoral. A survivor of sexual abuse, I know it defiled the body and blemishes the soul. It must end now!

#weareunprotected

#ThursdayInBlack

#SilenceEnablesRape

Why? Oh Dear Liberian Men, Why?

Why?

She is still a baby
And forced to have a baby
Innocence stolen
Childhood forgotten
Forever

Whilst no fault of hers
She, is called “a liar”
By her mother
Defiled by her father
A child’s trust, and body, thrown asunder
Replaced by lifelong guilt and shame
To shield behind a veil
Of lasting disgrace
To deal with in a society
Judging so unfairly
Harshly
Uncaringly

How can our society be so accepting?!
Mothering a child at only 14
How can we call a baby “baby ma”
When a baby she truly only desires to be?

Wishing her parents would protect her rights to be
Wishing her society will guarantee her to be
Like all children deserve to be

When will we care
How many more babies must tell
The sad tales of their hell?

What does it say
When relatives prey
As opposed to protect along life’s way?
How can our society continue to fail
To protect against rape?

How many must die
To know each child raped
Is a child killed
And a life taken away?

What are our values
When a baby has a baby
And the daddy IS her daddy?

How can we lift our collective heads
When a child is raped
For trying to get paid?
Selling candy in her community
Only to hear the rapist Boldly, Shameslessly, Guiltlessly say
“she was already opened wide. We agreed to suck and fxxxk”

How can it be
That a rapist would come to think
It is his right
To take away dignity and life??

When will enough ever be enough
And our community of men and women come to decide
This is so wrong
To be permitted as the norm?

The statistics are chilling
Rape is increasing
Too many children are dying #weareunprotected

Too many babies and women #unprotected
Why must anyone continue to be?
Why must our daily reality
Be of distrust, rape, abuse and impunity?

And this is why, we continue to cry and shout and chant “#WeAreUnprotected

©Brenda Brewer Moore

Written in response to recent cases of rape in Liberia, particularly the rape and impregnation of a 14 year old girl by her step father (https://frontpageafricaonline.com/front-slider/liberia-senator-seeks-justice-for-15-year-old-raped-by-stepfather/) and the story of a 17 year old petty trader raped while out selling. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=269537097785219&id=2142675996017151

Rethinking Literacy- Keynote Address

Recently I was invited by the Ministry of Education to serve as Keynote Speaker at the International Literacy Day celebration.

As someone who is passionate about changing the narrative on education in Liberia and an education actor, I saw this as an opportunity to briefly share my thoughts on a few things regarding literacy in Liberia. Below is the text from my speech.

Please permit me to stand on the existing protocol in expressing how honored, and humbled I am by the invitation to speak on the occasion of the celebration of International Literacy Day. I will limit my remarks to three points drawn from the theme: Rethinking Literacy Development Through Multilingualism.

The first point is that being literate is being free and powerful.

One of the things I have learned in our work at KEEP as we strive to promote a culture of reading is the power of storytelling. So to make my first point, let me begin with a story.

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818.  He was a writer, orator and social reformer who has come to be so widely quoted. One of my favorite Douglass quotes is “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Before all of this tough, Douglass was a slave.

Over the protests of Douglass’ slaveholder, he would learned to read and write. The slaveholder said to Douglass that being literate would forever make Douglass unfit for the duties of a slave. He reasoned that learning would do a slave harm because “if you learn him how to read, he will want to know how to write; and this accomplished, a slave will be running away with himself.”

What this story of Douglass revealed, and the slaveholder knew as far back as in the 1800s, is that literacy was the key to freedom. It was the beginning of self-empowerment.

Literacy still has that power today.

Such is the power of literacy that it unlocks not just the chains of slaves but also unchains our minds giving us clarity and understanding about ourselves, our community, our country and our world.

From being a slave, Douglass would go on not just to be free but also to become the first African-American citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank. Can anyone therefore blame Douglass for saying, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”?

My second point is that it is time to rethink literacy.

I agree with the Director General of UNESCO that literacy is the starting point for any form of quality inclusive education.  This is why we must rethink literacy.

Traditionally, we think of literacy as only the ability to read and write. Reading and writing are still very important components of literacy. But today, with the abundance of available information, the increasing influence of technology on our daily lives, and the need to communicate with varied audiences across the globe, literacy has come to mean more than just simply being able to  read a book or write a letter. It is expanding to mean being critical and ethical consumers of information as well as a communicator through varied means, and now in multiple languages.

With this rethink of literacy, each child is enabled to become a global citizen. Rather than only his country of birth, the larger  world  becomes a place he can seek to understand, live in, as well as interact and communicate with. Rethinking literacy is therefore a chance to cross boundaries, open vast spaces and unleash potentials.

Rethinking literacy means reading and writing are not only to be taught in Language Arts classrooms but by all educators, and teachers of every subject area. Every teacher must share in the responsibility to further develop, strengthen and enhance a student’s literacy in their specific subject area.

Rethinking literacy is understanding that from the moment a child is born, his or her literacy journey actually begins with parents, family and community all playing important roles. Like it is said, a love of reading is a great gift to pass on to a child. And so, every child we provide the best chance to be literate is an adult for whom we would not need “Adult Literacy Programs”.

At KEEP, we believe that the stronger a child’s foundation is in reading and writing, the easier it is to learn other life skills and professions. We know that being a doctor, engineer, lawyer or scientist does not begin in graduate school. It begins in pre-school, kindergarten and grade schools. This is why we are striving, all across the country, to cultivate that love and interest in reading as early as possible, through many strategies, be it storytelling, drawing, read aloud sessions, poetry, etc..

And rethinking literacy is actually getting libraries into every school and communities because to borrow from Walter Cronkite, “whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to an ignorant nation”

My third and final point, on this International Literacy Day, is to again join the Ministry of Education in an appeal to the Legislature to increase the appropriation for education to at least 10% of the national budget.

The challenges in the educational sector are enormous. Of course, money is not the cure-all for all of our educational problems. But more than the current budget of 42m is needed to demonstrate how seriously we are prioritizing the need to improve the quality of education in the country.

For too long now our schools are failing and our children are failing. All Liberians should be concerned because each Liberian boy or girl who fails to be as educated as any child in the region or across the world is a dark spot on the collective bright future that we seek. We simply cannot ignore that too many of our children are either failing, barely passing, or graduating when they can barely read or write!

Liberian children are smart and ready to learn. And so, our children are not failing us. We are failing them.

We have called many things national emergencies in our country. The failings of the educational system is a real and serious emergency. It is time to treat it as such. Let us not just talk about it. Let us do something serious about it.

A good first and serious step would be to increase appropriations for education in the national budget.

I understand that we need to build roads, bridges and buildings. I know that they beautify the body of our country. But building the minds of our children is best because that way, we beautiful the soul of our nation, and that way also, we protect the future of our country.

We cannot afford to let the educational system become worse than it already is. If we do not invest in improving it, it will get worse.

This is why, I agree with President George Weah when he said, “Education is like a bicycle. You must pedal to keep moving forward.”

What is also true is that the Ministry of Education is the chain that connects the pedal of our national bicycle. And that chain feels slack, and is asking to be reconnected to the pedal so we can move ahead.

We are wise to listen.

May God bless us all. I thank you for you kind attention.

—- End Speech—

the story was also published in the Liberian Daily Observer Newspaper https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/its-time-to-rethink-literacy/

A Case For More Educational Financing

“All I have to say is, no nation has ever been able to establish and maintain a strong government with a poor ignorant population. Much of our progress in the future will depend upon the rapidity with which we mass educate our people now” – Didwho Welleh Twe, July 26, 1944 National orator

We can only reap that which we sow.

This truth is as old as time. Another truth, with which we must contend, is the need to continue to improve the quality of education on offer to our children in Liberia. From qualified teachers and administrators to improved learning facilities, improving the quality of education in Liberia is a need around which all Liberians need to be united. It defines the future of our country we believe to be possible, and stands at the heart of all that we can achieve together.

Recently, the Ministry of Education (MoE) made an appeal to the Legislative Budget Committee. They are asking for at least 10% of the national appropriation for education. As a participant in the educational sector and experiencing the dire needs, I cannot but add my voice to the  MoE’s appeal to our lawmakers.

Please, increase the priority of education in the national budget.

Of course, it can be reasonably argued that all of our challenges in the educational sector does not amount to money. But it can also never be argued reasonably that money is not urgently needed to recruit qualified teachers and retire older ones. Nor can it be argued that students sitting on the floors – some of only dirt and unprotected by invading goats and chickens – to be taught, and many of the run-down makeshift facilities – some of which are housing multiple classes in a single space with a single teacher – are not in need of repairs, especially when the rains come pouring!

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Students at a public school in Monrovia sitting on floor during a testing period (2016)

It is also true that for the size of the challenge in the educational sector, 10% might amount essentially to a drop in the ocean displacing the gigantic body of water with little to no calculable effect. However, I believe the educational authorities are thinking if we cannot get what we really need, at least we can ask for what may be possible. In their minds, 10% increase, while still a far cry from what is needed, may be possible to actually give. And so, if not the pie in the sky, why not just ask for pepper kala!

Analogies aside, education is our collective responsibilities. The Pro-Poor Agenda correctly identifies the ongoing human capacity deficits as a looming challenge to its successful achievements. Lifting a country out of poverty is no easy feat. And yes, it takes time and investment.

A former President once identified ignorance, disease and poverty as the triple-headed monster stalking Liberia’s growth and development. When President Tolbert identified this problem, many of the neighboring countries around us were struggling behind us in terms of development. Today, while we still argue the intervening war years which some of the neighboring countries similarly endured, some of these countries appeared to have moved leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of their development.

More than anything else, one common feature stands out to explain our decline and their rise: Overall, their people are more educated than we are.

As a proud Liberian, this is not a fact I accept without bowing my head in shame. But it is a fact we must accept because knowledge of a problem is half way toward a solution. They have consistently and steadily invested in educating their people. We have not. Economically, politically and socially – all across the facets of human developments, these countries are reaping the rewards for their years of investments.

The stubborn truth is that all is not well in the educational sector. And whether its 10% increase in allocation, or training an army of teachers – whether its reworking the curriculum and strengthening technical/vocational education – we must lift problem to a level of national imperative. And we cannot say it is serious and a national imperative until the national budget backs this. After all, the national budget lists the order of our priorities.

If education is the best path to reconciliation, economic growth and development, and is the safest and surest way of ensuring our democracy is protected as it thrives; if an educated society is less likely to destroy itself than it is to build and continuously recreate itself, then education cannot assume any less a priority in our ordering of national priorities.

Invest in roads and buildings, and a country invests in the facial beauty of a country. Its okay to look beautiful. Some would argue that in fact there are economic multiplying effects to these investments in roads and bridges and buildings. However, it is the people that must seize upon the “multiplying effects” before they become realizable. The people will not until they are educated – qualitatively and functionally – to do so.

Educate the people, and a country invests in beautifying more than its body. Education beautifies the soul of a nation.

Nothing can be more important!

Education is security.

before and after JLM
Before and after photos of a public school library that was renovated by KEEP Liberia

Education is the sustainable ‘light in darkness’.

Education is hope – it inspires real beliefs in a better future.

Education is the future.

That future cannot be bright when out of 2611 public schools, only 306 have libraries.

That future cannot be bright, nor are we truly independent, when we expect donors to fund up to one third of our educational budget, according to current budgetary estimates.

The only politics that should be associated with education, if any at all, is the question of how best we improve the quality of education, year-on-year, so that our children have the chance they deserve to compete with children of the West African sub-region, and all children of the world, in the international labor marketplace. Our children deserve to, too!

Now, I understand one challenge of investing in education is that its outcomes and returns are slow in coming. Sometimes, our society seems too eager for immediate returns. That returns and outcomes are not immediately impactful, however, does not compare, in the least, to the associated costs of not investing in quality education. The reality of the eventual socio-economic breakdowns, retardation and pervasive insecurities that ultimately follow the lack of continuous investments in quality education in a country are too frightening and too high a price to collectively and individually pay. The returns and outcomes may be slow but they are certain to come, and when they do, a society is better for it.

4 years ago, I visited a community in Gbarpolu County. A visit to Small Bong Mines Public School and I did not need to be told by any statistics on education in Liberia that Gbarpolu County had to sit amongst the under-performers in the country. I knew I could not change everything about their dire educational needs. But I could help the Small Bong Mines Community. And we have kept our promise to the community of bubbling children.

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The Small Bong Mines Public School (Before)

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The Small Bong Mines Public School- After (Constructed by KEEP)

In a few days, KEEP will dedicate a new school edifice we have constructed for the community. And yet, I am troubled. I know that the new edifice is a vast improvement on the what the community had before. But the new edifice will not be enough assurance that the quality of education therein provided will be good enough to inspire the hope the families need that their children will climb themselves out of the cycle of poverty to which their parents and grandparents have been consigned for generations. I know they are excited and grateful for the new edifice. But the Small Bong Mines Town community needs more than the new edifice for the learning needs of their children.

They need qualified teachers. They need relevant textbooks and educational supplies. They need improved supervision and administration. They need a curriculum that works. And they need teachers who will teach with passion for the profession and love for the children.

The Small Bong Mines Community needs more than 10% budgetary increment to education. They, like many other communities all across the country, need and deserve more. Our commitment to quality education and to lifting our people from poverty deserve more investments in education.

Please, dear legislators, let us make the sacrifices we must for the bright future we seek.

Society’s Protection Of Perpetrators

They say HeForShe
Reality disagrees
Truth declares
Experience asserts
He’sForHe

She reports rape
He stands not with she
Unwavering in solidarity with He
Increasing the pains
Dumping blame and shame on She

She is victimized
He is canonized
She is left to grieve
He basks in relief
Really? HeForShe?

A fool She must be
Thinking He is for She
When all that he truly seeks
Is He protecting He
Even at the heartbroken expense of She

Until He believes She
And truly hears and acts on what She feels
Haunted griefs painfully and publicly unloaded
Against a relative, coworker or trusted friend
He can never honestly say He is For She

Social hypocrisy
Pervasive in high and lofty places
Heralded champions of HeForShe
Engaged shamelessly in sex with children
Using power, influence and wealth
To steal innocence, exploit bodies and fashion poor mental health

Grave injustice
He beats his chest to He
Pronouncing his conquest of a ‘green plum’
“It’s best plucked half ripe”, He boasts
And takes his bow to rousing ovation

She walks on in troubling silence
It’s her fault, She is made to believe
Her fault that She was borne a She
And dared to dress, compete and work as She feels

It’s okay if He can truly be for She
But She has better be for She
Always ensuring
In all sexual abuses
She must never walk alone

Brenda Brewer Moore

Children Protection & Duty Of Care

Last week, a detailed story was published on sexual abuse at a charity school operating in Liberia. The full story can be found here  and the video documentary here

I have decided to use my blog to share my thoughts on the story…

I know how it feels to have the people you trust violate your trust, steal away your innocence, and sexually abuse you.

I know the guilt of shame and the pains of blame which ensued. I know the fears, the doubts, the deep scars and the mental anguish to be borne for a lifetime.

I know how the girls who were raped and sexually abused, exploited feel. Felt.

Even today, more than thirty years later, I live with the haunted memories and emotional scars of being sexually abused as a child.

As a way of healing, helping others heal as well as raising awareness to and preventing the crime and immorality of child sexual abuse and it’s associated cover up which is so prevalent in our society, in December of 2017, I publicly told the story of being sexually abused as a child.

Those who didn’t read the story at the time can find it here
https://liberianjue.com/…/stolen-childhood-outing-the-mena…/

As a way of both creating awareness and giving a tool to parents and caregivers to start conversations with children about inappropriate touching and abuse, thanks to my friend Lorpu Scott, my story was made into a film.

👉https://youtu.be/udcbn_lhGV0

The story of the rape and sexual abuse of the children, and what appears to amount to efforts to cover them up is mind-numbing and outrageous. It is wrong. And it is shameful.

Of course the claim of a systematic cover up at More Than Me is being disputed. However, what has NOT been denied is the rape of the children – the abuse of their bodies and their trust. What is undeniable is the promise of help spurned into lifetime of hurt, sickness and deaths from HIV/AIDS.

Who do we hold responsible for these girls?

Who do we hold responsible for turning a blind eye or not taking better steps to protect those they promised a better life, and swore to protect?

I am not in a position to pass judgements on the intentions of Katie Meyler and More Than Me. But its hard not to imagine that more could have been done to help the survivors and to protect them. This is especially true if More Than Me, as promised, was dedicated to giving child survivors of sexual abuse and rape a chance at healing and a better life, in their care and protection.

How could it have seemed right and appropriate to take traumatized child-survivors of sexual abuse and rape to adult raunchy parties, and sleep-ins?

As a matter of full disclosure, I manage a local charity organization, Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP). We work primarily with children instilling in them a culture of reading.

It’s pretty tough managing a charitable organization, especially a local one with both funding and capacity challenges. But we do this because we care. We must care about the people for whom we are claiming to be charitable, in this case, and like mine, the children, their parents, their wellbeing, and of course, their futures.

It therefore struck me as seriously odd that More Than Me (Its face and Founder) came to be so absent at the trial where it was so obvious the survivors and the Liberian society needed them the most – needed them to demonstrate sufficiency of care for and understanding of the evil of child sexual abuse.

Where was ‘Abigail’ at the trial? How must the abused and raped girls have felt unguarded in the courts staring at one of their alleged abusers, alone? What could have been more important to More Than Me than to stand with the survivors in the trial, and on their behalf say, as truthfully as they could, what they knew, and when they came to know it?

More Than Me was not just a key witness but also a key member of the prosecution; how could they not have known this? How could they not have known that their absence would undermine the survivors when, as claimed, they were instrumental in bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities, and the alleged abuse and rape are said to have mostly happened on their premises?

How can you remotely lay just claims to helping survivors of child abuse and sexual exploitation when you choose to be silent and absent before the law where it is so much harder for alleged victims, especially children?

As to exploitation, maybe Johnson may have sexually exploited their bodies, but should we have been alerted earlier to possible exploitation of their conditions when the children were being advertised to the world as “prostitutes” for fundraising purposes? As parents, as members of society, and as government, where must we draw the line? How could we let this happen?

Of course we need help. Our country is desperate for support with many social problems especially inherited from our years of conflicts and decline.

However, our desperation for help must not permit us to be blinded to long term negative consequences a “help” may engender, whether the consequences are intended or unintended. How could we have permitted a Liberian child to be introduced to the world as a “prostitute”?

No doubt, what we have read and seen about this story is outrageous. But it is not enough to merely express how outrageous it is. We must remind ourselves, if we needed to be, that child abuse, rape and exploitation are real in our society.

We must care more for the victims. And we must do all we can, together, to rid ourselves of this menace.

At KEEP, we are introducing policies and measures, including against inappropriate touching, of children placed into our care. And we’re encouraging them to speak freely about any inappropriate behavior.

All of us, wherever we may be, we need to do more. We cannot change what happened to those girls but we can work together to ensure such fates never befall other children across our society. We have a moral duty to do so.

 

Stolen Childhood- Movie Production

One of the truths of human experiences is the possibility to use pain to both inspire and empower.

For thirty years, I lived as a victim with the pain and trauma of child sexual abuse. I was scared to even talk about it, shelved it in my mind from where it haunts me, and found a way to skirt around the shame.

All of that was until I looked into the eyes of my daughter as she celebrated her eighth birthday – the age I was first abused. It struck me that my continued silence risked her, and many other children.

So, I braced myself for whatever would be thrown at me, and I told my story. For my daughter, and all other children, I hope my pain would be enough. Rather than to continue to bury it inside, I have chosen to use it to uncover the deafening silence, raise the needed awareness, and inspire prevention around child sexual abuse.

It is time to end the menace – to stop the theft a child’s innocence and abuse of their trust often by their own relations with impunity!

Thanks to Lorpu Scott and a number of Liberian artists, my story has become a short film. In a few days, in partnership with OXFAM Liberia, using the film, #KEEPwill undertake a public awareness campaign on the menace of child sexual abuse and how to possibly prevent it.

This campaign will take us to 15 schools across communities in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Gedeh and Rivercess counties.We hope to target 700 students and parents, and inspire.. Stimulate conversations in homes, churches, mosques and schools.

And this is only the beginning.

We will announce the specific dates and locations for each public broadcast of the film, to be followed by what we hope will be inspiring conversations about the need to take collective actions to halt the theft of the innocence of our children, and the abuse and violation of their minds and bodies mostly by people who should be protecting them.

Educating the kids early on what is inappropriate touching, comments and behavior can go a long way in preventing sexual abuse.

For those who’ve not seen the film 👉https://youtu.be/udcbn_lhGV0

And for those who’d like to read the blog 👉https://liberianjue.com/2017/12/21/stolen-childhood-outing-the-menace-of-sexual-abuse-in-liberia/

I’ve learned that to change a culture, it is not “one time talking”. You have to keep at it.

So… I will talk.
And challenge
And educate
And talk again.

https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/stolen-childhood-movie-launch/