First Hand Experience Of Passport Discrimination

I have long heard terrifying tales of other Liberians of their experience while travelling either from or to Liberia from other parts of the world but for some reason, I felt their tales were a tad exaggerated.

Earlier this year, I had the worst travelling experience ever, while travelling back from the United States to Liberia. Initially, I was booked to return on SN Brussels, but, had to change due to the attack on the Brussels Airport. We got changed to travel back home on “Royal” Air Maroc.

Initially I was simply relieved that my travel dates hadn’t changed and said to myself “I just need to get home”. But little did I know what was in store for me. And others actually.

My first hint of what was to come was when we disembarked in Morocco. We got herded to room where an airport attendant who didn’t seem to speak any English beyond “Hello, Go There” scanned passports at the entrance of a room that seemed at the time after a long flight, the gateway to the Promised Land.

I noticed quickly that some people were allowed into the room, while others were directed to some other vague room down the hall.

When it was my turn at the door, I handed my passport to the security personnel who didn’t open it, just took one look at it and pointed me down the hall and said “Go. There”, pointing down the hall to a place I could not easily understand.

That was when I noticed that those who were being directed down the hall all had one thing in common: Liberian passports.

Those with American passports, Scandinavian passports or British or EU books were being allowed into the “promised land”.

Mind you, I had seen several Liberians whom I knew were all going the same destination as I was- Liberia- being allowed to enter, but because they had the “right book”, gained access.

So I took my weary self down the hall to find out where the other rejects were heading.

That’s when my nightmare really started.

The layover time was 13 hours. 13 long hours. I was tired. Sleepy. Hungry. I was having visions of a shower, nice bed and some sleep till the flight at 9/10pm. I even had illusions of prolong internet access where I could work while I waited the 13 hours away.

Ha! Illusions indeed!

We waited for 45 minutes for the airport attendant to call a shuttle for us. All this time siting on a bench. Like a reject. A prisoner.

In my mind I am still thinking ok, 13 hours, one already gone, we still got 12 more to go, they will take us to a nice hotel where we could rest.

More illusions.

It seems I had serious illusions of grandeur.

We got piled into a shuttle that took us to a building about a minute away. I walked into a large room with chairs and thought “this must be the hotel waiting area”. Little did I know, that this would be my comfortable illustrious waiting place for the next 9 plus hours!

Apparently some of the other Liberians had been on this route and knew the drill, me, “Johnny-Just-Come” was standing, looking around expectantly.

Then I noticed folks scrambling quickly for couches that were placed near electrical outlets and being a quick study (and possessing an immense love and connection to my slowly dying cell phone) I found a couch too, near a socket and sat.

I looked around then I saw others folding their bags near them and curling up to sleep. I looked at the chair, my “resident stopping place” as we say in Liberia which had a chair cover on it. The cover seemed like it hadn’t been near water in awhile. There were some questionable stains on it that had me mentally creeping.

But, it was either that or the floor or sharing a couch with someone else. No one seemed ready to have me share, plus, they all seemed unkempt.

So I spread my shawl (thank God for the forethought to travel with one) on the filthy looking couch and sat.

That’s when I heard the loud conversations (ehn you know us Liberians and loud talking ehn?) from a group near by who started lamenting the way Liberians and other west Africans are treated when travelling through Morocco. Where those (even

blacks) with USA, European or other passports get sent to a nice hotel where they receive meals and have access to internet, etc. but those with west African passports are brought here.

I decided like a few others I had noticed previously, to get on my computer and catch up on emails.

Ha! I worked for like one hour then I noticed that I was not connecting to the internet. That’s when I found out that you only get one hour of internet in the “lounge”.

I was not perturbed and decided to still work on my computer, minus the internet.

That’s when I noticed an influx of new arrivals. Within seconds the place became even noisier. It seemed the new arrivals had a lot of young children with them and the children were cranky from their own long flight I guess and decided to play out the tantrums on their weary mothers. Some of the mothers just allowed them to scream and cry their guts away while they pretended the kids didn’t exist. 20160328_120112

One child even puke right there and that mess sat exposed for nearly 30 minutes before a custodian came by to clean it up. The mother was unfazed.

By 1, I saw people standing in line and heard the other Liberians muttering “lunch”.

I was not so hungry because I had had the smarts to travel with lots of nuts and snacks, but I needed to drink. So when I the lines went down a bit, I went up to get a few bottles of water. That’s when I was told oh no. you get one. I asked if I could buy a second bottle and was told No.

I took a glance at the “food” that was being given to the others and it took Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a host of Angels to help me not to puke like that child that threw the tantrum earlier.

 

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The Food

When I got back to my now endearing couch, another traveler had encroached on my territory and made himself quite at home, with legs up. Hahaha

Of course I wouldn’t ask him to leave, and so, I had to share the couch with him for the next several hours, with no opportunity to lie back and sleep.

At about 5:00pm, an announcement was made for those travelling on so so and so flight to please go down stairs and get on the shuttle.

By then, I knew not to have any good expectations and I was right.

We got taken to the airport terminal where for a few blessed minutes, I again had access to internet and could quickly send notice to my family and check emails. Then of course, the joy was short-lived.

This time, there was no electrical outlet where I could charge my phone or computer as the one or two I saw around the terminal were being hogged by other travelers who seemed to guard it in a fierce, territorial manner that dared you to be brave enough to approach their sacred charging outlet.

By 7:00, I noticed that those who had been separated from us early in the morning, those with the “right passports” had been brought back in. That’s when I heard the odd “Liberian-American” series and the words I really find condensing and stupid “ Your Liberian people, your hello oh”.

Your Liberian people.

Not long after, boarding call was announced and we all filed into our flights back to Liberia.

The few blissful minutes of internet I had, I sent a picture of the food, the place to a friend and he said, we Liberians always complain, we need do anything about stuff. I told him, “well, I intend not to fly with them again and I will write a blog on my experience. Hopefully that will start an open conversation on how we can start to hold these airlines more responsible to us who are customers and paying same money as those with the “right passports”.

Do you have the right passport or the wrong passport?

Have you experienced the Royal Air Maroc superb hospitality?

Share your thought and stories. Lets start this dialogue.

 

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How I Am Overcoming My Fear Of Public Speaking

I have always been someone who was good at expressing myself- on paper. I could sit for hours and hours and write long essays, letters, hold long conversations electronically. Ask me to stand in front of a few persons and speak, I would find reasons not to be there or why I couldn’t.

I managed to get away with this fear, to conceal this fear for many years. As the saying goes “I faked the funk”. So well. But I knew I had a problem that I needed to fix. I just was not sure how I could do that.

I recall back in 1995, I decided to contest my school’s student council leadership and ran for the position of Student Council President.

It didn’t dawn on me the magnitude of what I had signed up for until I had to go from class to class and “run campaign”. I managed to hide behind my classmates and other students who helped do a lot of the talking for me.

But the day of the elections, we were told that we had to make a campaign speech.

Lord have mercy! I won the elections. Mostly because all the kids we had campaigned to, liked the sweets we gave them and they remembered us for that. I doubt it was because of my superb, enthralling and captivating oratory skills.

Another time, in January 2014, I had to speak in front of 96 employees at my job. Only for a few seconds and to basically just tell the staff body my name, job title and what my role is in the organization.

I found myself sweating profusely. I thought on the many ways I could slink out and away from the meeting and hoped they would not notice my absence. The introductions went line by line and finally it was my turn and I had to stand up and speak.

I froze.

Literally.

I stood and those 5 seconds were probably one of the longest timeframes in my life. I was at a loss for words and I just wanted to sit down and move those 96 pair of eyes from on me. So all I said was “my name is Brenda Brewer Moore and if you are in this room and don’t know me or what I do, then you need some explaining to do.”

I sat back down and I can’t explain how ashamed I felt. That I could not say something so simple!

That’s when I realized I had a really big problem that I needed to deal with heads on.

And so in February 2014 I heard from a friend that someone was starting a Toastmasters club, I immediately got interested. I asked her what the club was about and she told me that it’s a professional club where people go to improve their public speaking skills. I also went online and read up on what Toastmasters is all about and Bingo! I was sold.

I tackled Toastmasters like I tackle most things in my life: with determination, passion and commitment.

The first day I had to go up to give my Icebreaker speech (first speech), I wore a white pants suit and the 5 minutes allotted for the speech seemed like 30 minutes. When I had finished doing the simple job of telling the club why I decided to join Toastmasters and introducing myself to them, my pants were visibly soaked through with sweat. I was shaking like a leaf. I was so petrified!

But, no one laughed. No one sniggled. No one booed. No one teased.

Why? Because we all in that room had one thing in common: fear of public speaking and we had come together to overcome our fear of it.

I have come to love Toastmasters. I tell people that Toastmasters is in my blood. I love the fact that I can go to a safe space and make mistakes, get feedback, learn and also motivate others.

Fast forward to two years after joining the club, today, I am still nervous of public speaking, but I know that it’s a journey and I have come to learn little tips and tricks to apply to help calm my nerves, connect with my audience and get to the point. I have learned to make eye contact, to build expectation with pauses and to captivate.

 In this period, I am proud and excited that my Toastmasters experience has helped me

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Speaking at the UN Headquarters in New York

speak at several high profile places that in another lifetime I would have shied away from. Places like the United Kingdom House of Parliament in London, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the UN Building in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. At all of these places, I had to address a room full of people and or serve on panels.

 

No one watching me at any of those places would know I was a nervous wreck or that two years ago I would not have even been able to mutter “hello”. I exuded confidence and spoke well (well, so I am told. Ha!).

In June 2016, I proudly, excitedly completed 10 speeches and 10 leadership projects. This is the first step in the Toastmasters Education Program. I had completed my Competent Communications (CC) Manual and Competent Leadership(CL) manual and I was one of 2 members of the club to be the first to do this. Imagine that! The shy person!

I also have been privileged to serve first as Vice President for Membership of the club and most recently, President of the club.

And so, I share my story to motivate others who may also have the same problem I had (still have, but working on it) but may not know how to deal with it.

Join us at Ducor Toastmasters, the only Toastmasters Club in Liberia, where you can work on and improve your public speaking, communication and leadership skills at your own pace, in a safe, supportive environment.

For more information about Toastmasters, go to www.toastmasters.org and for information about our local club in Liberia, check us out on Facebook : ducortoastmasters

SMART Liberia’s Education Summit Shines Light on Changemakers

culled from : http://www.bushchicken.com/smart-liberias-education-summit-shines-light-on-changemakers/

Almost every prominent politician or member of society has made a public statement about the dire state of the education system in Liberia. The preferred word to describe Liberia’s education system is ‘a mess,’ a description coined by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and later tempered with by Education Minister George Werner, who has made it his goal to turn the sector ‘from mess to best.’

One thing most people are clear on is that the sector is largely the responsibility of the government to improve. However, during a recent two-day celebration by the local youth-led organization SMART Liberia, organizers and participants were bucking this very trend and pushing for change themselves.

National Director Ahmed Konneh said the organization was determined to drive change and would not wait for the government to provide a solution to the education sector. “SMART Liberia has always been about young people leading change and seeing themselves as changemakers,” he said.

The organization has already been involved in several programs that characterized this citizen-driven approach to solving societal problems. A notable program was ‘Complete 8,’ a month-long vacation school program that allowed 84 students to complete an enhanced curriculum during a school year truncated by Ebola. The group also led a campaign aimed at convincing University of Liberia authorities to build a website to provide students with better access to information.

KEEP

Announcing the launch of her first resource center and reading room in Paynesville’s Duport Road community, Moore said, “Only through collective effort we Liberians can change Liberia. We cannot keep waiting for people – we have to do it ourselves.”

 

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Mandela Washington Fellow Fombah Kanneh delivers a rousing speech at SMART Liberia’s Animate Event

 

In what turned out to be a surprisingly rousing part of the night, a Mandela Washington Fellow, Fombah Kanneh delivered a powerful motivational speech of how he rose from poverty as a child in a slum community to meeting U.S. President Barack Obama. And further, going on to help other unfortunate children in his community by providing them with educational resources. Kanneh’s remarkable presentation of the ‘Seven Mindsets’ for success should be a staple at every high school and university.

The education summit was sponsored by the British Embassy in Liberia, whose Ambassador David Belgrove expressed his thrill at the opportunity to support an organization like SMART Liberia. He said, “The young people of SMART Liberia show that you don’t need to wait for that change to come. You can bring that change yourself.”

Featured photo by Jefferson Krua

Women Are on the Front Lines of Responding to Humanitarian Crises

I recently stumbled on an article written by a journalist I met at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. here is an excerpt and a link to the full story:

When asked why she became a first responder during Liberia’s Ebola Crisis, Brenda Brewer Moore said she drew her resolve from one of her country’s darkest times, “I lived the majority of my childhood years in Liberia during the civil war and saw the amount of death and destruction that the war caused. And as a child, one thing I promised myself was that one thing that I would always do when I grew up was to be part of the solution – not just to sit and complain but to make some tangible contribution towards the development of Liberia.”

Moore’s was one of several gripping stories told by women first responders from around the world at this year’s 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), hosted by the United Nations and ActionAid from March 14 to March 24 in New York City. The panel, “Women as First Responders: Featuring Testimonies and a Visual Gallery Elevating Women’s Voices in Humanitarian Action,” took place on March 15.

Each of the women on the panel was soft spoken but firm about her passion for her work. All told stories about the lack of resources, inexperience, and heartbreak they had experienced. They also emphasized the importance of valuing the roles of everyday women in disaster planning, management, and response.

Women first responders have been all but absent from the stories we hear about emergency response work, which traditionally focus on the role of police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other stereotypically male figures. By describing women as the first (and sometimes only) responders, this year’s CSW provided a different narrative.

While their stories may be less well known, as mothers and caregivers, women around the world are often the first on the disaster scene. “Women are in many cases the first responders and in many cases, the only responders when crisis strikes,” said Kyung-wha Kang, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during the panel. “In Fiji, following Cyclone Winston, women looked after the sick and elderly, they helped one another source food and water, and provided one another with support. In conflict-ravaged Sana’a,Yemen, women got involved in every aspect of response, from search and rescue and assessing needs, to using social media to convey information, and setting up a mass hosting network to house the displaced,” she added. “As a first responder in Yemen told us, the women here are everything and everything is on them.’”

In the case of Liberia’s Ebola emergency last year, the government was forced to close schools for six months to help curb the spread of disease, leaving children without a way to continue their education. Moore, a human resources specialist and mother, decided she could not let Ebola keep the children of her country from learning and growing. Her organization, the Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), took action and delivered door-to-door educational materials, eventually reaching over 7,000 children throughout the country. The organization has since expanded to provide a range of support to Liberia’s educational system, and is currently completing a free computer literacy lab for the country.

Moore handing out educational kits during Ebola

While women often help others in crisis, they are also frequently the victims of catastrophic events. On average, women and children make up more than 75 percent of those who are displaced by war, hunger, persecution, and natural disasters. Those women who were already impoverished and vulnerable before crisis struck, as many are, are at even higher risk for sexual exploitation and violence.

As the victims of crisis, women have unique perspectives that can inform their work as first-responders. Mary Jack Kaviamu’s experiences in her home country of Vanuatu are a testament to this. Kaviamu spent much of her career with the country’s provincial government, as well as with the Pacific Institute of Public Policy, an independent think tank dedicated to supporting and stimulating informed policy debates for the Pacific Island community. After running unsuccessfully for a local government position in Vanuatu’s recent elections, Kaviamu became manager of ActionAid’s Women Talk Together Forum, where she continues to advocate for gender empowerment. “Tradition in my country and culture has become a barrier in all [levels],” Kavaimu observed during the CSW panel.

A popular tourist destination, Vanuatu was devastated in March 2015 by Tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm. A year later, the country’s infrastructure is still in disarray and water, food, and shelter remain in limited supply. In her prepared remarks at the CSW, Kaviamu described the crisis’s impact on women in Vanuatu: “We are not included. If we are not included, men cannot discuss our issues—women’s issues. Women alone can explain their issues and determine their priorities. Men cannot explain the real issues that affect women. It is women alone who can explain themselves.”

“Women trust women – that’s the reality,” added Moore. “[With Ebola], you have a lot [more] women who are home during the day than the men, so with the teams that we sent out into the communities that are made up of the mothers, they were not as responsive as when we had female team leaders… They have to accept what you brought because some of them believe that, oh there was Ebola in the packages and all these kinds of misconceptions. So seeing another woman, another mother out there, made it easier for them to accept what we were trying to do. And just the fact that we were able to relate on so many other levels, it helped our work a lot.”

“I don’t want to keep women in the role assigned by the [gender] division. But clearly – because of all this experience, they know how to manage catastrophe, they know how to organize distribution of equity. They know how to be creative with difficult situations,” said Yolette Etienne, a veteran first responder from Haiti who now works with ActionAid as the country’s director. “And that means they can be more effective in times of emergency and because they are suffering a lot in times of emergency. If they are in charge, that means also they can transform the gender power division.”

Researchers with both UN Women and the Institute of Development Studies have found that involving women in humanitarian programs helps reduce gender inequalities, improves access to services, and increases the effectiveness of humanitarian responses. Despite all this, women often run into structural and cultural obstacles that make it difficult to participate in humanitarian action. “In my country, women have no political representation in the parliament, which makes [it] difficult for women. Public decision is [a] male space with no women participating,” said Kaviamu.

These obstacles can perhaps be overcome by the growing solidarity between women first-responders, a recurring theme among the panelists at CSW. “The context may be different but [each of us] are facing the same challenges and the same fight,” Etienne told Muftah after the event. “It’s about learning, it’s about feeling ‘It’s not so singular what I am doing, I’m not fully isolated, I can coordinate better, and that [is] the only way to overcome the situation.’”

Panelists also highlighted the overall importance to their work of women’s empowerment. “I am a living example that women can be first responders and key players in humanitarian response, provide innovative solutions and that community-lead responses can be led by women,” said Moore, who still works as a human resources professional while running KEEP in her free time.

Kang echoed those sentiments. “Empowering [women] to take on those roles but also to go further and to be an integral part of decision-making on humanitarian action from the lowest to the highest level is also one of the most effective ways that we can deliver humanitarian action.”

Women Are on the Front Lines of Responding to Humanitarian Crises

Women’s History Month Crusader Spotlight: Brenda Brewer Moore

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Project: GirlSpire

By Sang Kromah

Working with Project GirlSpire has afforded me incredible opportunities to talk to some amazing women and girls from our global community. Even though Project GirlSpire is pro-women and pro-girls 365 days a year, this Women’s History Month has allowed me to get acquainted with women who are making history daily, honoring them as they take their journey rather than after. These are the women who girls in the future will look at and aspire to be. These are the women that movies and books will be written about…women who will be immortalized because of their willingness to take action now, instead of waiting for someone else to make the world a better place for them.

In 2014, Liberia was literally shut down because of the Ebola outbreak. With the disease running rampant, schools were closed with no sign of reopening in the foreseeable  future. While the children of other nations…

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Tv Tv, Rogue Rogue

Liberian Jue

Tv Tv, rogue rogue!

Tv Tv, rogue rogue!

This is a common song sung around many neighborhoods in Liberia.

Thieves are called rogues in Liberia and it’s common to hear shouts of “rogue rogue rogue” at night in many communities in Liberia. Once someone is pointed out as a rogue, everyone in the neighborhood starts to chase that person until caught. Back before “the war”, once a rogue was caught by the neighbors, they were beaten a bit and then turned over to the police. These days, post war Liberia reacts differently. We have “mob justice”, so once caught, immediate action or justice is meted out to the alleged “rogue”. Death on the spot by beating of the crowd.

My first encounter with a rogue was probably in 1987 and I was probably around eight years old.

At the time, my step father’s sister had come to live with us…

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Memories of the “doodoo” birds

Liberian Jue

Brenda, Brenda. Wake up. Wake up!”

I sleepily moan and curl up even tighter, wrapping the cover sheet closer to my body.

“Brenda, wake up. We late! Get up.” I hear the urgency in my mother’s voice and open my eyes.

Please go use the bathroom and come help me get the children ready to leave. I woke up late and we have to leave here before daylight.”

With that, she turns to leave the room and for a moment, I am tempted to curl back into bed and as if reading my mind, I hear her say “ if you hurry up and finish with the bathroom and changing your clothes in ten minutes, I will let u play in the creek later today”.

My eyes widen in the darkness and all sleep quickly vanishes from my eyes. My mother doesn’t like…

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Women in Leadership in Rural Liberia

In a male dominated society and culture like that of Liberia, it is not often that we see women assuming traditionally held male positions. You hear about and see women having such positions more in the urban areas in offices and companies. Even then….

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Posing with Chief Rachel

A short while ago, I was actually amazed and excited to meet Chief Rachel Wea in Panwloh Town, Grand Gedeh county.

Chief Rachel (she insisted I called her Ma Rachel) is the first female town chief I have had to honor to meet after visiting several communities in several counties in Liberia.

I was wowed that a woman holds such a high leadership position in a region that is known for a high rate of sexual and gender based violence against women and girls.

Ma Rachel told me that she was elected by the entire town about 5 years ago because she is “hardworking and like judging plawa business”.

She is a farmer and grows plantains, bananas, bitter-balls and rice which she sells to help sustain her family. She has 9 “living children”, 7 boys and 2 girls.

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Stern warning to the photographer “Get my good side”

She had make me promise to send her a copy of this photo to keep to remember our meeting, and, a promise is a debt. She is so energetic and full of life! I was just blown away.

I asked her husband if he had a problem with his wife being the head of the town and he said “but if she Town Chief, then I’m Chairman, so I got power too!”

I am told there is another village further down the road that also has a female Town Chief.

#WeMakingProgresss #WomenInLeadership #WomenOhWomen! #StepByStep

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Relief for the Abdullai family

Two weeks ago I wrote about a family we came across in the Red Hill community. They had lost both parents to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and were completing the compulsory 21 days quarantine the day we got there.

We were told how supportive the community had been in helping them with food and supplies during this period. We were also told that there were actually 4 families that had lost parents in that community.

I am happy and pleased to report that the story touched the hearts of a few people who reached out.

Thanks to Ne-Suah Livingstone who shared the story on her Facebook page and to Annakor Lawson for reaching out. We were able to get a bag of rice and other supplies to take to them.

We were also able to get in touch with Madam Mary Broh at the GSA through the assistance of some kind ladies from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Thanks to all for helping to reach out to these families.

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Reaching Out to Jimmy Fahnbulleh

A few weeks ago, I read a story on Front Page Africa that touched my heart. The story was about a boy in the Island Clinic Community who, due to the closure of schools in the country, had started teaching other kids in his immediate surroundings.

The boy’s name is James Fahnbulleh (aka Jimmy) and he is in the 8th grade.

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A few of us are currently doing a project called Kids Engagement Project. The intent of the project is to provide educational materials (pencils, sharpeners, erasers, notebooks, etc.) and math and English worksheets to children to keep their minds engaged academically during the Ebola crisis and the closure of schools in the country. The worksheets are simple and easy to do and understand and are all aligned with the Ministry of Education’s curricular for each grade level. We target kids in primary school (Pre-school to 6th grades). We also engage the parents or caregivers in the home to make time to teach the kids during this crisis period. We do a biweekly check in with the parents and the children to see if they are utilizing the kits. The idea also is for parents or caregivers in the home to make time to tutor the kids and not to bring in “study class teachers’ to teach the kids during this crisis period.

 On October 30, Kids Engagement took a few educational packets to Jimmy and the children in his immediate neighborhood. His mother wasn’t home, but we met his aunt.

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We also met Jimmy and most of his students.
They were excited about the kits but also requested that we assist with blackboard chalk to help them continue their studies.

It is rather remarkable how we Liberians adapt and “make do”.
Thank you Jimmy for thinking about others and wanting to learn.

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also published on Front Page Africa