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.

 

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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

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

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.