Liberia. A country founded by freed US slaves, endured one of the most horrific, bloodiest civil wars in modern history. Between 1989 and 2003, over 200,000 men, women and children brutally lost their lives, while more than 200,000 others became refugees in neighboring countries. Today, Liberia is at peace. Dr. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard trained economist and grandmother in her 70s, was elected president and she is the first female African Head of State. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, she and her fellow citizens are dedicated to re-building for the future.
This is not easy in a country that is one of the poorest in the world, with over 80% unemployment, rampant infectious diseases and most of the country without infrastructure, electricity or running water.
But that has not stopped EVCO Africa! In September, EVCO established the first ever computer center in the village of Bolahun, which is on the Sierra Leone and Guinea boarder, some 300 KM from Monrovia. Children here are yearning to learn. Most had their education disrupted during the war and sit in classrooms filled with over 50-100 students, in burned out, crumbling buildings. With virtually no textbooks and supplies, students and teachers face enormous challenges. The new computer center will be open to all in the village! The ladies who started a soap making cooperative will be able to attend computer classes and learn how to manage a business. Students from all around will be able to come and see demonstrations of lessons, like science laboratories, on the computer and do research. And the men of the village will have lessons as well on how they can use computers to enhance ways to support their families.
EVCO Trip 2012 (Liberia and Ghana)
Dual-country trips are exhausting, but they help to kill two birds with one stone. I have tried to introduce our program in Liberia in the past; however financial constraints and treacherous logistics in a country devastated by 15 years of war had been a serious obstacle. The ability to not just go to any place in Liberia but Lofa County and Bolahun specifically, gives EVCO and the entire Bolahun community a great joy. Two important milestones were achieved. First, it extended EVCO’s operations in Africa to 4 countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia and Egypt) and secondly, we installed our 30th computer lab!
The trip covered sixty-nine hours of ground travel time, two thousand three hundred ground miles, and twenty-seven hours of air travel time. The number of potholes, manholes, and ditches on the roads could not be counted! During the 21-day trip, we installed and donated 4 new computer labs; Bolahun – Liberia (Lofa County), Tolon, Nakpanduri (both in the Northern Region of Ghana) and Gomua-Benso in the Central Region of Ghana. In addition, there were computer workshops, community meetings, and motivational speeches in 3 other villages.
During my six days in Liberia and travelling almost the entire length of the country, the futility, devastation, and senseless bloodshed during the war could not be escaped as physical evidence was everywhere. The psychological toll on the people, especially the youth was even more frightening. During meetings with the elders of Bolahun, two phrases “before the war” and “after the war” quickly appear in second or third sentences. In fairly bigger towns such as Kakata, Zorzor, and Voinjama, the two reporters I was travelling with kept pointing at bullet riddled abandoned buildings and telling horrific stories about how many people sought refuge in those buildings only to be “butchered”, or have entire homes and buildings full of people set on fire. Their personal experiences and stories were very difficult to listen to; it brings tears to your eyes.
I finally arrived at Bolahun after16 hours of ground travel where we had to dig our truck out of mud in the middle of the night. I was exhausted. I had 3 hours to sleep before the next hectic day but I had difficulty sleeping because I was thinking about what I would find when I opened my two suitcases containing the12 laptops after such a turbulent trip. My countless hours and sleepless nights of setup and software installation could have all been for naught but luckily, when I took the laptops out of the box one after the other, they all turned on and worked!
The faces of the youth although much older than their grades, showed how determined they are to get their lives back by getting educated. I went to Liberia to use computer technology and education to change lives but I returned with my live changed forever. I am even more determined to build at least one more computer lab in another village in Liberia. Most importantly, I am strengthened in my ability to speak to the youth, Chiefs and community leaders, in other countries in Africa about the evils of tribal conflicts and wars. As always, thanks for all you do for EVCO!