The Ministry of Finance cha-cha-cha

It was a beautiful sunny day in Monrovia today.  I tried out the GPS coordinates on my iPhone and found it to be within 100′ of where I am actually sitting in my room (go to Google Earth and cut/paste this 6 17.23′ N, 10 46.58′ W and it will zoom right into the LCL compound). Surprise…I had rolls, hard boiled eggs, and PB&J this morning.  Since today was the first day of the work week, I joined the staff at their daily devotion at 8:30 (“fishers of men” passage). I was asked to give a greeting and I emphasized how much Leon, Donna, and the others miss being in Liberia on this trip.

Afterwards, I made a necessary but expensive phone call to Discover Card because the card I use for my business (which I left home with other valuables) had been fraudulently used for by some online gamers.  Kathy couldn’t deal with it because I’m the only authorized user and I couldn’t deal with it via internet because my account was locked out. Fortunately is was only a $6 call and all is well with credit card gods!  I made phone calls to various contacts Joe Norris and Bill Oehlkers had made including a meeting with Kadie Kamara (ZAF Construction) where we discussed possible ways to work together on building the school. I emailed drawings to her for quotation based on a best guess of how far we might get during this phase through mid-November.  I expect her costs to be high…she does work for the UN and other NGOs…UN = $$$.

I then set off with Albert to open a bank account for Gbarnga Lutheran Mission Project at Ecobank, a Liberian bank that has a branch conveniently located at Cuttington University (between Phebe Compound–where I’ll be staying for 5 weeks–and the school property). This will be quite a process!  Because we’re an international corporation, we need to register with the Ministry of Finance. Let me just say that if you jammed the US Internal Revenue Service into a blender and put it on “crushed ice” setting, that might give you a picture of navigating the registration process. Fortunately, Albert has connections with friends at the first office building we visited….which is where they told us to go to another office a few blocks away to start the process.  We get to the next building and again, Albert calls a friend on his cellphone and we go past the long line of waiting Liberian business people.  His friend, Morris, explains another set of steps which add up to a hefty $900 plus attorney’s fees (no one can get through this without legal guidance). Meanwhile, I’m trying to catch Liberian law and tax jargon disguised under a thick Liberian-English accent…I think I caught every other word. FYI- There’s a difference between an “international NGO” and a “foreign NGO”. Not to be more cynical, but I noticed the clearest sentences always involved dollar amounts…hmmm.  I asked for copies of the necessary forms and that took several attempts since no one seemed to have the right one. This took about 3 hours…more to come!

IMG_3212After a quick lunch of…everybody together now…RICE, POTATO GREENS, AND CHICKEN…I set off for the “School of Prime Systems” where Isaac Dowah’s friend, Chris
tine, works. This was well worth the very deeply rutted, rocky roads required to get there. The proprietor/founder is Debbie who toured me around the entire facility and put up with me as I took photos of the outbuilding for the generator, the water well and tank, etc. I think this school embodies a standard of which we should aim to achieve.  Well organized, well equipped classrooms, very bright and clean, well staffed with what appears to be well-trained teachers who don’t lecture but follow more project-based learning methodologies (as we hope to do). Two different computer labs with tons of laptops (in the one lab, all are IMG_3193connected to the internet using USB sticks that access through the Cellcom cellphone towers…payment is by megabyte usage IMG_3198which Debbie says averages about $5 per student per week.)  I have tons of notes from this visit which will be valuable to discuss with our team.  The highlight was tip toeing into the preschool where the about 20 kids were napping…I wanted to gobble all of them up!

IMG_3210Tuition is pretty steep at US$1,200 for preK-6, $1,500 grades 7-9, $1,800 grades 10-12 which is all inclusive of uniforms, books, school supplies, two snacks and lunch each day, sports, choirs, lab supplies, etc…everything but a backpack and bus fee ($500/yr.). All students wear the same red T-shirt with the school logo but each of the three grade groupings have different colored shorts to help teachers identify them (especially if they’re not where they’re supposed to be)…what a great, simple idea.

Upon returning around 4:00, I met with Sebastian Stüwe, a young German missionary working with the LCL. He provided me with Liberian curriculum material and a Christian Education curriculum that we can model ours after.  I chose to skip the usual dinner and walked to a market for some gouda cheese, crackers, and peanuts for a dinner snack. I also tested my Gbarnga Mission ATM card at the local bank with success…after visiting two other bank ATMs that were out of cash or broken down.

On my walk “hoIMG_3219me”, I passed a couple of young ladies carrying fish on their heads. I asked permission for a photo and the one girl with the more impressive fish cargo declined…here is her obliging friend.. Signs of the now past Ebola crisis are ever present–most restaurants still have chlorine hand washing basins out front, many of the walls surrounding office buildings have graffiti-like signs painted on them saying “Ebola is Real!”, some people still hesitate to shake hands because for over a year they avoided physical contact in a culture that thrives on holding hands/walking arm in arm/carrying siblings/sharing elaborate hand shake rituals. Trying not to be a gawking Ebola thrill seeker, I attempted to discreetly photograph this billboard with a dual message.IMG_3218

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