My day started off with two flattened – yet delicious – croissants that I tucked into a Ziploc bag then jammed into my backpack at the Brussels airport to make my breakfast a little easier this morning after yesterday’s long day of travel. This was followed by attending the daily devotion that most of the LCL staff takes part in, giving me an opportunity to greet my LCL friends including Bishop Seyenkulo, his wife Linda, Janice Gonoe (head of the HIV/AIDS program), and Rev. Isaac Dowah (formerly Bishop’s assistant but now pastor at St. Peter’s…the largest Lutheran church in Liberia). I offered greetings from Leon Schultz and the gang in Providence and was assured by Isaac that Gbarnga Lutheran Mission Project is part of their staff’s daily prayers.
I passed along the Shutterfly book I carried for Linda then took the opportunity to pick Janice Gonoe’s brain about possible support for deceased-Sando’s children, Dusu and Kou, through the HIV/AIDS program’s OVC (Orphaned and Vulnerable Children) project….they love acronyms here! Unfortunately, the financial support available to these children (and their new caregivers) is only for first graders and up (per the stipulation of the donors in Denmark). No luck there since Dusu is 4 and Kou is 3. I’ll keep looking…
My first meeting was with Becky Banton from the Peace Corps. I was impressed the Peace Corps facility has several floors accessed by an elevator (the only building I’ve seen this in except for the Royal Grand Hotel that caters to an upper-crust clientele). Becky was very helpful in offering advice and numerous connections despite the fact Peace Corps only works with public middle and high schools in Liberia (primarily teaching math and science). I feverishly wrote names, phone numbers, websites, and emails for individuals in Liberia and the US that might be of help in the areas of teacher training and adult literacy. She showed a few recommended books which I photographed for later reference. The most immediate “actionable” lead was for an organization called We-Care Foundation. They have a facility in Monrovia so I put it on my list of places to hit during my errands.
Since my time with Becky was done faster than anticipated, I asked John 2 to head for Liberian Shipping Lines to retrieve our 16 boxes (which I had confirmed with “Romeo” last night were available for pick up). Fortunately for Monrovia, steady progress is being made on rebuilding one of the major roads, Somalia Drive, which runs from the port, past the Cemenco cement factory, down to Red Light market, and generally circumnavigates downtown Monrovia. Unfortunately for me, I experienced very slow progress driving the unfinished, “crater hole” ridden half of the road (“pot hole” doesn’t do justice to the enormity of these axle-breakers) past Cemenco to the shipper’s warehouse. We were delayed by a taxi whose tire was engulfed by one of those craters and looked flatter than my breakfast croissants. The bonus upon reaching our destination was that the warehouse doors were locked and Romeo was nowhere to be found – and unreachable by phone. After talking to one of his workers, I found out the boxes were “here” (meaning Liberia) but not “here” (meaning in the warehouse). They are still at the port…communication is a mysterious thing sometimes. A wasted 90-minute adventure!
I decided this trek needed some productive outcome so we ventured to the Randall Street area and with trusty Google maps leading the way, managed to find the office for We-Care Foundation. It’s actually a “We-Care Library” that’s open to the public and in the back is the office of Yvonne Carehart Weah. I explained my story to Yvonne and got some useful information about Early Childhood Development teacher training possibilities through We-Care. I left with some literature and options to discuss with our principal, Sumo.
After lunch, I met with Lyn Gray from “Liberia Reads!”. This is an exciting program that I think would benefit our teachers and improve literacy outcomes in our school. Liberia Reads! essentially trains teachers (and the principal) in a literacy program which the school adopts to become a “Liberia Reads! School”. Teachers are trained during a 2-1/2 week intensive in the summer along with two other schools receiving training for the first time. Each of these three new schools will help both monitor and mentor each other. Liberia Reads! staff have frequent follow-up observations of teachers to help improve their abilities and ensure the program is being implemented well. An independent organization has tested 3rd grade students who learned to read using the Liberia Reads! program vs. a control school and compared it to the reading achievement milestones outlined by the UN. Liberia Reads! schools far outperform both the UN milestones and the control schools. Training is free for 4 teachers and the principal at each school. I’ll be visiting a school outside of Gbarnga that is just starting to implement this program to see how it looks in a classroom. I think is has great potential for us.
With some productive meetings and a wild box chase behind me, the work day was coming to close. I decided to do my food shopping to store up supplies to bring to the guesthouse for the next month. John 2 brought me to Stop & Shop where I stocked up and topped it off with my last frozen treat for the next 4 weeks…an ice cream cone from the freezer section. It doesn’t match the taste (or size) of an ice cream from Kimball’s but it will be in my tastebud memory for a while. For some reason, the store manager came over, scanned a card at the register before the checkout girl gave me change, and deducted 10% from my bill. Kathy will say, “It’s a Rossman thing.”
Since I had so many jumbled jottings from my meetings, I thought it wise to type them up and elaborate on my cryptic side-notes before the information became stalactites within the caverns of my aging skull. While doing this, a young lady from Denmark (whom I met at the morning devotion but forgot her name) passed by with her husband. She’s an intern with the HIV/AIDS program. I told her of my fruitless conversation with Janice this morning and she wanted to know more. I shared the whole (though slightly abridged) story of Sando, her odd diagnosis and rapid death from AIDS, and my desire to help ensure her children were educated and cared for in the same village. She felt moved enough to offer to follow up with the donor in Denmark (having the Denmark connection as she does) to see if an exception could be made for the “1st grade” requirement for receiving support. I’m not optimistic but it felt good she is willing to try. You never know…
Tomorrow we head to Eagle Electric for some supplies, Red Light for 50 bags of rice (Sumo negotiated a lower price for bulk purchasing), then 3 hours up to Deanville. The kids will still be in class so it should be a fun greeting when I arrive in the afternoon.