Healthcare in LiberiaThe 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 4,800 people in Liberia and infected thousands of others. However, these data points only scratch the surface of Ebola’s effect on healthcare in Liberia. Ebola’s devastation affected the provision of healthcare services in West Africa and caused an additional 10,600 deaths due to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In countries such as Liberia, more medical training and equipment means healthcare in Liberia has strengthened since the Ebola outbreak. Ebola exposed the weaknesses in the healthcare system of Liberia and showed the Liberian government and international aid organizations particular areas needing improvement and reform.

The World Bank’s Involvement

After recognizing the struggles of Liberia’s healthcare system during the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank devised specific ways to assist Liberia. For example, in May 2020, the World Bank approved the Institutional Foundations to Improve Service for Health Project for Liberia (IFISH). The four-component program focuses specifically on improving health services and outcomes for women, children and adolescents. The six-year program costs $84 million, of which $54 million of funding comes from the United States. Roughly 50% of the budget will be dedicated to health facilities and construction in Liberia. The program also attempts to lay the groundwork for future Liberian healthcare officials. The program includes training health workers and financing certain undergraduate and postgraduate faculties.

The Yale Capstone Project

For multiple years, the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs has worked alongside the Yale Global Health Institute to create a project-based global health course for Yale seniors. The program allows students to explore the intersection of public health and policy. The students of this program have contributed to recovery efforts in Liberia. The program has assisted in establishing proof to encourage partners and policymakers to undertake significant changes in Liberia’s main medical school. The 2015 class conducted case studies on Rwanda and Ethiopia to generate targeted policy solutions in Liberia. Overall, the partnership was deemed a “win-win” for Liberia and the students involved.

CDC Field Epidemiology Training Program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been actively aiding healthcare in Liberia since 2007. However, it did not expand its Liberian focus until the Ebola outbreak. Accompanied by more traditional CDC programs such as malaria intervention and the provision of vaccines, Liberia receives assistance through the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). The three-tiered educational initiative aims to equip Liberian healthcare workers with the knowledge and tools to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks. At the close of 2016, Liberia had 115 FETP-trained staff. The FETP graduates will go on to provide field support in response to disease outbreaks across Liberia. With graduates from all 15 counties and 92 health districts in Liberia, fellows of FETP work to contain outbreaks and prevent them from turning into local or global epidemics.

Room for Improvement

Healthcare in Liberia is improving due to Liberia’s coordinated recovery efforts with multiple organizations. Nevertheless, Liberia still battles with increasing civilian access to healthcare and the funding of critical health institutions. For example, two-thirds of rural families need to travel for more than an hour to access a health center. These extended travel times can significantly impact the healthcare outcomes of Liberians. Moreover, hospitals are struggling to survive because funding from donors has slowed since the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia’s health system, primary healthcare facilities are largely underfunded.

While these struggles persist, they should not overshadow the significant improvements made since the Ebola outbreak. With aid, commitment and effort, healthcare in Liberia can improve further.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Liberia
Faced with two civil wars, Liberia has experienced years of poverty. With more than 80% of Liberians living in poverty, the country has been trying to revitalize its economy. Child poverty in Liberia is significant as well. Moreover, the mortality rate for children is high. In addition to this, Liberia ranks in the bottom 10 countries on the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index considers life expectancy, education and income.

Child Poverty in Liberia

According to Action Against Hunger, a stable environment for those living in Liberia has yet to emerge. Funding for healthcare facilities has significantly decreased. Liberian children often do not have proper access to education and healthcare and frequently face abuse or trafficking. As a result of this, many children live on the streets. Furthermore, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition and one in five do not receive proper nourishment. Meanwhile, about 84% of Liberians live below the international poverty line and make around $1.25 a day.

Uncertain Employment Positions

The Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) collected the following data. The overall information reveals that over 50% live in extreme poverty. In addition to this, 51.2% of families experience food shortages. This survey also shows that unemployment stands at 3.9%, meaning that Liberia has a low unemployment rate. However, the survey characterized around 79.5% of people as having uncertain employment positions whereas 79.9% of people had an informal form of employment.

While Liberia may have a low unemployment rate, many Liberians find it difficult to provide a stable life for their children and family as women average around 5.2 children. Due to small daily wages, women cannot meet children’s financial needs, reiterating the high mortality rate and low life expectancy that Liberian children experience. Due to a parent’s inability to care for a large family, children end up working at young ages.

Organizations Helping Liberian Children

For the past two decades, Save the Children has been addressing Liberian children that the civil war affected. This organization provides aid in areas such as healthcare and protection. It also assists children by providing them tools such as education and spearheading advocacy for child rights. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of many donors that helps Save the Children.

Action Aid is another organization that is assisting impoverished children in Liberia. Action Aid strives to attain social justice and equality and mitigate poverty. This group focuses on women and the younger generations to improve the quality of healthcare, education and children’s rights.

Many efforts have emerged to address the conditions in Liberia, including child poverty. The World Bank has provided $54 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to improve Liberia’s health services for women and children. The IFISH (Institutional Foundations to Improve Services for Health) project has spearheaded the expansion and operations of hospitals. An example is the Redemption Hospital located in Montserrado County. The multiple projects and initiatives should hopefully aid in the elimination of child poverty in Liberia.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in LiberiaWhile the Liberian Government does make some effort to eliminate human trafficking, it does not entirely meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking. Liberia ranks as Tier 2, which indicates that the country does not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) standards. On the other hand, the country does make significant efforts to comply. Liberia has increased internal investigations on trafficking and assigned a budget to the anti-trafficking task force. The TVPA outlines the criteria to meet in order to combat human trafficking in Liberia and all other countries.

The Trafficking Tier System

The U.S. Department designates the ranking for anti-human trafficking compliance. The various tiers represent an evaluation of a government’s actions to combat trafficking. Countries and territories that take great measures to comply with TVPA standards are considered Tier 1. Those that do not fully comply with TVPA standards, but make significant efforts to be compliant, are considered Tier 2. Liberia is one such country that ranks as Tier 2. Tier 3 countries and territories do not comply with the TVPA standards and are not making any significant efforts.

In Liberia, traffickers convicted received unsatisfactory prison terms. Resources and knowledge of trafficking continue to lack in the law enforcement area, thus resulting in ineffective investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes. Shelters and services for trafficking victims also remain limited.

Targeting the Most Vulnerable

Women and children are the most vulnerable to trafficking and are generally trafficked from rural areas. Promised better education, improved living conditions and proper jobs in the city, many fall prey. The traffickers themselves are generally trusted people. They can be family members, friends or members of the community. Victims of trafficking are forced into being street beggars and street vendors. Others do hard labor working in rubber plantations or diamond mines. Sex work and domestic service work are also common with trafficked victims.

International trafficking is most common with trustworthy and professional organizations. The trafficking organizations often use the lure of employment. Women from other countries in West Africa are often trafficked and brought to Liberia. The girls are usually trafficked by their own parents for forced marriages.

The Fight Against Trafficking

Liberia has legal and policy frameworks known as the National Anti-Human Trafficking Action Plan. A specialized task force also fights against trafficking in accordance with the anti-human trafficking plan. However, Liberian authorities do not have the appropriate knowledge and skills to properly identify and address human trafficking incidents. Police officers receive little anti-trafficking training, and units do not have the necessary resources to address suspected cases.

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) implemented a program to help Liberian law enforcement workers and other necessary parties effectively address trafficking cases and support victims. The U.S. Department of State supports the program. IDLO’s program also spreads human trafficking knowledge and awareness to the general public through community-focused plans. Through awareness, people will be less likely to fall victim to traffickers with false promises.

With efforts from organizations supporting anti-human trafficking strategies in Liberia, the most vulnerable people will be protected and supported.

Candice Lewis
Photo: Flickr

Ongoing Harm, Female Genital Mutilation in LiberiaLiberia is one of three West African countries that has not yet made female genital mutation (FGM) illegal. FGM refers to the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women by U.N. Women Liberia, FGM has no health benefits and is extremely harmful.

Legal Activism

In 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia signed the Domestic Violence bill, an executive order that banned FGM performed on girls younger than 18 years old, but the criminalization of FGM was limited to one year and expired in February 2019. The executive order did little to address the part community leaders play in perpetrating this crime. It also failed to change the immense social pressure placed on girls to undergo these treatments. For these reasons, female genital mutilation in Libera continues to be an issue.

International Pressure

The United Nations has been active in its role of fighting to end FGM globally. Due to the lack of policy regarding female genital mutilation in Liberia, Marie Goreth Nizigama, of U.N. Women Liberia, said, “50% of women and girls aged between 15-49 years” have been mutilated. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzan Karwo who is the leader of Liberia’s National Traditional Council expressed frustration, rebuking international groups that have sought to abolish female genital mutilation in Liberia. He believes that FGM prepares young women to become good wives. Despite pushback, the pressure to end female genital mutilation in Liberia continues. Williametta E. Saydee Tarr, the gender, children and social protection minister in Liberia, claims that plans are being pursued to make FGM permanently illegal.

Cultural Progress

One of the most important aspects in fighting female genital mutilation both in Liberia and globally is engaging cultural leaders and communities in ending the tradition. If cultural attitudes toward FGM fail to change, then progressing human rights for girls and women will significantly decline. As a result of seemingly insurmountable cultural and financial pressures, girls and women willingly subject themselves to mutilation; therefore, even criminalization of FGM cannot end the mutilation without traditions and perspectives changing as well.

Liberia’s fight to end FGM is not restricted to policymaking and criminalization. Yatta Fahnbulleh, owner of a large bush school in Tienii that performed FGM on more than 200 girls, decided to end her engagement in FGM despite its financial benefits. In 2019, Spotlight Initiative aided in the startup of the Alternate Economic Livelihood program. This program provides resources and education to former practitioners. This way they can generate a source of income after losing their livelihood. Providing access to education and financial alternatives is essential in garnering the support of communities who depend on the practice for survival.

Looking Ahead

It is vital that the United Nations continues to place pressure on Liberia despite leaders expressing attachment to the practice. female genital mutilation endangers women and often causes lifelong sustained harm so, the pressure is appropriate and necessary. Alongside the international attention to criminalize FGM, efforts to engage leaders in ending devastating practices are of the utmost importance. The willingness of people like Yatta Fahnbulleh to close her school gives hope that people are willing to end female genital mutilation with proper education, tools and resources to survive.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

World Hope International
World Hope International (WHI) is a Christian charity organization working to alleviate poverty by protecting communities. The organization began in 1996 in Virginia and has the core values of opportunity, hope and dignity. By 2019, WHI’s projects spanned 21 countries, awarded 1,835 child sponsorships and provided safe drinking water to 11,841 people.

World Hope International began focusing on COVID-19 related projects in February 2020 through the rehabilitation of wells in Liberia and the Enable the Children program in Sierra Leone. The Enable the Children (ETC) program gives therapy to children with disabilities and provides food for their families. On October 16, 2020, The Borgen Project spoke with Heather Hill, the Director of Communications and Marketing at WHI, about child sponsorships and aspects of the organization’s COVID-19 response.

Child Sponsorship Program

WHI funds an education-based child sponsorship program where people donate $35 a month to help the education of one child in need. During COVID-19, Hill noticed that the child sponsorship levels decreased. He told The Borgen Project that “We launched this campaign and we really talked about sponsorships.” As a result, the last months of 2020 picked up 200 new sponsorships. On top of this campaign, Hill explained how WHI’s partner, Wesleyan Church, launched “the initiative to try and get 1,000 children sponsored in the next few months with us.”

WHI’s COVID-19 Response in Haiti

World Hope International supports the La Gonave Wesleyan Hospital in Haiti. With the help of the Wesleyan church and private donors, the hospital received nearly $4 million worth of basic medical supplies in 2019. Founded over 50 years ago, the hospital still helps approximately 120,000 people in or near La Gonave. WHI’s current project asks for donations equating to $30,000 to transport approximately $2 million worth of medical materials to the location.

Another WHI project in La Gonave is the LB-20,000 water container that underwent installation in February 2019. This container produces approximately 20,000 gallons of clean water every day through solar-powered water farming techniques. The program was a collaboration between WHI, the GivePower Foundation and the West Indies Self Help (WISH) Organization to create clean water for the island. This collaboration continues to provide a clean water source for the entire island.

Other WHI Projects

WHI also helped create a new platform called the Get Support helpline. This platform allows communities to submit requests for various forms of relief during the quarantine period. It launched in late March 2020 and helps organizations connect with communities to better provide them with COVID-19 relief. This program allows people from quarantined communities to request relief packages, such as food or childcare. Volunteer organizations then respond to these requests.

One of WHI’s most important COVID-19 related projects focuses directly on rehabilitating the wells in Liberia. Pandemic restrictions placed numerous cross-country border and curfew challenges on drilling wells in the country. But, the team overcame these challenges by rehabilitating 15 wells instead of drilling new wells. After completing this goal marker by June 2020, WHI promptly set another 15-well marker to provide clean water for Liberians. These citizens would otherwise have to walk tens or hundreds of miles to find clean water.

Despite the COVID-19 disaster, World Hope International has not forgotten about its other ongoing projects. For example, the Strengthening Families and Communities program considers new ways to give Albanian children a place to pursue their interest in education while complying with pandemic restrictions.

True to its Goals

World Hope International is incorporating a variety of global projects to help communities survive the impact of COVID-19. Across the world, WHI’s projects have supported hospitals, rehabilitated wells and prepared a COVID-19 response. WHI’s projects have stayed true to their goals from the past to the present.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

 

Help Liberian Youth
The Liberian Civil War lasted from 1989 to 2003, leaving the education system completely broken. Before the war, there were around 2,400 schools. However, after the war, only 480 schools remained. Edman Zayzay, founder of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Organize For Liberia (OFL), had a dream as a young boy of one day becoming an astronaut. He blames the war for stripping him of that dream. Organize For Liberia gave Liberian youth the opportunity to animate their dreams. Edman Zayzay wanted to improve society’s conditions for all Liberians and help Liberian youth gain access to resources.

Increased Education

OFL focuses on educating Liberian girls specifically. More than half of Liberian women and girls are illiterate. In Liberian culture, girls are the caretakers of the family. Duties include cooking, cleaning, tending the family farm and bearing children of their own. The more responsibilities girls have at home, the less time they have to go to school.

Organize For Liberia encourages its educators to develop relationships with parents. Most parents never had the means for school themselves and do not understand the importance of education. It is rare that parents make the sacrifice and allow education and opportunities for their daughters. If girls attend school, it allows them to pass what they learn to their families and ultimately spread knowledge to their community. If girls have careers or life goals, they should receive support to achieve them. Education helps develop sound decision-making skills to build a healthy future for themselves.

Youth Engagement Mentorship Program

Organize For Liberia pairs adult leaders with young people, giving mentees the opportunity to showcase what a post-war childhood looks like. It is common for minors living in poverty to resort to prostitution to earn food or shelter. Many young women are victims of abuse and rape. The OFL mentorship program encourages young women to value themselves and build connections with friends, family and the community to increase support and self-love. Young people learn the value of life experience and living responsibly, and the mentors learn the value of the influence young people have on Liberia’s future. Together, the pairing has the potential to bring social change to society.

Adolescent Pregnancy Awareness

The birth rate in Liberian adolescents is one of the highest in the world where about one in three adolescent girls are pregnant. About 19% of Liberian girls marry by age 15, while almost half of them marry before age 18. Younger women experience a higher-risk pregnancy. Many young mothers become pregnant against their will. Sadly, Liberia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Organize For Liberia raises funds to support pregnancy awareness. This can help Liberian youths in more ways than one. Pregnancy leaves many girls unprepared. OFL encourages pregnant students to remain in school and to not give up on their education because of their pregnancy.

The STEM Initiative

Organize For Liberia’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Initiative offers education opportunities outside of the typical classroom. OFL offers after-school and summer programs that encourage computer and technology education. Those interested in science and engineering fields can further their computer skills with robotics programming courses. Funding keeps science books and technology journals in school libraries. The future of Liberia is dependent on the education of the young men and women who could grow to become the future innovators that rebuild Liberia’s society.

Civic Education

Scarred by war and adversities, Liberians often become violent after an election. Organize for Liberia encourages peaceful and informed protests. The more Liberians understand their political system, the less detached and forgotten they feel in a post-election environment. Citizens lost faith in the political system after the Liberian Civil War. Civic education informs young people of their rights. It benefits the youth in relation to defending themselves against systemic oppression. For instance, the right to vote helps Liberian youth to have a voice and active role in social justice and development.

Organize For Liberia formed to give hope to Liberian youths who can feel hopeless to the circumstances they were born into. Education is the building block for young people dreaming of a life different than the one their parents led. Increased funding allows the opportunity for education. The main reason parents cannot keep their children in school is that they lack funding for supplies and they rely on their children for help at home. If the Liberian youth have funding to provide school supplies, it would allow the window of opportunity to open up. As a result, the Liberian youth can grow to help their own children have improved lives. Gradually, education and resources will help Liberian youth accomplish those goals. Ultimately gender balance and opportunities begin in the classroom and OFL believes that every life, regardless of class or gender, has equal value.

Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

The Liberian Civil War
Freed American slaves founded the country of Liberia. It boasts a reputation as an African state that upholds many western values. English is Liberia’s official language, and the country modeled its constitution after the United States’ constitution and named its capital Monrovia after James Monroe. Additionally, Liberia literally means “Land of the Free.” For 130 years, this uniquely American country celebrated independence and economic power. Then in 1980, members of the Krahn ethnic group overthrew the governing body and executed the president and 13 of his aides. This violent coup d’état led to a civil war nearly a decade later, which lasted until 2003. Today, the country is working through the lasting effects of The Liberian Civil War.

The Current State

The Liberian Civil War subjected Liberia’s 4.61 million citizens to tremendous pain and terror. According to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the war killed an estimated 250,000 people. Another 1 million experienced displacement from their homes and had to go abroad as refugees. For years, the United States government and other African nations have hosted these refugees. However, repatriation has proven to be difficult due to the instability of Liberia’s economy.

In 2019, the Human Development Index (HDI) ranked Liberia in the low human development category. This means that Liberians are losing out on “a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living,” according to the HDI’s basic dimensions of human development. Along with this, “Currently 38.4% of the population is food insecure, 25% of the population does not have access to drinking water and just 17% have access to basic health services.”

The 14-year civil war tested the nation and the livelihoods of many who suffered. Despite this, a glimmer of hope exists for the country. Work is underway to reverse the trends that the violent conflict set forth more than 40 years ago.

Action Against Hunger (AAH)

Food security, water accessibility and health services have proven to have experienced the most damage due to Liberia’s post-war economy. As a result, aid has been mainly targeting these sectors. NGOs, IGOs and the Liberian government have each worked to improve the lives of Liberian citizens.

In the fight against food insecurity, Action Against Hunger (AAH) has greatly impacted Liberia. In 2019, AAH’s team in Liberia reached 301,507 people through screenings and treating malnutrition. AAH has also partnered with Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance in Liberia to further its work. AAH advocates on the local and national levels for more support to improve general nutrition statuses all around the nation.

Water Accessibility

Water accessibility is another struggle throughout the country. After the war, Liberia’s new government developed a program called WASH. The intent of the program was to improve water quality, sanitation and general hygiene. USAID—the largest donor to the WASH sector—focuses on and addresses the infrastructure surrounding accessibility and sanitation. The program is also expanding services to both rural and urban communities. As a result, more than 353,000 new people have access to improved drinking water and nearly 154,000 have access to improved sanitation.

Malaria and Ebola

Following these fronts, general health services in Libera have exhibited positive growth. The Ebola outbreak that ravaged sub-Saharan Africa put Liberia’s health system to the test and cracks began to show. In the wake of the epidemic, the CDC expanded its focus beyond malaria intervention by investing in stronger “laboratory, surveillance, emergency management and workforce capacities to respond to disease outbreaks in support of the Global Health Security Agenda.” The CDC also teamed up with Riders for Health in the fight against Ebola. Since 2015, the partnership has transported over 300 relay stations to help rapid diagnosis of the disease. The country has not fully recovered from The Liberian Civil War but these organizations are striving to help it meet that goal.

Looking Ahead

Years of devastation due to war shook the country’s institutions to the core. But as time progresses, the improvements within Liberia are unmistakable. Efforts by NGOs, IGOs and the Liberian government alike provide hope for a recovered Liberian economy. Sustained efforts will allow Liberia to put its civil war in the past.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS In LiberiaAround 4.9 million people are currently living with HIV in western and central Africa, including a percentage of those living in the small African country of Liberia. With a population of 5.1 million, roughly 1.5% of Liberians aged 15-49 live with HIV/AIDS. While this sounds like a small percentage, this equates to an estimated 47,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS in Liberia, including 3,600 children.

HIV/AIDS in Liberia

While the percentage of HIV/AIDS in Liberia is lower than in surrounding countries and other regions of Africa, the country still struggles with treatment plans, education on the disease and breaking down stigma that could help prevent further spread. In 2019, UNAIDS released a comprehensive report detailing the spread and effect of HIV/AIDS in the country. The report states that only 33% of those living with HIV are receiving ART treatment. This amounts to 15,000 people currently receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), a daily medication that reduces HIV in the system. Persons with HIV who do not receive ART treatment are more likely to develop AIDS and spread the virus. Of the 15,000 receiving treatment, 763 are children, which amounts to only 21% of all infected children in the country.

Additionally, only 58% of those living with HIV know their status. Lack of education on HIV testing and little access to testing centers has led to only a little more than half of those infected knowing their status through accurate testing. This lack of education heightens the threat of further spread, putting the health and safety of the entire population at risk. HIV/AIDS is not limited to sexual encounters. It also spreads through shared drug injections and even spreads to infants through breastfeeding. Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination continue to prevent progress.

According to UNAIDS’ 2019 report, roughly 53% of those surveyed in Liberia answered no when asked if they would purchase produce from a vendor who was HIV positive. This kind of stigma and cultivated ignorance around HIV and AIDS further inhibit people from getting tested as they may fear public ridicule. The fear of a positive test prevents the country from creating accurate and beneficial response plans.

Programs and Progress

In 2017, the African Union, in partnership with UNAIDS and others, implemented a series of “catch-up plans” for countries in western and central Africa to combat these issues. These plans included a 90-90-90 goal by 2020, meaning 90% of the people will know their HIV positive status, 90% of HIV positive people will have access to ART treatment and 90% will have viral suppression. The UNAIDS’ full 2020 report for Liberia is not available yet but the 2019 report already showed improvements in the country’s fight to eradicate the disease.

Compared to a 2016 report, the percent of children receiving ART treatment rose from about 17% to 21% in 2019.  Additionally, the percentage of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving ART treatment has increased from 19.3% in 2015 to 90% in 2019. This massive increase helps prevent infants born with HIV and decreases the risk of spread through sexual partnerships. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has supported the African Union and UNAIDS’ efforts in Liberia and significantly aided in the reduction of HIV-related issues. Therefore, PEPFAR supports health and treatment facilities in four Liberian counties and supported ART treatment for 15,000 HIV-positive persons in 2020.

All these improvements show progress toward the eradication of HIV/AIDS in Liberia. These advancements bring optimism as hope for an HIV/AIDS-free country remains strong.

– Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in LiberiaLiberia is located along the western coast of Africa’s rough and diverse terrain. The country experienced peace and stability until 1989 when a rebellion ensued. The Civil War in Liberia then persisted until 2003. As a result, high poverty rates and unstable living conditions became too common in Liberia.

Living Conditions in Liberia

According to the World Bank, approximately 54% of Liberia’s population lived below the poverty line in 2014. More than 2.1 million Liberians were unable to obtain basic necessities between January and August 2014. Today, 20% of the population lives in extreme poverty.

The number of those living in extreme poverty within urban and rural areas is the same, which is unusual. According to the report, the primary reason why urban areas have such high levels of poverty is that homeowners are unable to afford basic necessities such as food and electricity.

Furthermore, Liberia faces disheartening statistics common in impoverished countries. The nation has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, along with many children at risk of death from preventable illnesses like malaria.  Life expectancy, education and income are ranked extremely low on a worldwide scale. The nation also has the world’s third-highest unemployment rate.

ChildFund

The ChildFund organization is one working to help improve living conditions in Liberia. Through the support of donors, the organization distributed mosquito nets to more than 477,000 people across the nation. Years of war forced children to forfeit education and serve Liberia. However, ChildFund offers these former child soldiers educational opportunities. The Community Education and Investment Project aims to provide children the opportunity to enroll in schools. Thus far, ChildFund has supplied more than 75,000 books to 110 schools across Liberia.

ChildFund works to empower Liberians and provide them with resources to rebuild their lives. The organization has constructed early childhood development centers, community healthcare facilities and centers for women. Though living conditions in Liberia are less than favorable, ChildFund’s efforts are making a substantial difference.

Liberian Agriculture Project

According to the World Bank’s Country Economist Daniel K. Boakye, improving agriculture will help bring Liberia out of poverty. Increased food growth and therefore increased sales will stimulate the rural communities while providing urban areas with much-needed agricultural products. One organization tackling agriculture in Liberia is the Liberian Agriculture Project.

The Liberian Agriculture Project works to support small-scale farmers of fruit crops such as pineapples and bananas in Liberia. The organization is involved in the growing and handling of sales for rural farmers. Currently, the project is working toward getting specialty products into the seven main food markets in the capital of Monrovia, Liberia. Additionally, making the transition from subsistence farming to commercialized agriculture is another goal.

Although the Civil War ended years ago, living conditions in Liberia continue to be affected by ongoing conflict and tensions. The stress of high unemployment rates, food shortages and limited access to healthcare still affect the average Liberian family. However, efforts put forth by nonprofit organizations and charities like ChildFund and the Liberian Agricultural Project are taking the right steps to help bring Liberia out of poverty.

– Aditya Daita
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in LiberiaExtreme poverty is a persistent challenge in the West African Nation of Liberia, where people continue to feel the after-effects of a 14-year civil war and the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The World Bank estimates that 54% of Liberians live on less than $2 per day and 59% of eligible children attend school. Despite these realities, the future has promise: the growing Liberian Youth Orchestra (LYO) is working tirelessly to empower children and to target poverty in this country.

The History of LYO

In 2018, Julie McGhee, a musician from Canton, MI, formed the Liberian Youth Orchestra (LYO) string program. The program runs at Heart of Grace School, in Lower Johnsonville, just outside Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. McGhee recalls that she had traveled to Liberia on three prior mission trips before she visited any schools. When she visited Heart of Grace School in 2016, she discovered there were no developed music programs. McGhee states, “Some schools had choirs, but that really was the extent of music education in Liberia.”

The path to securing the LYO was quite difficult, requiring took two years of planning, securing donations, and overcoming major obstacles. For example, Liberian customs held LYO’s donated string instruments in customs for five months, delaying the start of the program. As a last resort, McGhee emailed Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor, a senator who would eventually become Liberia’s vice president. Dr. Howard-Taylor was able to free the trapped shipment from customs, and in November 2018, the LYO officially launched. McGhee traveled to Liberia again and spent six weeks conducting a string orchestra camp at Heart of Grace School. She has continued LYO’s impact by regularly teaching lessons via video call from her home in Michigan, as well as intermittently traveling to Liberia. Meanwhile, McGhee’s teaching assistant, a young Liberian man named McGill Kowula, handles on-the-ground operations.

LYO’S Impact on Children

LYO has quickly become a source of pride in the community, as involvement in the orchestra is helping children learn to read. Literacy is a requirement to enter the LYO, motivating children to study and to work hard to enter the program. In 2020, 12 prospective orchestra members learned to read and obtained acceptance into LYO.

Several of LYO’s 43 string students have experienced other dramatic academic successes after becoming members of LYO, McGhee said. One such student was Mary, who began formal education in 2016 at the age of 11 but failed her first year. She transferred to Heart of Grace School in 2017, where she began playing in the LYO the following year. After involvement in the orchestra, Mary not only became a better student but jumped two grade levels. McGhee interviewed each student at the beginning of the string program and again a year after it started. According to McGhee, “I noticed that by the second interview, Mary told her story in a completely different way. She said, ‘I played my violin in front of the president, and that’s something no one in my family has ever done.’

LYO Needs Sustained Support to End Poverty in Liberia

State schools in Liberia are available at no cost, but many families prefer private schools. Unfortunately, 25% of young Liberian children report sexual abuse by a staff member. Private schools are often thought to be safer. However, the high rate of poverty in Liberia means that many families may struggle to afford private school fees, which are equivalent to about $100 per year. As a result, LYO students often receive sponsorship to stay in school, which may come through private donations or through other means. For example, the Jewels Starfish Foundation (JSF) is a female empowerment organization, run by Vice President Howard-Taylor, that sponsors education for girls grades 7-12. JSF currently pays tuition for 11 girls at Heart of Grace School.

Though McGhee is hopeful that she will be able to start a youth orchestra at another school in Liberia, LYO needs $44 per month per student to cover operational fees, and the current chapter of the orchestra has not received enough funding for the 2020/2021 school year. According to McGhee, LYO can benefit greatly from sustained monthly giving, though any financial gift is appreciated. Donations large and small will help LYO to continue its work and to reduce poverty in Liberia.

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr