Thursday, May 21, 2015

Liberians Helping Liberians - Eric Wowoh

What breaks your heart? For Eric Wowoh it is seeing vulnerable children unknowingly headed towards exploitation, victimization, and destruction. As we continue looking at Liberians making a difference in Liberia (see Mary Beh), I'm happy to share with you about my Liberian brother, Eric Willise Wowoh. He is a man determined to stop Liberia's future generations from heading down a path similar to the one that recently destroyed his nation, village, and family; one that almost took his very own life as a child. I'm referring to the Liberian Civil Wars.

The Civil Wars in Liberia led to many near death experiences for most everyone that survived them. Eric's story is no different. Being separated from his parents as a young child while looking for food, he was kidnapped and tortured by soldiers when he refused to fight. He was thrown in the jungle to die by militants after his injuries were so severe he was no longer seen as useful to them. Left to wander as an unaccompanied child from one West African nation to the next, he found himself sleeping under bridges, begging for food, being thrown in jail in a foreign land, getting sick and hungry in refugee camps, being beaten and almost killed by a mob of Nigerian vigilantes, and the list goes on and on.

These surreal and traumatizing events all put Eric to within a breath of losing his life many times over. However, he has chosen not to be overcome or overwhelmed by the memories of his numerous encounters with near death. Instead, Eric has chosen to turn the tables and face "head-on" the culture and environment that created this horrific time period in Liberian history.

Eric sharing his story with US HS students in MO.
Today as Eric engages Liberia he knows that if some basic things like education, employment opportunities, medical care, and clean drinking water are not dealt with properly that the same horrific outcomes he experienced as a child could result again Liberia. It is a thought that most Liberians who experienced the atrocities shudder to consider. However, instead of denying the possibility of such renewed civil unrest, it is a possibility that Eric is willing to address; and with action. Now is the time to stop future unrest. Now, before it gets too late.

Eric speaking with Liberian volunteers

Eric, Ambassador Jeremiah C. Sulunteh,
myself, and the ambassador's wife.
Eric continues raising awareness of
Liberian needs in the US.
In talking with Eric it becomes evident that his heart is broken whenever he sees other children having to face the same bleak prospects he faced as a child. Liberia's education system is in shambles. Overcrowded and unequipped classrooms often leave teachers yelling prompts for rote recitation as their main option of education. There are few textbooks; to say nothing of the lack of electricity, air conditioning, cafeterias, nurse stations, etc.

CAN schools are an exception among Liberian schools. They have libraries!

...and computers!
Testing at higher levels has also become a vulnerable area for students as reports of fee scamming and requests for sexual favors for grades are widely reported. But the biggest impact is a vulnerable society unaware of its own rights and subject to foreign land grabs, local oppression and corruption, and internal skill vacuums for needed work projects currently being outsourced to other nations.

Heart of Grace school in Montserrado County
This lack of quality education leaves Liberia vulnerable to a reoccurrence of the same sort of violence and destruction Eric experienced as a young child. As a new generation that did not experience the wars is growing up in a Liberia, many are not aware of their own history or the reasons behind the events that destroyed their nation. This lack of education in Liberia leaves so many in extreme poverty and unequipped with the needed skilled labor force to deal with any major challenge without outside aid; as the recent ebola crisis clearly showed. 

Loading supplies for Liberia during the recent Ebola Crisis

The people of Liberia remain vulnerable. As a child Eric found himself vulnerable and victimized by a war he didn't start or understand. It almost cost him his life. He can't stand the thought of other children having that same experience. This is one of the main reasons why he is so passionate about education in Liberia. He sees himself in the eyes of the Liberian child.

Eradicating Liberian poverty one child at a time.

...It adds up!

Today, as founder and director of Change Agent Network (CAN), Eric is passionate and energetic about the various programs this organization is operating throughout Liberia. The "Network" part of his NGO name is a key component to the organization. It is what makes this Liberian NGO unique. In a nation plagued with corruption and power posturing, CAN is different in that it actively seeks to network with and serve other organizations. While most of CAN's efforts are focused on education, their network of partnerships has helped facilitate access to clean drinking water wells, small business development, orphanage care, and overall community development.

CAN in Liberia today has three working campuses with approximately 3000 students and 9 schools in Lofa, Bong, and Montserrado Counties. They have also partnered with 2 other school campuses in the construction phase and have connected with numerous others for mutual edification. With connections made in Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, and Margibi counties, CAN is also considering a new school with their connections in Nimba. The hope is to one day have a working school campus and community development center in each of the 15 counties of Liberia. Another important part of the vision is a University to send all of these High School grads to, which is to be developed on their campus in Lofa.

Proposed University design for Lofa County - CANU

School Choir at one of the CAN schools:

This pile of rocks was broken up by sledgehammer in order to build a school. 
Now THAT is dedication!

Eric would be the first to admit that it is not he alone that is making a difference in Liberia. He would point to the network of partners and volunteers (both Liberian and international) that are making a difference. I agree with that, but I also think that Eric is a special person. He is on the front lines, trying to prevent Liberia from facing the chaos it faced in his youth. His heart was broken by that chaos, but the way he seems to see it: a broken heart only means he has more pieces of his heart to share. Thanks brother and keep it up!

My Liberian brother Eric and I in Liberia 2011

For more info:

Click here to hear part of a 2013 radio interview with Eric in Liberia on ELBC.

Newspaper archives that track a history of involvement in Liberia and for Liberians for over 10 years.

History of CAN

Change Agent Network Overview (taken from the website):

OUR MISSION: To Partner with Impoverished African Communities to Fight Poverty Through Education

OUR VISION: An African Continent Free of physical and Mental Poverty as well as intellectual slavery

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ebola Treatment Center: A First Hand Account

Here is a powerful first hand account of what it is like working in an Ebola Treatment Center in Liberia. Dr. Kwan Kew Lai's blog is entitled Ebola in Liberia. This link opens in a new page and takes you to her first entry; the day before she left for Liberia on October 13th, 2014. Some very emotional stories about trying to bring healing to those you can't touch.

Education and Ebola

Ebola wanes in West Africa and I pray it continues to do so, however I continue to hear reports (just last week) of new cases in Monrovia. What will the future hold? I don't know, but I do know that education plays a key role in future containment. (Think of how ebola was not able to spread in the US as compared to West Africa and you begin to see the benefits of having both educated specialists and an educated public).

However, here is the situation: Schools still can't open because parents haven't been able to find work to cover basic educational expenses (a problem before the ebola crisis) and children have been out of school for over a year. (The opening date was recently pushed back from February 2, 2015 to March). This only delays the problem of affordable education for a future generation that can more effectively combat a repeat of this sort of crisis, not to mention the impact on the economy, food security, infrastructure development, and other health related issues like ebola. 

Meanwhile, this account by Dr. Lai is worth the read, if for nothing else than to reinforce the need for future development in Liberia.


Monday, September 15, 2014

First Ebola Came For the Guinean

So much sadness, anger, and frustration as we grieve with our Liberian family during this time of crisis. I've not wanted to post much as of late, because everything I read about Liberia has been so upsetting. 

Recent reports continue to show that ebola is a mutating virus that could be multiplying vectors. The forecasts look grim and West Africa may not be the only place affected when all is said and done. 

I understand there is a fine line between informing the public and crying 'fire' in a theater if there is only a 'potential' fire. However, it has always been the case that one mutation could put the entire civilized world into chaos as plagues lead to civil unrest, etc., ad nauseam.  I pray that those on the front lines of the current ebola crisis can obtain the tools and resources they need to protect Liberia, and potentially all of us before it becomes too late.

With all of that in mind, and in an obvious homage to Martin Niem̦ller (1892 Р1984), I submit the following for your consideration:

First ebola came for the Guinean country farmers, and I did not send help—Because we have enough troubles in our own backyard and how does helping a Guinean lower prices at Walmart or the gas pump?

Then ebola came for the Liberian cities, and I did not send help— Because their government is too corrupt, there are more there dying from malaria and unclean drinking water anyway, and bottom line: there is no real profit margin for selling medicine to penniless Liberians.

Then ebola came for the healthcare providers, and I did not offer help but rather I tweeted that they should stay in Africa to suffer and die— Because anyone stupid enough to help those people has disqualified themselves from getting proper healthcare and I wanted this virus out of country, out of sight, and out of mind. 

Then ebola came for me, and I wailed and moaned and pointed fingers as I bled from my eyes and held my dying child —But there was no one left to care for me or listen to my wailing; for those that cared had all been taken away, ill-equipped, and un-aided on the front lines.

I pray the above does not come to pass, rather God's mercies on Liberia and on us all.

The late Ms. Evelyn Beyan was our very first volunteer teacher in central Liberia, who joined us in 2012 and worked for several months without pay because the school buildings in Gbarnga were still being build. She died from ebola still in her 20's on the 26th of August. RIP.