The horrific nature of looting one of the poorest schools in the world.
LIBERIA, WEST AFRICA.
In July 2015, US based organization A New Dimension of Hope (NDHope) finally completed what would be their greatest and most complicated achievement to date, the construction of an elementary school in one of Africa’s forgotten wastelands, rural Liberia. The school was the first of its kind, a five classroom, brick and mortar, logistical masterpiece towering above the cloth and thatch shelters surrounding it in the village of Troyah Town, Liberia.
At the time of the school’s construction, it was hailed as a beacon of hope for the Ebola-torn territory. Prominent political figures attended the grand opening ceremony, including 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee. I was also in attendance that day as a board member of NDHope and a representative of the Los Angeles community. I gave a short introductory speech, and presented the school with its first book, Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. I read my favorite Dr. Seuss passage,
“When things start to happen, don’t worry, don’t stew, you just go right along, you’ll start happening too.”
“All I remember is the joy and celebration in the community during the dedication ceremony. Mothers expressed joy and relief that their kids would no longer walk long distances to get an education, as the closest school was about an hour away by foot.” Leymah Gbowee said in a statement on Facebook Tuesday morning.
Spirits were high that day, and rightfully so, given the lurid state of affairs we had gone through for the past three years. The NDHope team had to postpone the construction of the school in 2012, delay the opening of the school in 2013 because of the Ebola virus, and raise the money to open the school, and keep it open in 2015. It was a tedious, unromantic, and brutal experience fraught with paperwork, media crusades, and the deaths of thousands of Ebola-stricken Liberians, but on July 21, 2015, they finally did it. And on May 28, 2016, it was taken away from them.
Trying to get answers from the political apparatus that is the Liberian government is like trying to get advice from Rick Blaine on how to leave Morocco, “Yes, well, everybody in Casablanca has problems. Yours may work out.” It is unlikely even the villagers of Troyah Town know why their own community was reduced to ruins. What we know is that the school and village, a couple miles from the University of Liberia, Fendell Campus, was on what was considered university property by the Liberian government. We also know that no building projects on the land were planned, planned on being planned, or planned on being planned on being planned. In other words, the only people that really needed this land were the people living on it.
The principle of the school said in a statement on June 3, 2016, “It was looted. They took all the doors, zinc, documents and everything.” He explained that officials raided his office and made away with books and other reading and learning materials for the school. After that, shelters were destroyed, villagers displaced, and the walls of the school demolished into rubble. Little is known about the current whereabouts of the students and villagers in Troyah Town, but considering the rainy season and the lack of adequate shelter, many may be dead or deathly ill by the weekend. The ages of the students range from four years old to sixteen, and many of the villagers are pregnant or raising infants.
“You destroyed a free school built for the world’s poorest children?” Rosana Schaack asked the Liberian government on Monday, “This doesn’t make sense! This is a human rights issue!” Schaack is the Executive Director of Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK). She attended the grand opening of the school and recently toured the demolished facility. “There is nothing left of their school or their homes,” she adds.
“Who would give such instruction? What are these poor people and their children going to do? I am just so sad…Lord save Liberia!” Gbowee added in another Facebook post. One must question the political motives of a university or government so blinded by their own ignorance that they would allow for the destruction of one of the few things able to help them see. Solid infrastructure, shelter, and a self sustaining educational system was put in place in an already decimated region of otherwise unusable land and, instead of bringing hope to the government and university staff, it only added to the decimation. I say this now to the ignorant and corrupt government of Liberia, when a flower sprouts petals and starts to grow in a jar of battery acid, let it grow. You may not like it, or think it is pretty; you may not understand why it is there, but please, just let it grow.
When I placed Oh! The Places You’ll Go! on the shelf of a newly constructed school in Troyah Town, I read my favorite passage, and I told the children that it wasn’t the labor of humans who built their school, it wasn’t the bricks or the hammers and nails that made it happen, …it was hope. It was the idea of a better life. Hope is what turned a two-acre plot of land in West Africa into a thriving school less than one week away from its first kindergarten graduation. Hope is why projects like this can persist and live on.
And I say to them now, wherever they are, the labor of humans cannot destroy hope, torn down bricks and hammers and nails cannot tear down the idea of a better life. Hope will continue to exist despite the evil and injustice in the world. And I have hope that you can keep it alive.
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Photo credit: Getty Images