Lessons in Liberian Sayings

 

With Labor Day behind us, and the majority of US students back in school, we begin our Fall Fundraising Campaign so that “Back to School” becomes a reality for our 111 sponsored students.  

To make this fun - we are putting you into the role of “student” and will be “teaching” you some Liberian English proverbs and expressions as we share about our recent trip to Liberia and the work ahead.  

Lesson #1: “After the ugly situation, there is hope!” aka “Against all odds!”

A highlight during our 11 days in Liberia was bringing 70 students, family members, and staff together, under one roof, for an entire day of celebration. Despite monsoon rain, our Day Camp included crafts, stories, dancing, a protein-rich meal, and acknowledging students who advanced from one grade to the next, including six who graduated from high school.

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Daniel, a student who two years ago was bedridden with severe burns, led the dancing!

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Every sponsored student, with one exception caused by a prolonged medical absence, passed into their next grade. This is no small feat!

Obstacles to entering, remaining enrolled and progressing through primary and secondary grades are significant and mostly economic in nature. The statistics are bleak:

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  • Liberia ranks at 0% in education access and at 3% in learning

  • 20% of boys and nearly 25% of girls, age 12-17, are not attending school  

  • 48% of 15-24 year-olds have not completed primary education in Liberia

 

Solomon Has Hope!

When we first met Solomon twelve years ago, he was unable to attend school due to a urinary tract deformity. The required surgery wasn't available in Liberia so we shared his story and raised funds for him to travel to Kenya.  Without this life-changing operation, Solomon would have been relegated an outcast and unable to attend school. He has been one of our sponsored students since 2010 and this summer we were thrilled to celebrate with him as he graduated from High School.

When we saw Solomon this summer, he proudly presented us with a thank you note sharing, “Your extraordinary act saved and changed my life… Thank you for helping me attain one of my greatest dreams, to become a high school graduate. I am presently pursuing my honors degree in medical science and look forward to becoming a medical doctor…”

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Solomon in 2010 and 2022:

 

Because of your generous support, Solomon has overcome incredible odds and is dreaming big!

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Twelve years ago, we came to you, our community of friends and supporters to help Solomon - and we boldly ask again, for your help in raising $450 for each student.  

Would you consider helping other students, like Solomon, find hope after the ugly situation?

In today’s lesson, we’d like to introduce another Liberian English expression:

Lesson #2: “One finger cannot remove lice from hair” aka “It takes a village”

If you’ve ever tackled a lice infestation - this expression makes perfect sense! It takes many fingers to do the hard work of eliminating lice, nits and eggs - it takes a fine toothed comb, diligence and perseverance, and the right shampoo.

In the same way, as you know from your own experience, it takes many resources and people - to support a child’s academic career. Our primary mission is to provide access to education but we also address the healthcare and other basic needs of our students, attempting to mitigate the effects of poverty that can act as roadblocks to learning.

Academic Support
On the academic front, each sponsored student has their school tuition, fees, uniform, and supplies covered. Case workers check in, 1-2 times a week, visiting schools, administrators, and parents, to ensure students are supported.

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Case workers Peter, Janet, Lorpu, Prince and Goldy each have ~20 students whom they monitor - checking in on attendance, health, and  living conditions, by visiting schools and homes 1-2 times each week.

Nutritional Support
 

Most of our students face food insecurity, living off 1 to 2 dollars a day.  This means even a single daily meal, commonly a bowl of rice with potato greens and spices, isn’t guaranteed. Adding protein is a luxury - but only if funds are available. Following global trends, the cost of rice in Liberia has more than doubled - making the purchase of even a ~50-cent cup of rice a challenge. Kristen Chapman, a dear friend from Mercy Ships and also a Keyara’s Gift board member, sponsored a GoFundMe campaign that raised thousands of dollars to buy rice for several different non-profits in Liberia - including Keyara’s Gift. During our trip we were able to distribute rice to each family.

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We were delighted to distribute rice - a staple of the Liberian diet -  to our student’s families.  

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Medical Support
 

By partnering with ELWA Hospital, along with their Optical and Dental Clinics, our students are able to access basic health care. In Liberia, medical treatment and care is procured only by prepayment - meaning that you must show up with cash in hand before you are even seen. Without any savings, this means funds are raised by asking neighbors and family for small loans. Our case workers help determine when students might need assistance - most commonly for a $20 typhoid and/or malaria treatment but sometimes for things like sickle-cell crises, burns, or other infections.

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Courage, one of our sponsored students, received cataract surgery on Mercy Ships about 14 years ago. Unfortunately, he is now having trouble with his other eye but we were able to have him checked for glaucoma and fit for glasses - hopefully making school work easier to complete.  

If you're already part of the Keyara’s Gift “Village” - we thank you!  If you aren’t yet, will you consider making a contribution today?  Remember, “One finger cannot remove lice from hair”!

 

Today we share another Liberian proverb:

Lesson #3: “When someone wash your back, you must wash your front” aka “Everyone must do their part.”

Transparency and accountability are critical to any organization’s success. In a developing country like Liberia, rife with great need but also corruption, trust must be earned. The heartbreaking reality is that survival is often on the line - so misappropriation of funds can, unfortunately, feel justified.

Over the past 14 years, our Country Director, Reverend Francis, has proved himself trustworthy and above reproach. He endured great hardships during Liberia’s civil war.  He was left for dead but miraculously survived and still suffers from the physical scars of war (a broken pelvis and hip that never healed properly). Nevertheless, he exudes joy in his roles as pastor of a church, working with prisoners, and leading the Keyara’s Gift team.  

As an ambassador for Keyara’s Gift, his reputation has been instrumental in connecting with school administrators and also attracting and retaining a trustworthy team. We currently have five case workers and one supervisor, Mamie, who oversees the case workers and day-to-day logistics. Without these faithful workers, we would never be able to succeed in our mission to keep these students in school!

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Reverend Francis has earned a reputation for being trustworthy, fair, and joyful in his work. We are grateful for his leadership and his heart for students and their families.

Washing your Front

One goal during our recent trip was to equip case workers with tools for more efficient and transparent data collection because our “pen and paper” system was slow and laborious. By distributing basic smartphones and introducing an app customized for data collection, caseworkers can enter and store data, receipts, and photos in the cloud, making them accessible in real-time, from anywhere.   With this new system, we will regularly be able to collect data such as:

  • Has the student been sick? 

  • Did they eat before coming to school? 

  • Was a student absent from school this week and if so, why?

  • What was the cost of medical treatment?

Having a clear picture of how our students are doing and the challenges they face will help shape our programs in the future.  

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We had a day-long team meeting in which we discussed challenges and opportunities for improving our programs - including making site visits and support more effective.  We also distributed basic smartphones and held a hands-on training session of the new app. It’s early days - but the launch was successful and we look forward to the benefits of real-time data. They are equipped and ready to roll! 

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Case workers Goldy and Janet are now able to immediately report on how their students are doing after each weekly site visit. Their regular advocacy and support has been critical to the success of students who might otherwise become a tragic statistic.

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We have raised $15,000, with $35,000 to go before school begins in a few weeks. Your partnership is what makes sponsorship of students possible. The Keyara’s Gift team is ready, able, and equipped to “Wash their own front” - will you continue to partner with us so we can “Wash their back”?  Together we can all do our part!