June 16, 2009

Missing My Liberian Friends

My time at the Buduburam Refugee Camp offered me so many opportunities. I met the most wonderful people in the world, being let into their lives and having them share the most powerful stories of hope and survival. But I also saw things that I never want to witness again. Starvation, disease, young children engaged in prostitution, abuse, death and cases of murder. I am in the midst of planning a book detailing my time in Africa, particularly my 4 months at the Buduburam camp, home to over 40,000 refugees who fled the devastating civil wars of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire.

The water tower that was supposed to provide the refugees with clean water. It does not work and so many refugees are forced to drink unsafe water. Many women are killed crossing the highway to fetch clean water for their children to drink.

I would travel the 40 mile tro-tro ride to Buduburam each morning and teach the Adult Literacy Class, and each Saturday I would travel it again to teach my SMART KIDS!

One of my many group discussions with the SMART KIDS.

One of the elementary schools on camp!

I often met with the Hatai Men's Intellectual Group, men who have many trades and skills, yet no opportunity for employment on camp. So they would meet each week to discuss important debates. Many of these men are former Child Soldiers that have changed their lives around and are trying to bring about positive change in Liberia.

HELP SAVE A LIFE was one of the organizations on camp that helped bring clean water to families. However, it only reached 4 zones of the camp, not nearly enough to serve 40,000 people.

As I mentioned, there's plenty of horror on camp. The situation escalated more and more each day I worked on camp. The Ghanaian government, under President Rawlings originally gave the refugees land when they were fleeing the second civil war in Liberia. The refugees built homes, schools and other facilities on the land and claimed it as home for over 15 years. However, the situation turned very bad in 2007 when President Kufour declared the refugees "rebels" and ordrerd them to return to their homeland. The Ghanaian government stated publicly that they feared for the safety of the country due to the Liberians, and chaos inevitably followed. Government police beat, tortured and sent many innocent Liberian men to jail, some just vanished and have never been heard from since. Many women and children were taken from their families and sent to other camps around the country. The men couldn't speak up against the injustice for fear of being sent to jail or killed, so the women stepped up and began partaking in demonstrations against the Ghanaian government. I was threatened numerous times by the Governmental police on camp because I was helping the Liberians spread the word internationally about what was happening. Here are some photos of the protests.

My experience at Buduburam ended on a positive note. I snuck back on camp so the police wouldn't see me and the Pan African Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution held a ceremony for me. They wanted to thank me for helping their organization. My husband Prosper accompanied me. It was such an emotional experience and when I was asked to speak at the podium, I wept! They presented me with a certificate and a beautiful African dress!


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