Where am I and what am I doing?

So you know that I’m in Liberia, and that I have a new job. But I realized I never really gave much more detail than that…

Just for clarification, I am in Liberia and not Libya – they sound similar but couldn’t be more different! (Though Khadafi did have some pretty close ties with Liberia during the cold war – it is even rumored that he owns the Pan-African Plaza hotel that was converted into the UN HQ in Monrovia…not to mention all the arms deals, military training, etc.)

Liberia is a small country in West Africa, surrounded by Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Atlantic. I won’t go into details about the tumultuous history of the country – I tend to be pretty long winded on the subject since that was a large part of my MA thesis! But the general gist of things is that the country was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves that were sent back ‘home’ (though none of them were likely from Liberia). As such, it was the closest thing to an American colony – the Americo-Liberians, as they were called, brought a bit of the South to Liberia. Remnants still exist – they built Southern style plantation homes, brought organizations like the Masons to Africa, wore fancy suits and hats, and developed the small swath of land on the coast. Some say they took their cues from their former countrymen even further, treating the ‘native’ liberians with about as much respect as they’d been treated with, leaving most of hte country undeveloped. Eventually the different tribal groups became fed up, and sought retribution. Led by Samuel Doe, the masses rose up against the Americo-Liberians. Doe and his government had no experience governing, and Liberians became disillusioned with his repressive, inefficient government. Charles Taylor led a rebellion in 89 to unseat Doe – called the 1st World War. The battles were bloody and lasted until a tentative peace was arranged and hte elections of 1997, when Taylor was elected president. The 2nd World War began in 1999 and, if possible, was even bloodier than the first. At the end of 2003, UN and ECOWAS deployed troops, Taylor sought asylum in Nigeria, and the country entered into the current era of peace.
This is obviously an INCREDIBLY oversimplified version of a very complicated story, with a lot of holes, but it should give you a basic idea…

So what am I doing here? I was hired as the Deputy Director of Programs for the International Resuce Committee (IRC) programs in Liberia. The IRC is one of the largest non-profit organizations operating in Liberia – they’ve been active here since 1997. We run Health programs where we support a number of clinics and hospitals with drugs and medical staff, Education programs that support the development of teacher training curriculum and increasing the access to education for the most vulberable kids, especially girls, and Gender Based Violence prevention program. My job is to support the Country Director and the techincal specialists who run the programs, working to develop proposals that will get us new funds and troubleshooting the myriad things that can (and always seem to!) go wrong on the programs. It’s a huge job – the Liberian staff I work with are amazing, but most of them have not had easy lives and haven’t had tons of education or experience, and so while they are experts and the best people to work with Liberian communities, sometimes routine things can be a lot of work.

So, those are the basics of where I am and what I’m doing. Basically it’s a lot of work but I really believe in what we are doing.

Standard disclaimer – anything I write on here is my own opinion, and in no way represents the views of the IRC….

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