My tour of 3 counties in Liberia – A challenging but insightful experience – Part I.
June 15 – Travel day
I recently visited Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties, three of the 15 subdivisions in Liberia, for the first time. All my years in Liberia, I have only lived on the outskirts of Monrovia and had all my activities in the immediate surroundings of where I grew up. Visiting these new places was definitely an exciting adventure for me. However, I knew there were going to be challenges. The first challenge was to put my mom appease with my going to these “rural” communities. She was worried about the road conditions, food, water and almost every other thing. I, too, had great fears of the road conditions from the stories I heard long ago from those who traveled on those roads. I had expectations of atrocious potholes, bumpy and muddy roads that were impossible to maneuver. In as much as I knew there have been progress on those roads, my gut still maintained they were horrible and that we were going to spend unreasonable amount of time to just travel a 2-3 hour journey. However, my excitement for the experience surpassed my fears of discomfort. Made my decision and finally got myself prepared for the travels.
Arrived in Sanniquelle, Nimba County after ~6hrs drive and went straight into the youth summit, leaving our luggage in the back of the Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep that we traveled on. Walked into a large auditorium packed with about 250 people, young and some older. This was my first interaction with the learners of the USAID Advancing Youth Project. It was certainly a different youth profile from what I have been working with. These were young adults, some with their kids but still have a refreshing desire to get an education. We also had well established community elders referred to as ABEC Members (Alternative Basic Education Committee) who serve in the same capacity of a PTA to provide support to these young people in achieving their educational dreams. This was the first thing that struck me about the project. It was time for introductions and I firstly had to do away with this “American” accent because I did not want to be looked at differently by the learners. Got introduced to the county staff of the project and everyone was entrenched into their work as the first day seemed pressures set in. Removed my laptop from my bag pack and settled quickly to help out with the work. I was then introduced to the larger group where I talked briefly about the session I was going to run the next day. Day 1 was at a close and we still hadn’t figured out our lodging. We were told that all of the guest houses in town have been occupied by our participants and finding space for us was another adventure. Walking through the city center that evening, I couldn’t help notice the horde of NGO (Non-Governmental Organizations) vehicles and sponsored projects everywhere. Almost everyone around the mini bars were on some type of NGO project. We finally landed in the apartment of one of the local county staffs and had a restful night.
During the summit the next day, I was responsible to moderate and manage the Focus Group Discussions which was aimed at understanding the learners’ (out of school youth) perceptions (opinions/views) of leadership development within the project. The results of those discussions will be used to create better programs for youth as part of my internship scope of work. I had some difficulties asking the questions at the beginning because they were somehow structured in a way that people who haven’t had a chance to read and write would struggle to comprehend. My first challenge was finding a way to get my participants to understand the questions else we wouldn’t have a focus group discussion. We had to move back and forth pivoting new ways to ask the questions for the learners to understand. After some time of iteration, they finally got the questions and we sailed into a very insightful discussion on leadership. Throughout the three counties I visited, I realized that the learners, irrespective of their literacy levels, had an understanding of leadership in some way. I was impressed by the depth they went in sharing their individual experiences of leadership both in the project and in their community. Overall, my learning from this adventure is plentiful and please follow my next blog post for mo re.