"The Liberians are a proud people. They don't dance, sing and carry-on in public unless it is in church on Sunday morning," the young Liberian political leader and founder of Youth Action International, Kimmie Weeks, told me. It is Saturday evening on the beach in Liberia, as we sit at our table and enjoy one of our last evenings in this most unusual place.
We see one star, a ton of beach trash, and barbed-razor wire fencing around our hotel. We laugh and talk about how much we like the Liberian version of English...a kind of Creole, with a French twist while speaking English words, with a yaya at the end of each sentence, even if one word. Beautiful. It almost sounds musical.
We ended the three day training yesterday evening and, for the first time since our arrival, it began to rain. I stood out in the drizzle along with the cameraman and Spryte Loriano from Humanity Unites Brilliance, talking about what happened here, as a fitting ending of a most mystical, magical three days. We talked about how more people crowded into the last few hours, just to hear a little more. Kimmie remarked, "You know, usually on a three day training like this, on the first day, all the people come, the second day one-half come back, on the third morning about one-half again show up, and by Friday afternoon we are lucky to see 20 or 30 people. I have never seen anything like this.
We had people trying to crowd in even in the last few minutes." The StarShine Academy Field School Teacher Training focused primarily on peace building skills, brain exercises for peak efficiency, and social etiquette interwoven in financial literacy. The Liberians, 600-800 of them—we were never really sure—were listening so intently that at times I prayed that I would say the right things that they needed to hear. On Friday morning, the four of us girls walked onto the stage in our colorful, full-garb, African dresses, as a means of connecting and honoring the audience to the last day of the seminar.
The crowd went wild, as they did when we ran out of books in the beginning and out of graduation certificates at the end. We ordered more books and we were able to get more graduation certificates printed still in time for Friday night. I have never felt this much love and appreciation from this large of a crowd. The Liberians are smiling and sweet. They are happy most of the time, even though most of them live in poverty that most of us would find substandard.
They walk with the pride of soldiers, not only to show their love of their country and their pride in themselves, but also because so many of these people were stolen as young children to fight in a war that they did not understand, using weapons that they had never before seen. And now that they are teachers, leading the way out of poverty and devastation from the wars of the past twenty years, they make an average of between $20 per month and $70 per month in U.S. dollars. And yet our hotel bill here is $200+ per night and our dinners average $25 per meal.
The potential in Liberia is immense. They have diamonds, a huge rainforest that will be providing trees for other countries, Firestone Rubber Plantations, Chinese-owned iron ore, and a beautiful ocean (if you ignore the trash.) These teachers have learned that education is what makes cash assets. And if you live right, cash assets make the world a better place. This experience has been incredibly complicated and one of the blessings of my life. The people believe that their country will be the leader for many things, but in particular, the way that they educate and care for their children.
As I looked around today at the little children, as young as five years old, fetching water for their family from the town water supply, a manual pump and faucet in the center of the village, I remind myself not to cry. These children, I tell myself, are the lucky ones. They are fetching the water. They have enough to eat and they are living in a country that values education above all other things, I hope. There are many other children that are too weak to do much of anything.
I am grateful for this opportunity to spend time with the Liberian teachers and principals and to get to know the culture briefly. These people are proud. I smile as I picture all of us dancing to "Mama Liberia" and singing peace out into the ethers of the world, to reach every ear, so that this kind of hope, enthusiasm and appreciation continues into the future forever.