Monday, 13 December 2010

Up Jumps a Girl into the Book

Recess is over at a small church school on the edge of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Children wearing bright blue, yellow and white uniforms stream back into the classrooms. Seated behind brown wooden desks, with sweat just drying off of their little bodies, only a few children have pens and copy books. They are learning how to read. “Everybody pay attention on the board,” says the teacher.

“Because,” she says.

“Because,” the class says in unison.

“Monrovia, Monrovia,” they say again.

Together, the pupils repeat every word their teacher says from a list of twenty scratched on the blackboard with white chalk.

Most of these children were born in the middle of Liberia’s 14 year civil war. With fighting breaking out across the country, it was too dangerous for many children to go to school. Some parents were afraid if they let their child out of their sight, they would be snatched and forced into the life of a child soldier.

Education for everyone suffered, but it was the women and girls who were affected the most. The latest UNESCO figures show just five out of ten Liberian women over the age of 15 can read or write. For men it is six out of ten. The West African country now has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, ranked in the bottom fifteen according to UNESCO.

To read this report - click on the link below

Indian Female Peacekeepers Inspire Liberian Girls

It is break time at the Victory Chapel School in Congo Town. Children dressed in their royal blue uniforms with bright yellow and white trim fight to get under the shade of the only mango tree in the yard. It is the start of the dry season and the scorching sun will soon be almost unbearable to stand in.

This small school, on the outskirts of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, is much like any other in the city until you see what stands beside it. More than a hundred female peacekeepers patrol the grounds of a big white fenced compound, the first all-female unit of UN police in history.

The women are an arresting sight: dressed in their blue army combat uniform, black boots, the signature United Nations blue cap and each carrying an AK-47. But the school children are so used to their presence they barely give them a second glance.

"It surprised me at the beginning because it is my first time to see different people come around me," says Wokie Sarchie, a fifth grade student at the school.

The Indian peacekeepers arrived in Liberia in 2007. Their main role is guarding the president’s office on Capitol Hill on the other side of the city. When they are not protecting the president, they are often here helping the teachers at the school.

To read this report - click on the link below

Liberia: Leading the way on 1325...but Still Some Way to Go

Assistant Commissioner Bennetta Holder Warner sits behind her small brown desk covered with books and paper-filled manila folders papers. Her crisp black uniform shines as if it was just made. The Liberian lady is the head of the Women and children Protection Section, a position and unit that did not exist five years ago.

“In the past there was no such place where women or a child could go and carry a complaint and get redress,” says the Commissioner. “After the war, women and children being the most vulnerable group, it was decided that this section be established specifically for their complaints.”

Fourteen years of civil war in the West African state of Liberia saw some of the worst atrocities women and children have ever experienced on the African continent. More than 60 percent of women say they were raped, according to the United Nations Mission in Liberia. Many were used as sex slaves. Some were taken to war zones to have sex with children for ritualistic purposes, while others were forced to have sex with their own children and brothers. This special police department now operating in every one of Liberia’s fifteen counties was set up to deal with crimes of this nature, partly in response to the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1325.

To read this report - click on the link below

President launches Liberia's first radio station for women

"Voice for the voiceless" is the slogan adorning the walls of Liberia’s first and Africa’s second radio station for women.

Situated down a bumpy, dirt track on the edge of the capital, Monrovia, the Liberia Women Democracy Radio (LWDR), claims it wants to advance women and promote change. In a country trying to rebuild itself after 14 years of civil war in which women bore the brunt of the violence, they remain the most vulnerable group in society.

"Before the radio station, we couldn’t get our voices heard. The big people wouldn’t take our problems seriously," says Deborah Reeves, a mother of four in Monrovia. "Now they hear them over and over."

The 30 year old lives on Pagos Island, a stretch of land surrounded by swamps completely cut off from the rest of the city. On an island without electricity, public schools, a police station and not one health centre, the four thousand inhabitants struggle to even make a living.

"I’ve seen things on this island that aren’t right in a civilised world," exclaims Reeves as she shelters in the community church with around forty other women.

"We’re a forgotten community, just fending for ourselves.No one sees us. It’s like we’re not even here."

To read my report - click on the link below