The day after Christmas, we embarked on our first Courts for Kids project in the country of Liberia in West Africa. Liberia is home to a tumultuous history, settled by American freed slaves in the 19th century who soon controlled almost all of the power and wealth in the country despite being a small minority of the population. More recently, and not unrelated, civil war engulfed the country from 1989 to 2004 during the
reign of the infamous Charles Taylor. The war devastated the entire nation and it
remains one of the poorest countries on earth. We were told that out of $1.3 million people in Monrovia, 30,000 have electricity.
An hour northwest of Monrovia is a small community of Kamara Town which developed as a UN IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp during the war. The community, made up of Liberians from various tribes, has
become organized and created a primary school. A poultry and pig farm established by Kwapa and in the heart of Kamara Town was our partner for the court building project at the school. The 400 students who attend had nowhere safe to play sports.
The Kamara Town school has developed a special relationship with the Union High School Titans in Vancouver, WA. They have even adopted the Titan mascot as their own. It was 13 students from Union, one from another high school and five adults who journeyed to Kamara Town to complete the project. One student in particular, Nolan Henry, fundraised for the construction costs on his own. Never in our history has a high school student taken such initiative.
Working conditions were tough, the heat was intense and quite the shock to the American volunteers who came from freezing weather. But the involvement of the community made the project go smoothly. In fact, children between 8 and 12 were key volunteers. They spent the majority of the first day running wheelbarrows to load and unload sand. Their commitment was incredible and there is no question they put every ounce of energy they had into the project.
One community member approached us and was sad because he wasn’t able to work due to a recent operation. So instead, he wanted to show his involvement by bringing coconuts from his tree to the work site for the workers. We were so happy to see such commitment from such locals and believe the court will be put to great use for many years.
This trip was also the first Courts for Kids group to meet a head of state as we were invited to a New Year’s Party at the President’s Mansion, where we were able to meet President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman head of state in Africa.
Some words from the American volunteers:
This trip has been absolutely phenomenal. I have learned so much about myself and the world. It really opened my eyes and showed me that there’s more to life than Vancouver, WA. This trip has opened my heart to a depth that I didn’t know was capable.
This whole experience has been truly amazing. From the minute we landed in Africa, I fell in love. I have never felt so much love and unity as I have in Kamara Town. This place is so beautiful and welcoming. Coming here has opened my mind up so much to the amazing opportunities I have in my life. It makes me want to take all of them and use them to better places like Liberia. This place has made me work harder than ever before, and helped me see and help so many people in new ways. I am just glad that I came here and pushed away the bad and appreciated the good even more.
I was impacted by so many things… the hardest working children I have ever seen, the smiles and love from the children as well as the kindness and support from the community. Watching the kids use the court that they helped make was very special.
This trip to Liberia has been a milestone in my life. It has taught me so much and I have learned a ton about myself. One thing I learned is life in Kamara Town is so much different than in Vancouver. The community in Kamara Town is so much more connected than Vancouver. Everybody knows and relies on each other. Also, everyday life in Liberia is like a whole different world. The school systems are so varying. Our schools are so wealthy compared to in Liberia.