Friday, 11 August 2017

PICKING UP THE PIECES IN LIBERIA

Over the last three months, I have been privileged to intern with the Foundation for Women as a program evaluator. The Foundation for Women is a microfinance organization in Liberia that empowers women and low-fee independent schools by providing loans. Deborah Lindholm, the CEO, and founder of the organization has been passionately conducting this program in Liberia since 2007. Deborah and I were first connected through the Mentorship Alliance Program organized by the Kroc School at the University of San Diego. Being the gracious mentor that she is, we met every Monday just before my human rights class to discuss how my week was going. During one of our Monday meetings, I mentioned to Debra that I was taking a class in Program Design Monitoring and Evaluation. With the need to conduct an evaluation of her microfinance initiative in Liberia and the need for me as a graduate student to undertake a 3-month internship in the summer, our interests were aligned. It was as if fate had planned it all along. Her microfinance initiative had impacted so many lives in Liberia; and as she fondly remembered before she began this journey   " i met a woman who borrowed $4-she had never seen $4 in her life. She bought a comb, a pair of scissors and a mirror and she put her husband in business as a barber and her as the cashier. Now she has a home and her children are in school, all because of $4." 


Interviweing Faith Academy 

As I progressed with my ten-week internship in Liberia, I began to realize how much more peace and justice is important. Liberia being a post conflict country has made tremendous achievements in trying to ensure that they do not relive the 12 year civil war that crippled their country. Driving around the town of Monrovia had been a major eye opener especially to issues pertaining to peace and justice. The desperate look on the young Liberian faces in the streets striving to make a living by selling food on the side road was heartbreaking. The Liberian civil war which ended in 2003 crippled a whole generation of young men and women who would have ordinarily completed their education and proceeded to be productive citizens; Unfortunately the civil war destroyed the lives of these same young men and women by recruiting them as child soldiers and exposing them to a life that no child in this world should have to face. According to the Human Rights Watch Report (2004), thousands of children were victims of rape, torture, abduction and forced labor; thousands were not only victims of the war but were forced to participate in these abuses. As I interacted with my colleagues at the office, I sensed their frustration and surprisingly their renewed spirit and hope for a better Liberia.  Like a majority of African countries, Liberia hope for a better future is the same. 



 Just as the country was emerging from the ashes of the conflict, the country experienced the Ebola epidemic in 2014. With the country's current population at 4 million, one can only imagine the impact both calamities had on it's people. Peace building initiatives in Liberia are in plenty, however, one can still feel and see the impact the civil war has had on the Liberian population. Every morning as I departed for work, I saw young faces on the side roads striving to make a living and hoping that they could make  "small money" as Liberians call it. 

Internship Experience

My internship at the Foundation for Women entailed evaluating low fee independent schools that were beneficiaries of the school loan program. The school loan program provided loans to these schools in order to improve their educational facilities. Interviewing the schools was interesting because I got the chance to speak with them about the challenges they faced and how the loan had impacted  their lives. The overall schools growth was tremendous and the loans enabled them to accommodate more students. Despite few challenges, the schools were able to repay their loans on time.  Applying the skills I learnt last semester at the Kroc School in my Program Design and Evaluation class was interesting because I practically applied everything we did in class. I am more informed and have better outlook at program evaluation. 
  




Most of the challenges that crippled the education sector Liberia were due to the Civil War, Ebola Virus, Corruption and Poor Leadership. As a Peace and Justice student and being an African some of these issues are not unique to me. Poor leadership, Corruption and Conflict have plagued a number of African countries and have reduced their chances  in achieving their socio economic rights. The literacy rate in Africa and democracy are at stake if countries are not accountable for the actions they take.

The working environment in Liberia was a bit difficult, since I was not used to the humid weather. However, after some time I began to get used to it.  Being a tropical area as well, Malaria is a common disease that affects nearly everyone in the region. After 7 weeks in Liberia I contracted Malaria ; I received immediate medication and after a week, i was okay. 

The Hidden Experiences




Dolo Town Orphans















My internship in Liberia not only gave me the opportunity to apply the skills learned in the classroom, but it exposed me to other initiatives the organization was in involved.  On June the 29th, we visited a little town in Margibi County called Dolo town. The town as Debra had mentioned earlier was one of the towns that was majorly affected by the Ebola Virus. Our mission was to deliver 55 bags of rice which was kindly donated by Save More Kids a nonprofit that was working in Liberia. When we  arrived, we were received by Dr. Abraham Saar Borbor Foundation staff another nonprofit that had been working directly with the widows and orphans in Dolo town.The joy on the women’s faces as they slowly streamed to receive their rice made me reflect on how fortunate I was. I did not need to worry of what to eat, but for these women, it was a challenge.  Majority of the women had been taking care of children whose parents had died due to the virus. One of the first women receiving rice was taking care of 14 children. These widows and orphans were not receiving any form of welfare from the government. The Liberian government is not equipped to take care of them and they are struggling to combat graft and are still recovering from the Civil war and Ebola.


 
F-Sham Faith Academy High School


As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."  As midmonth approached, I was fortunate to visit one of the schools that was a beneficiary of the Foundation for Women school loan program. On the 3rd of July, we visited F-Sham Faith Academy Girls High School to talk to a few students who were undergoing an IT training for the summer. Unfortunately the speaker of the day was not available, and due to this setback, I was requested to say a few words of encouragement to the students. At first I was a bit scared, but once I knew what to say, everything seemed to flow. That single interaction with the students at F-Sham reminded me of how far I have come, and how grateful I am to have been accepted to the Kroc School to pursue a Masters in Peace and Justice. I do realize that the opportunity to make an impact in the world rare.  I believe that holding this master’s degree  will enable me to make a change in the world in one way or the other. 

Doing my internship in Liberia enabled me to connect with previous Graduate Students of the Kroc School. One of the previous graduates had just been awarded Alumni of the year at the Kroc School for the exemplary work he had done since he graduated from the program. Being a Judge in the Ministry of Justice in Liberia meant he came across various criminal and civil cases that pertained to peace and justice. According to the International Crisis Group report in 2009, one of the major causes of the civil war in Liberia was due to a non-transparent judicial system in the country. With Judge Roosevelt Willie taking the charge at the Ministry of Justice to curb corruption, his work was finally recognized by the Kroc school in April as he was honored Alumni of the year.
  

Criminal Court "A"


He gave me tour of the court he presided and connected me with a Human Rights Lawyer, who discussed about the challenges Liberia faced during the civil war. We also visited the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission in Liberia which advocates for the minority and monitors human rights abuses in Liberia. Those single interactions provided me with a larger insight on the challenges that Liberia faces.The Country has truly progressed since the war, but only transparency and democracy will deliver the country to progress further.  As Liberia transitions to an election in October, it is my hope that they have peaceful and credible elections. I not only met with Judge Roosevelt Willie, but was also connected with Woman peacemaker Vaiba Flomo and Kroc School Alumni Fetol Siakor.

As I completed my internship in Liberia, I took the time to visit the National Museum to get a historical feel of how the country had progressed since they gained their independence in 1847. Below are some of the interesting facts i found.

Replica of the ship that brought ex-african american slaves to Liberia

Miss liberia 1963

First President of Liberia







Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Reflection of the Colombian Peace Process





View of Bogota City from hill top
Streets in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota City



The  Hidden Truth  of Bogota City

What is the first thing you notice when you glance at the pictures above? is it the art, the empty road, the buildings? Well, we can all see that! but most importantly what do you see?. The city of Bogota is very beautiful, embellished with a blend of colonial and modern architecture, the city boasts with street art, colossal museums and friendly businessmen and women who make the city what it is. Like any other ordinary city we know, Bogota is a melting pot of people from around the world and locals from diverse cultures. However, the growth and influx of diversity into the city should not be taken as any form of ordinary urbanization. The country has faced a  long protracted conflict between rebel groups and paramilitaries that have nearly displaced a majority of communities in the rural area.

The city doesn't seem to have been impacted by the conflict, however, there is a heavy presence of the military. The heart of the conflict was mainly experienced in the rural areas, where the guerilla groups had much control. As a result, a majority Colombians left their homes and came into the city. The conflict not only tore families apart, but culture was lost. In a Graffiti tour that we attended, paintings were depicted on the wall to illustrate how the conflict had  affected the indigenous group's culture
Street art depicting effects of the conflict

Hopeful For a Peaceful Future?

After decades of conflict, it would be assumed that the Negotiated peace deal was going to borne fruit and bring Colombia out of the conflict. However, the peace agreement only revealed what the common Colombian people felt. Despite the failed Plebiscite the Government went ahead and revised the Peace deal; one month later it was approved by Congress. For many Peace-Builder  Practitioners and the Colombian government, the failed plebiscite was a shock to them. Clearly, the polls were wrong and the Government had underestimated the Colombian population's stance.

  While interacting with locals in Bogotá, I wanted to find out why this comprehensive peace agreement that had been applauded by the whole world had failed. In my inquiry, I realized that awareness of the peace agreement was low. A lot of the locals had either not read the peace agreement or had misinformed. Unsurprisingly this phenomenon was not new to me at all; after all, the majority of African leaders especially in my home country Kenya, have perpetually persuaded locals into voting for them into office through propaganda.



Meeting with the Senator

 During one of our stays in Bogota, we were fortunate to meet a senator who supported  Uribe, the former president of Colombia. Her perspective on the peace agreement was mind boggling. All she ranted about was how the current leader President Juan Santos was a communist. When challenged by one of our fellow students of what she would change in the Peace agreement; she vehemently said that she would overturn everything. At the end of the session I was very much convinced that if the political leaders of Colombia continued on this trend, the hope for a peaceful Colombia may be snuffed out. Political polarization in the near future will have an opinion towards the democracy of the country, state institutions, and the peace agreement. As Colombia approaches their elections in 2018, it is my hope that they will not result in violence.