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Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Unique Education on a Liberian Refugee Settlement - Page 2

Written by Hannah Garrard
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“My Story” 

As a young Liberian on a refugee camp, who listens to you? Who answers your questions about what will happen to you in the future? Your story is one of thousands, both hauntingly familiar and at the same time uniquely complex.  I’d asked my students to write me their story, in any way they wished- pictures, narrative, whatever they felt comfortable with, they didn’t have to tell me where or how they had come to Buduburam, I just wanted to know who they were. 

I was mortified though, when none of my students handed in their assignments. I asked a colleague what I was doing wrong, had I asked too much of them?  “The problem is language,” my colleague told me. “Try speaking like a Liberian.” The following day I traded “assignment” for “ assanmen!” in that seductive west African drawl (although we were united by a common language, our respective accents made communication sometimes impossible). The following day I was flooded with the pictures and stories I’d asked of them. I read through them that night in my room, both overwhelmed and captivated by their personal narratives they had chosen to share, and their powers of expression. Six years on, I still have them with me, and return to them from time to time. 

“…On my way to Ghana I saw many towns and villages. We left Tobu at 10pm, and got to Abidjan the next morning. There were fine bridges, streets, and lovely people. I was five years old at the time. I was happy because I was going to Ghana, but sad because I was leaving my little baby brother, Grand mom, cousins, sister, friends and teachers back home…” (grade six student)

“…I am not pleased living here, because every day, every night the prices are going up, getting expensive. My mother is a teacher, my father is a mechanic but I don’t know his whereabouts. Sometimes I follow my uncle to the beach, I feel free, having a good time and taking a cool glass of juice…” (grade 6 student)

“..I do not enjoy life in Ghana, because when we came to Ghana things were not fine with us. Sometimes we find it difficult even to eat. I have never lived this kind of life before in my home.”

My own understanding and education about life on the camp came from my Grade 6 class. I am forever grateful that I was made privy to their turbulent histories. It was through them that I came to understand the far reaching complexity of the problems displaced communities experience; out of touch with their own culture, and destined to return to a place that they have no tangible memory of.

The Future 

Six years on, and the school is still busting with students who have no alternative schooling. Relocation has been made possible with the help of an American donor, and a Carolyn A Miller school is now in Monrovia, and more plans for building have begun for a boarding school and small farm.  Some of my students from my grade six class will have returned to Liberia on those iconic UNHCR buses that left daily for Monrovia from outside the camp, and have hopefully begun to build their lives. Some of them will have reached adulthood by now, and I also know that some of them won’t have. 

The day I left the camp brought with it huge amounts of useless guilt- walking away was so easy for me by virtue of my birthplace, and for many months afterwards I struggled with reconciling myself against what I actually achieved by volunteering on Buduburam. Although I arrived naïve to the realities of hardship for Liberian refugees, I left with a greater understanding of how naïve the developed world really is to the problems displaced communities such as Liberia face. Although the immediate problems like shelter, food and emergency health care was met with UNHCR aid, there is still a decade and half of brutality to be reckoned with. It is these complex, far reaching and generational issues that Karrus Hayes and his team have devoted their life to resolving, and that is why I continue to support his mission.  

© Hannah Garrard

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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