Saturday, November 14, 2009

I’m going to jump to another place – not Nkoranza, not my leave in the U.S., not where I currently am (Accra and Hope for Life), but back to the camp and over to Liberia.

Since even before I left the refugee camp, people have been encouraged to return to Liberia. Many have, but there’s still a significant number who haven’t. This is an update for a couple of people I’ve written about in the past who are now back in Liberia.

I’ve written about Samuel several times in the past (but, I'm not linking to any of those stories because I'm trying to find them quickly and am having a hard time finding them). He’s the one I’ve known for about 1000 years (since 1993), who I’ve seen struggle through and then build himself up from difficult situations time and again. There’s a story about him at this site (but you need to scroll down a bit) – the version in French is what he wrote and is much better written and more accurate than the translation that someone else has done in English.

A friend of mine helped him get through University – other donations from friends helped with some unexpected expenses that arose during his education. Just before the end of last year, after completing his studies, his wife and son returned to Liberia while Samuel remained to pack up their things that wouldn’t be easily replaced in Liberia (primarily text books). He also needed to follow through on his final project, making sure all copies went to where they were needed, that it followed the correct format, etc. Then in February this year he returned to Liberia – where he found it wasn’t so easy to get a job. And then he found that, in spite of staying and following his project through to the end, there were problems with the final result.

But, to sum up the story – he will officially graduate on the 14th – sadly, he won’t be here to walk across the platform and be handed his documents. There’s not enough money for the transport (he’s got some other priorities going on – his family, for one). And he’s also just been hired by Save the Children. So, good things are happening for him – it’s exciting.

Another guy I’ve written about in the past is Otis (another past update on Otis is here). He’s the one who’s a tailor and also does “designing” (which usually means machine embroidering). He does some good work. A little over a year ago he returned to Liberia. It was a long process. He wanted to return earlier, but then was told he could get into a program to help set up his business, and something something something, and he ended up shipping all his equipment back, but then being interminably delayed here by the “helping” organization(s). In the end, no help came through from this group, so he found his way back to Liberia, and met his equipment waiting for him there. His getting through this process of shipping his equipment [not a cheap task, and it included some sewing machines, embroidery machine, generator, knitting machine (that’s the thing that stitches up the ends of the cloth so they don’t unravel)] and then being delayed for a few months with no means of supporting himself was helped by some other friends. (Timing is always perfect – I’ve talked of that in the past – a donation comes when it’s most needed, it seems. This time the friends who sent the donation ended up being the brother and sister-in-law of the friend who had at one time helped Otis to buy one of his machines. So it was nice – kind of coming full circle, staying in the family, etc.)

So he got back to Liberia and was finally able to rent a place where he could start his business.

And gradually it built up and he was doing well for himself. Then suddenly, his sister died. And Otis was the working member of the family, all eyes and open palms turned in his direction to help with the funeral business. That barely finished when his father also fell sick – and again, those eyes were looking his way and the palms were looking to be papered by him. He needed to basically pawn his generator to get the money he needed to help his father. He told me the story and I gave him a hard time for giving up the one thing he most needed to be able to ensure his income in the future.

But it’s a system I can never fully understand. It’s a system very different than the one from where I come. It often seems to be a system that operates a lot on fear – fear of reprisals, fear of poisoning, fear of being “witched”, etc. So – out of fear, people do what’s expected of them, even if what’s expected can seem unfair and if what’s expected holds a person back from getting ahead and moving on in life.

So, this is what was happening with Otis – this system had these expectations of him – and that has led him to do things that will hold him back. But again, things worked out well and a donation came after a few months. He had already worked it out that the person to whom he’d pawned his generator was allowing him to use it – but he had a deadline to pay the balance of the money. Fortunately – another donation came just as needed and he was able to keep the generator.

After all of this, he’s decided he needs to move on – he can’t stay where he is because these expectations will always be on him and he’ll never be able to advance in the way he’d like to do. He very much wants to return to school to study fashion designing. Either that, or at the same time as school, he’d like to return to Ghana, or any other country that would give him some distance from these expectations, to set up his business again. He told me of a school in the States – but it’s pretty expensive. I also know of a school in Ghana (the guy who took over the running of the sheltered workshop where I was the past couple of years attended this school). Again – finances.

He wrote a story for me to share with people who might be interested or able to help him out – but I can’t do that. The story refers to and criticizes a few things, situations, groups, and individuals about which and whom I don’t know enough or have any kind of evidence to support putting all into the blog. That’s why I’ve chosen to do my own summary of what I know about him.

He also sent a few pictures to share, showing his current workshop:


At 6:43 PM, Blogger MJ said...

It's always great to read your blog and see how things are going--and in this case to see how some of the people I've been reading and hearing about (when you were home) are doing. It's so good to see good things happening for them.

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