Sunday, October 24, 2010

2nd of 3 (or maybe 4?) -part camp series

Just to clarify, I’m not in a constant state of anger, frustration or depression. Some people were concerned from the last blog entry – but, in fact, I’m fine. The anger and frustration are just related to my involvement with the SMATVTC (and maybe a couple of other situations). Depression is not in the picture at all. I’ve got good people around me, making it possible to do what we do.

Elizabeth is one of these people. I’ve known her since 2004 when I first began working on the camp. She is somehow employed as a “volunteer” or something like that with UNHCR. So, she gets some compensation (I think it’s called a “stipend”, since she’s a refugee and can’t officially get a salary – but it’s possible I’m wrong on this, and it’s not the point, anyway) for work she does. When I first came to know her she was the contact person for the UN for work being done with people with disabilities on the camp. She was also one of the counselors at the women’s counseling center. At this time, she’s in charge of Harmony, an organization for people with disabilities on the camp, and which also teaches some vocational skills – sewing, baking, and I’m not sure what else – not just to people with disabilities, but to whoever’s interested. Through Harmony, there’s also an afternoon program for children with disabilities – mostly with multiple disabilities – and some of the other community children who are interested also can join these classes.

Years ago, we did well in dividing the work. Liliane Fonds, for which I was the mediator, helped people with disabilities under the age of 25 years. Elizabeth referred people in this category to me, and I referred older people to Elizabeth. We sometimes went to the orthopedic center together, occasionally met and discussed work – but we didn’t see each other too often at that time. Over those 3 ½ years of being “colleagues”, I didn’t get as much time with her or to know her as well as I have in the past year. I was busy with the deaf school and all else going on, and she was busy in the niche that she took care of.

Last year when I was moved back to Accra for Hope for Life and for following up with the SMATVTC and the deaf children still on the camp, the SMA lay person who was involved with Harmony was leaving and asked if I could also be involved there. Harmony gets monthly funding from Point Hope for the afternoon program that they have with the kids – it sounded great to me. It was a project already going on, already organized and already funded. And I’d be working with Elizabeth, who I already knew and respected, and with Thomas – who I also knew from years ago (his family had been killed in Liberia and he was in Ghana with his aunt; one day, on a trotro coming back to the camp from Accra, there was a nasty accident just in front of the camp – Thomas was the only one to survive, his aunt and all other passengers were killed. He wasn’t unharmed, though, and now walks with a slight limp and is unable to do hard, physical work – another story for another blog entry).

Thomas, in the Harmony office

The little group running Harmony (there’s a third man, slightly older and also with a disability), keep their project going. I don’t know all that’s involved, my focus is mostly on the afternoon program and being the link with Point Hope. Elizabeth is still the contact person for a lot of the people with disabilities on the camp. She’s always this calm, classy, simple and compassionate woman – yet strong and in-charge without being forceful about any of it. A beautiful mix – and a beautiful woman.

The last time I saw Elizabeth was 1 ½ weeks ago. I was coming to the camp, as we had planned, to discuss a few things, and to collect the monthly donation from Point Hope. She wasn’t at Harmony, which wasn’t strange – she’s often out for something the UN has called her to follow-up on. I had other things to do, so while calling her to let her know I’d be back, she rounded a corner, hurriedly walking my direction. We met and I’ve never seen her in this kind of “frantic mode”. Turns out the UN had called that morning and told her she needed to come immediately. When she arrived at the UN office, she was told she needed to gather 15 of the people from the groups for which she is responsible (the people with disabilities, women, and maybe some others), and tell them that they needed to come immediately that morning to the UN office for some kind of program/meeting/discussion.

Ah yes – the building up of people and the treating of people with dignity again. “We know you have no lives outside of us – so therefore, even though we’ve known of this meeting since last week – we will tell you to drop your lives and come running when we say RUN!!” And Elizabeth was running. And sweating. And not in her usual,calm, non-flustered mode. She was angry at being treated this way and yet having to respond. She was angry at being put in the position to treat 15 other people this way and then be on the receiving end of their justified anger at being treated as though they have no lives.

Money is needed to do relief work, but how it’s administered is just as important, if not more so, than the money itself. If projects are put into place, but people are treated as though they have no dignity and their daily lives have no importance, as though their only response when asked to “RUN!!” can be to reply, “how fast and how far?” – then how are we building up people who have been torn down by war, famine, disaster, whatever? When people are treated as though their lives have no value beyond the interaction they can have with a donor organization – then are we building up the essentials? Are we building up lives – restoring dignity, self-worth, self-esteem – qualities that are needed to be restored to give people a sense of control back into their lives?

Years ago money had been donated to UN to build a school. It didn’t matter how many schools were already in existence on the camp. It didn’t matter that most of these schools had staff in need of further training. It didn’t matter that most of these schools had no teaching materials, no textbooks, and a serious lack of educational supplies. It didn’t matter that yet another school wasn’t what was needed – and that the improvement of existing schools would actually bring up the quality of education received. So – a beautiful new school building was constructed - - - which then sat vacant for over 6 months because there was absolutely no need for it. The donors got their school. People on the ground were not consulted about the actual needs – people thousands of miles away decided what was needed and made sure they met the need that they had determined was the greatest.

About 2 years ago Elizabeth’s house on the camp burnt down. It could have been arson, or it could have been an accident. For safety, she moved to a nearby town, where just recently her rent has again come due. People usually need to pay their rent at least two years in advance – it’s a huge sum of money to come up with all at one time when you can barely make ends meet from month to month on the “stipend” that you’re allotted. Everyone has side things going on – little money- making efforts here and there. Still – it’s a struggle. This same day 1 ½ weeks ago after we met each other on the “road” and I then swiftly walked with the frustrated Elizabeth, she told me some of these struggles for rent (the landlord’s been coming and has given her a deadline and she has no idea where to turn) and getting by day-to-day. We got back to the Harmony office and she told me she’s also thinking of leaving her position – she’s had enough of being treated this way for practically no pay at all. I’ve seen her passionate about the people she’s involved with – going above and beyond most fully paid staff members. She cares and is involved with the lives she’s touching. But she also needs to think of her own health and her family (she was recently diagnosed with lumbar spondylosis and she also has 4 children).

I don’t know what her final decision will be – either way, she’s one of the people who has made my life and the things I do on the camp not only possible, but pleasant. Please keep her in your thoughts, hearts and prayers.


At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Steve,
Thank you for your great blog. You really do well. Thank you for all you do for our Liberian Brothers and Sisters at the Camp. Not to mention, your tireless wonderful work with the HFL members. You are an inspiration.
Thanks for all you do!
Guess who!

At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know 2 years rent in Ghana is huge in Ghana. BUT, I also know that in US terms it is not so much. How much is Elizabeth's rent per month in cedis and US dollars? I can cover one month for such a dedicated woman who is helping so many. I'm sure there ae 23 other readers of your blog who can do the same. So, tell us how much and how do we send it through SMA so as not to waste a bunch of money on bank transfers.

Me (your wedding date)
I was truly shcked when I looked at the blog and didn't see MY picture! (laugh !!!!)


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