Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bouncing back...

Much of life here in Liberia is about 'bouncing back' from something-destruction, suffering, loss, sickness-just to name a few.  All of us can think of a time in our life when something happened to us-knocked us off track, or right down in the dirt-and as you sat there you may have mumbled 'how am I going to bounce back from this!'  But we do.  We have family to help us, social systems and safety nets in our country to help us. We have organizations and support groups for every kind of fall or set back-we have firetrucks...

Last week while in Foya-on a nice warm late Saturday afternoon a few of us decided to hop on a couple of dirtbikes and go visit one of our community development staff members.  It would be a good 45 min ride-especially since we (Joni and I) were doubling the other two!  Ten minutes into our journey we entered a village-and saw a big group of people gathered-some wailing and yelling-right away I tensed and got into my 'robot' response-assessing everything that was around me-was there danger-is someone sick or injured and needs care...and then I saw and smelled the smoke.

As we drove to the last few mud houses at the end of the village we saw a home with smoke flooding through the windows, women running with bucket on their heads, men grabbing the buckets to through on the flames...there is no 911 in Foya.  There are no firetrucks in Foya.  Right away we asked if anyone was in the house-thank goodness there wasn't.  However, the rice that the family had harvested was in the house, the money from the ladies savings club was in the house...their clothes, their home all being destroyed before them.

When the men pushed in one of the mud walls the oxygen rich air flooded in causing the flames to shoot higher.  All we could do is stand there-even the people gathering water slowed as they too understood that it was too late-it just had to burn itself out.  Family members were crying-as they know the implications of loosing a home-there is no "Extreme makeover" to come and re-build their home, no food bank to help them out for a few days...

Before we drove off I asked Eleanor our CMP manager if we have pastors or projects in the village.  Much to my relief we do and together we wanted to make sure that this family got help.  SP is going to help this family with some blankets, help replace the savings money that was lost and help with their home.  I look forward to being in Foya next week and checking out how the family is doing-I have no doubt they are 'bouncing back'.  It is at times like this that I am so thankful we work where we do-yes the roads are rough, the work days are long-but through our community development programs we can be that safety net when disaster strikes!  We can truly carry out our name and be the Good Samaritan and extend our hand and help someone bounce back.

Joni and Eleanor on the bike that day...

As for training...well-it seems that a stomach parasite decided to hitch a ride back with me to Monrovia-mister gastrokillus...mercy I was sick!  Without going into great detail-I spent much of one night on the bathroom floor-and I will not be able to eat a hamburger anytime soon :(!!!  As I lay in a nice soft bed-with medicine to kill mister gastrokillus and people to check in on me to make sure I am still alive-I realized how blessed I am to be taken care of.  I have 'bounced back' went for a 5km run yesterday and will keep going on my training as I gain my strength back. 

Yes, we help of a lot of people through our programs, but it is the times in your life when you need help that you realize how important helping really is. Being there to help people 'bounce back' from disasters like a fire-is also part of what we do here at SP Liberia-it was not in our plan that day as we left the office on our bikes- but God had a plan.  I am glad He does and that we can be part of it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Protect my Child...

"Mama Bev" and the kids running club
(photo by: Joni)

Don't mess.  Anyone who is a mom or has/had a mom (that would be everyone...) knows how we feel about protecting our children.  It's that maternal instinct like when you come between a mama Grizzly and her cub...DON'T MESS with my KID!  It's the mama bear in us that kicks in and becomes this  "I can take you and whoever else on right now, right here-and trust me you will be sorry!" 

It's not only when our children are threatened-the same passion turns into the caring nurse who goes without sleep when her kidlets are sick.  This mama bear trait is wired in us-I get very protective and care for my boys (and staff!) and don't like to see any of them be scared, sick, or uncared for...but what about those kids who are not protected?

The not-so serious picture!

Whenever we go out to a community we are surrounded by kids-as their parents work on the farm they are free to roam around anywhere.  However, sometimes we find that kids are sick-with parents unable to provide the care needed for them-sometimes we come across kids being abused. In the city of Monrovia kids are on the streets trying to sell small items and fruit to make money-and again in the worse cases young girls with no parents (or no parents that care) are left to roam the streets at night trying to make enough money to for a meal...

This is the reality of not only Liberia but in many places around the world.  We are very blessed to have a whole sector devoted to child protection-and we also have a children's ministry program that caters to kids in the rural areas we are working in.  Our Child protection program manager is Danielle Carpenter.  Hailing from the wide open skies of Montana-Danielle started as a SP intern working with our VBS program and moved to the program manager position last June.  Another cool fact about Danielle is that she is training for a marathon in Jan!  It has been awesome to train with Danielle when I get the chance and when I can keep up! I am super proud of her discipline and perseverance to get out there and do the hard training it takes to run a marathon. Here is Danielle in action teaching children in one of the rural communities where we have projects.

I love this picture of Danielle teaching from the Word!

Part of our community development includes children and giving parents the tools to protect their kids.  This may mean helping them earn incomes to send their kids to school or to pay for any type of medicine that they need-it may mean a week long kids club teaching kids about a God that loves them so much.  We don't want to leave kids behind in our programming-they are the future of Liberia! 

Staff -Justin playing with some kids in a community.

Whenever we are in communities we usually end up holding a baby or a little child will come along side of us and gently slip their hand into ours..looking for a little love and a little protection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

One step at a time-part 2!

For the past month Liberia has been in the thick of elections. Yes, elections plural as in this country if a candidate does not with 50% +1 of the vote there has to be a run-off between the top two presidential and VP candidates.  I am not going to go into detail about the the parties or the presidential candidates-what I want to reflect on is how one step at a time, through the elections, even when its painful, the journey and reward is so worth it!

There are many people, myself included, that get frustrated with the corruption, the bureaucracy, the amount of time it takes to get things done, not being able to know if people are trying to take advantage of you and steal or if they are genuine-that takes place in Liberia...if you ask ANYONE who has worked and lived here they would say the same thing. Everyday I find myself praying for wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions, to be patient, slow to anger...sigh.  This happens in my own country of Canada too!  However, Liberia, a country re-building after a terrible war-is moving forward one step at a time.

What I am constantly reminding myself is, much like marathon training, it takes time!  You cannot just hop off the couch, without any training and expect to run a painless marathon and feel fine the next day!  (If you can you are lying :).  It is the same for Liberia-roads can't be built overnight, government capacity can't be instantly perfect-you have to go through the sometimes painful steps of starting over, rebuilding, sometimes falling down-but getting back up.  In marathon training-you have good days and bad days, injuries come and then are healed, sometimes you have to push through pain-but step by step we all continue.

SP is part of this journey-in rural areas of Lofa, Gbarpolo, Nimba and River Ghee counties we are walking along with our Liberian brothers and sisters one step at a time to re-build this beautiful country that we love.  Is it hard and frustrating at times?  Yes, yes it is-and is it worth it?  These pictures are my answer...(all pictures by Joni Byker).

I could post hundreds of pictures that would illustrate the reason I run-the reason SP is here!  Again, if I am being honest (wow-being vulnerable today!) My 7 years in Liberia have been some of the hardest, frustrating and exhausting times of my life-BUT it has also been one of the most joyous, fulfilling, pure awesomeness (yes that is a word)!! Taking one step at a time - with great friends, co-workers-and with every Liberian that we have had an opportunity to walk with has been such a privilege.  I have no doubt when I am old (way off in the future) I will look back at this time in my life as one of the peaks, not valley, of my life. 

Being here for two elections, seeing the steps that Mama Liberia has made since 2005-one step at a time-has made me certain that the journey although long has been worth it. As I train-I am reminded that I am also a 'work in progress' -making changes every step of the way to be better-me and Mama Liberia taking one step at a time!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

One step at a time-part 1

Running is all about putting one foot in front of the other-one step at a time towards a goal.  I am constantly reminded of this as I increase my miles and try and get back into the routine of training for the London marathon.  You would think I would get used to the training-but some days it's very hard-and I have to simplify it down to one-step-at-a-time, knowing there is a destination and purpose to what I am doing.

The projects I am running for this year are our 'community development' projects-these projects take time and lead communities through specific training one step at a time.  Here is an example/story of two communities that are taking part in this program.

Last Friday I was invited to speak at a Community Health Education graduation in Karpi and Kimbolou.  These two villages are very close to each other and share a school (a new one is being built by SP), a well (our WASH peeps did this!) and a small mud thatched church.  If you were to visit these two communities today you would be warmly welcomed and see a very harmonious, clean village.  But it wasn't always like this...

Just over two years ago-these two villages were very different places.  Human and animal feces littered the village-to the extent that people would take bush trails around the two villages due to the stench and filth.  People were unwelcoming, no missionary or NGO had lasted very long in Karpi or Kimbolou-all had been chased out or frustrated by the people's lack of desire to help themselves. People in the communities were always fighting sickness and many died. It was just not a very nice place.  But, it was the perfect place for us-it was the perfect place to go and see what God could do through us and to love these communities regardless of their reputation.  It would take a lot of time-so we started the journey-one step at a time.

So there I was last Friday almost 2 years later-watching the community members of Karpi and Kimbolou walking/dancing, singing, celebrating their recent achievement.  These members went through an intensive 9-11 months of training on Community health/development.  Led by two of our Liberian staff members James and Joseph (who live in these villages) the community members were led through training - on when and how to wash your hands, how to pen your animals, how to build dish racks to keep clean dishes off the ground-putting up clothes lines (no more drying clean clothes on the dirty ground!), building their own latrines, sweeping their yards, building garbage pits and much more!  And guess what?  Step by step the people of Karpi and Kimbolou changed...

The CHE grads of Karpi and Kimbolou

As I sat and listened to many of the testimonies by the grads I was incredibly encouraged.  One lady said that in the past when the Government sanitation officer would come to assess their villages everyone would be afraid and go out to their farm so they were not around when he came.  But this year when he came -he was shocked-he couldn't believe that these were the same villages!  He was so impressed to see that the villages were clean, animals were in their pens, houses were fashioned with dish racks and clothes lines...Pride oozed from this women as she told us this story-and once again I was amazed at what God can do when we decide to take one step at a time in His power.

The Cheif from Karpi receiving his certificate

It was not easy to make these changes-James and Joseph have lived and been part of these villages and have worked incredibly hard.  They have been an example of God's love, mercy and grace all the while teaching the people the amazing story of God's grace.  They believed in the people of Karpi and Kimbolou-we at SP trusted and empowered them to go out take time and do their job.  The people saw this. No other NGO or mission organization had done it like this-no one was so willing to just 'be' with them and walk with them one step at a time.

Surrounded by my people!  (left) is Joseph (not in a white t-shirt) and James is on the right.  The country cloth dress was a gift for me-I know you all want one! :)

Reaching a goal, helping people change for the better, training for a marathon-these things take time.  However, we are asked to just take that step of faith, and keep walking one step at a time-reaching little goals along the way, working through the hardships and frustrations (the blog entry "longest day of  my life" was on a trip to Karpi and Kimbolou-the road is not easy-oh!), knowing that a bigger reward lays ahead.  For the people of Karpi and Kimblou that reward has come in the transformation of their communities-the transformation of their hearts-and you can see it! 

A while ago the people of Karpi and Kimbolou gave Taya, Joni, and I village names.  Taya is 'Tawa' -Joni is 'Kumba Karpi' (second born girl of Karpi) and I am 'Siah Kimbolou' (First born girl of Kimbolou).  I am so proud of these communities, my people, and the steps they took to improve their lives and their community.  I, Siah Kimbolou, run for these people, my people, one step at a time.

PS-I want to thank all of those in Salmon Arm who have supported our work in Karpi and Kimbolou and to those who have come to spend time with the people-they still talk about you and the huge blessing you were and are to them.  Shout out to the hometown!