Dear FOL Members and Supporters,
Hello from your new FOL president! You may know that after fourteen years of outstanding leadership as FOL president, Stephanie Vickers stepped down at the end of 2016. We have made the transition to a new organizational structure, and are grateful that several FOL officers remain in their positions. Stephanie continues to participate on the Education Committee and is available when we need advice or assistance (thank goodness). Our Annual Report for 2016, available here, provides details about our new structure and much more information than the highlights we have included in this bulletin about the programs you help support.
In response to many requests from FOL members, we would like to share some news from Liberia. Although there are many online Liberian news sources, one of our members has provided a summary that we think you will appreciate. If you like it, we will try to send you some updates during the next few months. Let us know!
Liberians again confront change
Liberians are on a journey that began as devastating civil wars ended in 2003 and was interrupted in 2014 when the country became ground zero for the Ebola crisis. Those twin calamities of war and disease had devastating and continuing consequences for the quality of life of Liberians. In an economy that has had negative growth since the Ebola crisis, it is as difficult as ever for the government to fund basic services and for Liberians to make ends meet.
Yet, there is reason for Liberians to be hopeful. The country has remained peaceful and stable for the twelve years since the election of Africa’s first female President in 2005. Health systems are better prepared to deal with future crisis. Education, despite huge challenges in quality and delivery, remains an aspirational priority for Liberians.
And, on October 10, a historic milestone can be reached when presidential and legislative elections take place. Credible elections and a transfer of power in January 2018 would be the first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another since 1944. In furtherance of that outcome, twenty out of twenty-two registered political parties committed on June 4 to violence-free elections in October and a peaceful transition to a new government. The National Election Commission has registered 2.1 million voters and begun to set-up a polling and voter education infrastructure. The last day for the nomination of candidates by registered political parties and applications by independent candidates is 11 July, and the official campaign period is July 31 to October 8. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, there will be a run-off vote shortly thereafter.
Many candidates are vying to take the place of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, including her Vice President, Joseph Boakai, a long-time supporter of Peace Corps. He was taught by PCVs as a boy in Lofa County. Also currently said to be in the running are former footballer George Weah, Charles Brumskine (a former President Pro Temp of the Senate), Alexander Cummings (former Executive Vice President and CEO of Coca-Cola), Benoni Urey and other businessmen, and a former warlord (Prince Johnson). One female candidate, MacDella Cooper, is a former model and philanthropist. Probable running mates include a very interesting array, as well.
Liberians are encouraged that the U.N. Security Council extended the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) through March 2018. UNMIL’s peacekeeping forces have been dramatically drawn down from a force size of 18,000 back in 2012 to a present level of 434 military personnel and 310 U.N. police. While the force is consolidated in Monrovia, it retains a quick response capability that can deploy up to three platoons anywhere in the country, while military observers regularly conduct patrols throughout the country. Most Liberians feel more secure with UNMIL’s presence pre- and post-elections.
For over three decades, since 1986, Friends of Liberia has been an important voice supporting Liberia in times of war, crisis, and hope. The upcoming election process is so critical that we will increase our monitoring of the progress in Liberia over the coming months, and where we see lapses, we will report and advocate for international support or actions by Liberians to ensure that Liberians have the resources to consolidate peace and democracy through this year’s election.
Success of the Family Literacy Initiative (FLI)
Although the deep cuts in U.S. foreign aid have reportedly caused many U.S.-based non-governmental organizations operating programs in Liberia to begin draw downs, FOL has been able to expand its FLI pre-school preparation program, thanks to FOL member donations and grants. Now in its second year, FLI — in partnership with FOL, WE-CARE Foundation, and HIPPY International — had 120 families enrolled as of January, serving 123 children. An additional six Home Visitors, the unique element of the program, were hired from the communities to work with first-year families. One of the very positive outcomes this year was that the parents who are involved in teaching their children have overwhelmingly indicated they want adult courses to supplement their own literacy. FOL’s Education Working Group (EWG) is exploring ways to do this, which will require additional funding sources.
FOL hopes to find a partner organization in Liberia that will assist with this aspect, to help improve the participating families’ adult literacy rates. We know that this is a critical need in Liberia, as a whole generation’s education was practically lost by the years of war. We hope that our members will continue to support FLI and consider an additional donation specifically to help begin a literacy program for the adult caregivers in the families.
In year three, FOL will add an additional community in order to ensure that there are 60 new three-year-olds added as planned for each year. Our partner WE-CARE is researching which community would be most supportive of the project and have the demographics to add children for years to come. The evaluation reports encourage sustainability of the program and continued expansion if required funding is identified.
Fact-finding for a Health Initiative
The FOL and Liberia-based Health Team is in the process of collecting data about specific continuing education needs of faculty of the schools of nursing and midwifery. FOL members who have recently been on the faculty of such institutions were convinced by their Liberian colleagues that this was the area both needing attention most and feasible for FOL to address. Results of the data analysis will be reported to the FOL Board of Trustees and recommendations for a potential FOL project will be discussed and reported in a later member letter.
The Small Grants Program
With international aid groups pulling out of Liberia, it is more important than ever to build the capacity and sustainability of local Liberian non-profit organizations. FOL small grants of up to $3,000 have helped a wide variety of groups, but until recently, they could only go to an organization once. The grants committee has amended the criteria to allow worthy recipients to apply for a second year of funding to finish a project, evaluate, or do feasibility studies for future work. The new FOL Entrepreneurship Committee is exploring how small grants might encourage capacity-building and cooperative investments. Accountability and transparency by selected groups is essential. Visit our small grants section to read about the work of the local organization recipients.
Award for Bush Chicken
In June, the Press Union of Liberia presented five awards for outstanding service to the online news source, Bush Chicken. The co-founders of Bush Chicken are two former FOL board members, Jefferson Krua and Tori Krua. The Bush Chicken name is inspired by both the inclusive coverage of rural communities and the idea that the outlet will serve as a wake-up call on important issues.
Bush Chicken aims to produce properly researched and well-written news articles. It pays its journalists well to ensure that they can focus on writing with minimal conflicts of interests. It also does investigative journalism to ensure that stories about controversial subjects are covered.
Please join us in support of Friends of Liberia programs
FOL’s nominating committee encourages you to let them know if you might be interested in being part of our all-volunteer leadership team. We need a Communications Director urgently, but have other opportunities for those who want to serve, also. Questions? Please write email@example.com with “Don Drach” in the subject line.
Are you like me? I am so annoyed by many organizations that write me multiple times a month requesting donations, I now just throw them out, unopened! FOL only writes twice a year to request your (tax-deductible) financial support, which is essential. We welcome donations at any time, of course, and our website offers many methods of payment, including checks. We really appreciate those of you who have chosen to make recurring monthly gifts. Donations may be designated for specific projects, or be given to the general fund and spread to all of our programs. Memorial gifts are a wonderful way to honor a loved one, and please remember FOL in your own wills. As many groups reduce their Liberian imprint, it is more important than ever for small people-powered organizations such as FOL to continue the kind of collaborations that build local capacity while addressing specific needs of Liberians.
If you have not contributed in years, why not participate with us again? If there is a reason, or you have questions or suggestion, please do write me. I want to know what is on the minds of our members, and address these if possible. If you perhaps respond to an incentive to contribute, you are in luck! When you donate at the $50 or $100+ level, we will send you a very special Thank You gift — details below! These will be available with your donation received through Labor Day, or until supplies are gone. (You may decline the gift, of course.)
Please celebrate your role as a FOL member and help further our impact in Liberia!
I look forward to hearing from you.
President, Friends of Liberia
Yours with a $50 donation
Liberian Cookhouse Cooking is a continuing favorite of many FOL members and a great gift to introduce people from all parts of the world to the main dishes of this West African country, even newlyweds! It is filled with original recipes, black and white drawings, and pictures of the people, food, and various aspects of Liberia’s history — plus brief glimpses into Liberian folklore and descriptions of prominent staples in Liberia’s culinary delights. All proceeds will go to FOL. Paperback, 169 pages. Edited by FOL educator Joan Keenan in 2008, a copy will be sent to those contributing between $50 and $99 until supplies are exhausted.
Yours with a $100 (or more!) donation by Labor Day, Sept. 4th
A Silhouette of Liberia: Photographs: 1974-1977 is a beautiful new book by photographer Michael Lee. It is a compilation of soulful and haunting color and black and white photos taken while Mike was a PCV, accompanied by his personal, historical, and anthropological insights into the Liberia he encountered in the years before the overthrow of the Tolbert government. Mike has offered to donate all proceeds from this offer to FOL, above the direct cost and mailing. He has been a long-time supporter of FOL, even hosting a fund-raiser in Montana to benefit the Ebola crisis. Once the book is marketed on Amazon, he will not be able to make FOL this offer, so please donate your $100 or more before Labor Day and the book will be sent to you as soon as it comes from the publisher.