News Archives

Liberia reconstruction proceeds slowly

 


Feb. 18, 2004

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - With renewed pledges of assistance from donor countries, the reconstruction of war-ravaged Liberia is slowly getting under way.

For United Methodists inside and outside that West African nation, reconstruction means restoring basic services at Ganta Hospital, a premier church institution nearly destroyed in the last round of fighting; repairing churches and school buildings; resettling church members and other displaced Liberians and assisting in the reintegration of combatants, particularly child soldiers, into society.

After the August exile of Liberian president Charles Taylor, who began the country’s civil war in 1989, the country is trying to initiate a long-term peace. The Liberian United Methodist Annual Conference is still taking stock of which church property has been damaged over that period, according to Edwin Clarke Jr., conference communications director.

"Right now, there is a need for reconstruction of several churches around the country and the resettlement of members who are displaced internally as well as externally," he reported to United Methodist News Service in February. "Most of our schools up country were either looted or burned. These also will have to be reconstructed."

Among the schools damaged, according to Operation Classroom, a United Methodist mission program for West Africa, are the Arthur F. Kulah School in the town of Virginia, the Henri W. Dennis School in Toopoe Village, and the C.W. Duncan School in Clara Town. The schools suffered looting, and bullets and rocket grenades damaged walls and roofs.

United Methodist-related university buildings in Monrovia, located in a battleground between government troops and opposition forces, also need extensive repair. People taking refuge in the buildings used chairs and other furniture for firewood.

Some of the worst destruction occurred at Ganta Hospital, about 128 miles from the capital city of Monrovia. But Herbert and Mary Zigbuo, missionaries assigned by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, are working to reopen part of the facility by March 15.

With the first battalion of U.N. peacekeepers deployed to Ganta on Feb. 2, security has improved in northeastern Liberia. "We’ve been able to make four trips to Ganta," the Zigbuos reported in a Feb. 12 e-mail message. "There is much destruction of property, and people are slowly returning there now that the U.N. peacekeeping force is there."

Security remains a prime concern for those assisting in Liberia’s reconstruction, according to Jim Cox, executive director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief Nongovernmental Organization. "Disarmament is absolutely key," he said. "Everybody is a little bit frozen until that process can get going."

It is crucial, he added, for the U.N. peacekeeping force, currently at only about 65 percent of expected levels, to expand. A smaller peacekeeping force, he explained. "inhibits the ability to get out into the regions."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief NGO is assisting the U.N.’s World Food Program with emergency food distribution in Liberia, particularly at camps for displaced people. A container shipment from the agency’s Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., has provided health kits, layettes and used clothing.

Cox said the agency has a proposal for an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to distribute seed and farm tools in Liberia that is "all but signed" and will work on water and sanitation issues at refugee camps if funding becomes available.

At a Feb. 5-6 "International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia," hosted by the United Nations in New York, representatives from 96 countries and 45 organizations pledged $520 million to assist with reconstruction and humanitarian needs in Liberia. According to the U.N. news service, the representatives agreed "on an inclusive, community-based approach to reintegration and reconstruction which fully incorporates the needs of all segments of the population affected by the conflict, with special focus on women and children."

Cox said the relief agencies are pleased with the commitment, but a bit discouraged because the funding is being allocated for longer-term development and not the immediate emergency needs that remain.

He called the plans for disarmament and reintegration "critical for the next step." As a Human Rights Watch report, released Feb. 2, pointed out, donor governments need to fully fund a planned program to demobilize and reintegrate former child soldiers into Liberian society.

The report, "How to Fight, How to Kill: Child Soldiers in Liberia," found that both the government and two opposition forces there forcibly recruited boys and girls as young as 9 as soldiers - a violation of the Geneva Convention and a war crime under the International Criminal Court’s statute, which Liberia ratified in October. Girl soldiers also suffered from rape and sexual assault.

Churches are involved in all levels of Liberia’s revitalization. Gyude Bryant, chairman of Liberia’s interim government, acknowledged that fact when he attended the U.N. conference. Bryant, a lay leader of Liberia’s Episcopal Church, thanked U.S. church leaders for their support and expressed optimism about the long-term resilience of the Liberian people.

The Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of Church World Service, was part of the meeting with Bryant at the Episcopal Church Center, near the headquarters of the United Nations in New York.

McCullough said Bryant "sees the church as a strong link between the peoples of Liberia and the United States."

Donations to the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Liberia can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 150300, Liberia Emergency. Checks can be placed in church collection plates or mailed to the agency at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling toll free (800) 554-8583.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

First Name:*
Last Name:*
Email:*
ZIP/Postal Code:*
Question:*

*InfoServ ( about ) is a service of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW


Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.