Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

So our first year is “fini.” True, we have been here a year and a half, but the first few months were all about getting accustomed to life on the West African coast. 2006 saw adjustment, and we began in earnest what we came here to do. For those of you who wonder what we do here besides hang around the porch and collect animals, here is a list of activities that kept us feeling useful in 2006. For those of you who support us in any way, from the US, Canada, or Liberia, include yourself in the “we.” Some of you may have seen a similar list in our Christmas letter. If so, feel free to feel good all over again. Working together, "we..."

* helped facilitate a budding partner relationship between Calvin and Kuyper Colleges with Mother Patern College of Health Sciences working to develop Liberia’s first professional social work program.

* trained through LEAD 90 businesses in three twelve week courses, distributed business loans and saw new jobs created.

* developed and taught 3 new college courses for the upcoming Mother Patern BSW curriculum.

* Worked with the Liberian Ministries of Health and Education, to forward key progress toward improving national mental health standards and service for the future.

* assisted in the creation of community development association in our area— The Foster Town Community Development Association. (FoCDA). Three community workshops were offered by FoCDA, with attendance over a hundred at each. More coming.

* are lending our heads and hands as the community establishes a market. Currently people travel miles to get daily food; donations from Madison members have been used to secure land and start building a structure and tables-- allowing many to shop near home.

* taught and trained in a dozens of workshops, ranging from two hours to two weeks long, offered to hundreds of people in settings throughout Liberia—topics: counseling skills, psychosocial skills, classroom management, phonics, teacher/student and teacher/parent relationships, Reformed theology, alleviating poverty, starting a business, church leadership.

* participated in establishing neighborhood watch groups, in partnership with the local police station.

* are helping facilitate partnerships between 2 local schools and Millbrook Christian and Beaver Dam Christian in Michigan. Letters exchanged, money raised for school improvements.

* providing ongoing monthly support of local orphanage: school scholarships and uniforms plus food money for 37 children.

* raised funds for two new roofs—one on a local church, the other on a local home, and a new pump-head for a neighborhood well.

* established a new community library (our living room) – at least 30 books and games loaned weekly to neighborhood kids.

* are sponsoring and lending our enormous athletic talent to the Eleven Dangerous Dwarves – the local boy’s soccer team.

* have placed hundreds of band-aids placed on cuts, given out thousands of pinches and administered countless “conks” to dozens of little heads.

* distributed scads of clothing, Bibles, books, toys, educational materials, loans, school scholarships, gifts to families for various needs (funerals, sickness, housing, etc.).

We have said it before many times. The Reeds are in Liberia as servants, mostly doing what we can to help others—from the US, Canada, and Liberia—as they work to rebuild this nation. I think of us all as builders and farmers, creating structures for the future, planting crops that produce for many years to come. We are in this together, and we are humbled to be a part of the effort.

May 2007 see more building, more planting, and more fruit.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Blogger is finally up again after a week of not letting us in, so here we are. We try to give you news at least once a week, so if it has been longer than that, it's almost always a technical glitch. Here is our Christmas entry, which has been updated a bit.

We are in a quieting down mode these last few days. LEAD and Mother Patern College are taking a break, school is out for a few weeks, and even though rogue activity is up again, we are responding with a night time neighborhood watch. It seems much quieter than last year. It feels like Liberia is healing.

Monrovia is a crazy town as shoppers flood the street side markets looking for gifts for family and friends. Here, as in America, Christmas is too much about buying and getting. It is tough to watch the pressure Liberians put on each other to “give me my Christmas,” especially with such extreme poverty and unemployment. So the Reeds are avoiding the city at all costs, and happy to live far enough away not to feel the chaos.

Back home, we are taking things in stride. Our struggling generator, a very generous gift from our friends Mary and Ron Van Valkenberg, finally gave up the ghost after fourteen months of suffering the effects of Liberia’s salty humidity and terrible gasoline. Yet even living without electricity for many days during the last month was ok. The evenings were quiet, and the candlelight was nice. The new, much smaller and simpler generator we bought Monday is humming along beautifully. All’s well that ends well.

The living room is decorated with cut-out snowflakes and birthday wishes for Jesus, and we even have a two foot high plastic tree adorning one of our end tables. Christmas day, we’ll have our traditional birthday party for Jesus and enjoy a meal of chicken thighs and legs (we never see chicken breasts here)m mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread dressing, canned green beans and homemade apple and chocolate cream pie.

As we enjoy the breather, enjoy these cheery Christmastime images.

Noah and Trokon building a palm leaf hut. Planning a camp out soon. Getting help from Christmas elves. Why are they white?

Trokon up the plam tree cutting down a ripe bunch of palm nuts. Palm butter and dried fish! Yum! A holiday treat!

Hannah and Andrew. I'm watching him like a hawk.

Time for Christmas cookies-- hold the palm oil.

The next door neighbor pup and the monkey making out under the mistly tow. Look, I know its holly, but these guys use any excuse they can.

The monk and Renita enjoying an elf fly-by.

Christmas morn, sunrise in the Reed home. We caught the elves trying to rip us off.

They say there is a resemblance, but this picture proves otherwise.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ground Breaking Stuff

I mentioned a while ago that FoCDA, our very own community development association, is hard at work to get our neighbors involved in making Foster Town/Thinkers Village a cohesive community. A few months ago they agreed that the neighborhood needed a market, where people could buy and sell food and other general store items. In Liberia, as it is throughout much of Africa, most people have no electricity, no way to refrigerate food. Someone must go to a local market every day for that day's meals. Currently the nearest market to us is miles away and means people with very little money must find it daily to pay for transportation for food.

Now, thanks to to some very active Liberian friends and neighbors at FoCDA, and a few American supporters, a Foster Town Market will soon be a reality. The ground breaking was Friday the 8th, and folks are busily clearing the land and preparing to build the structure.

Foster Town and Thinkers Village friends and neighbors gather for the ground breaking.

Rev Augustine Zar digs into the sand in front of the large field that will become a community market. If all goes as planned, this will make daily life easier for several thousand people living in the area.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What does the President of Liberia, Gender Based Violence, A New Book, HIV-AIDS and a Monkey Have in Common?

UPDATED 12/11/06
They were all a part of a very busy Reed week. On Thursday, the Reeds were invited to attend a Presidential launching of a new effort to combat the significant gender based violence problem in the country. In partnership with several UN agencies, this effort will hopefully be a major step toward bringing peace and justice to the country.
At the launching, the President also announced a new book put together by my dear friends, Grace Boiwu, head of the Mother Patern College Women's Program, and Barbara Brillant, Dean of MPC. Grace and Sr. Barbara both spoke at the event.

On Friday, we all joined MPCHS as it celebrated World AIDS Day. School children from ten or so Catholic schools put on a great show, and the day ended with sports and games. We brought a few neighborhood kids along with us. It was inspiring to see these kids speaking out on the subject. 9 out of 10 kids with AIDS are in sub-Saharan Africa.

And the Monkey? She was a major part of our week. On Tuesday, some neighborboys brought a monkey—specifically a “white eyelid” mangabey (Cercocebus fuliginosusto) to us after their uncle delivered her to them from the interior. I had mixed feelings about taking her, but she apparently has been with people for a while and the boys did not want her. She quickly endeared herself to all of us. She is affectionate, responsive and playful. You ought to see her torment Nikki and Pinky.

As I say, I’m feeling ambivalent. On the one hand, the kids and dogs are crazy about her. They love playing with her—although one gets the feeling that actually she is toying with them and they are just trying to keep up. She appears completely in control, happy and adjusted. On the other hand, I have not fully fleshed out my position on the “primates as pets” issue. I’ve done some research and we are figuring out the most resposible course of action for her. We are leaning toward releasing her up country.
So how was your week? Finally, we are able to upload some pics. The internet has been very slow for a week. Here goes:
First stop, the Gender Violence meeting with President Sirleaf. These are the women from the MPCHS women's program, with the staff behind.
The President, sitting next to a UN official and our own Sr. Barbara Brillant.
Two pretty great women trying to rebuild a nation. Present Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Grace Boiwu, head of the women's program and the catalyst behind the book, One Pain Touches All.

Sr. Barbara, ever the opportunist, gets the President to sign some of the books. She'll sell 'em to the highest bidder.

Next day, the Reeds observed World AIDS Day with children from the Catholic Schools. A brass band leads 300 school children through the streets of Matadi, a Monrovian suburb.

The Reeds seated behind the Sisters of Charity (Mother Theresa's order), and the other organizers as the program begins.

Lots of traditional dancing...

...and songs about preventing HIV infection.

...along with some original poetry. All in all a great day.

Now on to the Mangabey. Say hi.

The lil' lady is a load o' laffs.

You haven't lived until you've been groomed by a monkey.