Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Weather: Hot and Humid. Daytime temps in the mid 90s, lows in the mid 70s. Light variable breezes. No precipitation. Less than one tenth of an inch of rain since December 1.

So 2007 is history, and 2008 is upon us. The year promises to be eventful for this country in transition. Year end is the right time to look over our shoulders at what has been accomplished through the efforts of a few of us . We know what we’ve done is small for this nation of three million, but there are thousands joining in to rebuild Liberia. So we feel good about that small part we’ve played. For those who might wonder what we were up to on ’07, here is a partial list.

  • Helped develop and launch the first academic program to train professional social workers to support individuals, families and communities get back on track in a postwar environment through the Mother Patern College of Health Sciences. 25 first year students.
  • Saw LEAD Inc. expand to two more counties; Liberian staff increased from one to seven. Trained more LEAD businesses, bringing the total to 233 businesses with 71 business loans.
  • Working with the fledgling Foster Town Association for Community Transformation (FACT) we constructed a major community market place where a hundred women can come and sell food, clothing, and other products-- plus have a central place to simply connect.
  • Conducted many workshops, developed and taught another college course.
  • Made important recommendations to the Liberian Government and key players regarding mental health training standards; developed and presented a related national workshop.
  • Continued our partner relationship between Calvin College, Kuyper College and Mother Patern College of Health Sciences.
  • Provided 22 school children with full tuition scholarships for the entire year through your gifts to our community fund.
  • Underwrote eight Foster Town business start-ups (apart from LEAD) through your gifts to our community fund.
  • Facilitated new partnerships between
    o LEAD and the World Food Program to work with women who are HIV/AIDS positive in creating self-sustainability through business.
    o LEAD and the International Labour Organization for the creation of 40 new trash removal businesses, a much needed utility in Monrovia.
    o Active Kids Canada and five Liberian schools for building libraries, and the shipment of thousands of textbooks and reading books—arriving January 2008.
    o LifeWater and FACT for the construction of four new wells in the Foster Town area.

So it’s been a good year. What does 2008 look like? Well, we will continue our work with LEAD, Mother Patern College, and the Foster Town community. Our volunteer agreement with CRWRC ServiceLink ends June 2008, although we’d like to continue at least into the fall. We have not the first clue as to what follows our work in this country, but since our hands are full while we are here, I guess we’ll find out when we are supposed to about life after Liberia. When we know, you’ll know.

Until then, stay tuned, hang on, enjoy the ride—and have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Note: internet is acting up, so no pictures. Next week, we’ll introduce you to another of Liberia’s indigenous creatures: the Two Spotted African Palm Civet! She’s a real sweetheart.

Monday, December 24, 2007


In this season of Advent, anticipation, and delight

In this season of hurry, jostling, and anxiety

In this season of remembering--

With tears of sadness and joy

In this season of hope;

The Reeds wish you, our many friends,

* near and far away *

All the warmth and goodness of this most special day.

Bob, Renita, Hannah & Noah

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Working Birthday

Weather: Hot and Hazy most days, with daytime his in the mid 90sF and nighttime lows in the upper 70sF. Light, variable breezes through the day. Moderate humidity. No rain in two weeks.

Renita sees another birthday today, and the love of my life is spending it in Monrovia starting another three-day business workshop with women in the WFP’s HIV program. In the midst of the workshop, she needs to run off and attend a meeting with a large US NGO on behalf of LEAD. Then back to the workshop, run a few errands, and maybe get home by six. (She left at 7:30am) Meantime, I’m taking the day off to take over teaching duties, and make sure the birthday cake gets baked.

Last week, in addition to preparing for the new Gbarnga office, Renita also attended two graduation ceremonies as LEAD completed its sixth and seventh classes, these in Monrovia and Buchanan. To date LEAD has trained 233 businesses, offered 7 twelve week courses which impacted 755 jobs. She reports that 59 new jobs have been created. LEAD has approved 71 business loans and over $40,000 US dollars have been distributed, with a 92% repayment rate.

It has always been the case that Renita works hard and smart. Where ever she goes, she makes things happen. Projects get completed, contacts get made, employees get trained and supported, proposals get written, all while at the same time providing support to the local community and managing things around home. She is in an African culture, yet even here, as in the States, people respond to her, look to her, follow her. She is respected because she delivers results. Renita remains focused, regardless of how slowly everybody else seems to moving around her. She never quits, rarely lets up. She is forever imagining, planning, preparing, or completing. I do not know anyone who applies so much energy to doing a job right.

And yet, she is almost completely unsupervised. She answers to almost no one. Nobody monitors her, and she remains fanatically scrupulous. No one watches her clock, yet she shows up early and leaves late. She is a volunteer, gets paid nothing, yet fights to make sure LEAD continues to grow, that the staff gets paid fairly, and that every dime is accounted for.

There really is only one reason that anyone would work this hard. People never put out this kind of energy or generate this level of productivity unless they care about something. Ambitious people are caring people, passionate people. For some, the passion is for recognition, for others it is status, or money or influence. And the level of energy is proportional to the amount of passion. Care-- or passion-- can exist for anything and can drive us anywhere. For Renita, it is simple and obvious: she loves God. She loves seeing righteousness and justice prevail, she cares about His people, and she is passionate about pleasing him. She works because she loves. She works for Him.

Today, her birthday, is like any other for her. She’s got stuff to do.

Happy Birthday, my love. See you soon. The cake is waiting.

Just last week, two graduations.

Today, the birthday girl is in Monrovia all day in meetings and leading the WFP-LEAD workshop.

Meanwhile, the kids bake a cake and decorate the house (their faces too).

With one of a dozen "MOM"s hanging, the family awaits her return, cake in hand.

Monday, December 10, 2007

LEAD Spreads Out: 3 Counties Down, 12 to Go

By now most of you know that Renita's primary work in Liberia is to support and act as consultant and acting director for LEAD, inc. LEAD stands for Liberian Entrepreneurial and Asset Development, and offers a 36 hour business management course as well as a matching loan program to help small to medium sized business grow. Starting off in the capital, Monrovia, the plan is to become national, with branch offices addressing the needs in each of Liberia’s 15 counties. LEAD continues to garner attention as the "little NGO that could" from big organizations like the UN, the World Food Programme and the Liberian government. More to the point, LEAD has offered substantive business training to hundreds of Liberians, loaned tens of thousands of dollars to strengthen businesses and create new jobs.

In February 2007, LEAD opened a satellite office to the southeast, in the Grand Bassa County seat of Buchanan. The Buchanan branch is operating well, offering the same training and loans that the Monrovia office provides.

Now, Renita and the LEAD team is traveling back and forth to the Northeast, to the Bong County capital of Gbarnga (Bang-ga). Working closely with Liberian Senator Franklin Saikor, LEAD has secured an office and is in the process of hiring staff.

Getting oriented-- LEAD has offices in Monrovia and Buchanan-- Gbarnga (red arrow) is next.

The soon-to-be Gbarnga LEAD office. Not much too look at, but dig that ga-roovy rustique "tow truck" lawn ornament. Kewl!

Senator Saikor, lending his support to the efforts.

Meeting witha women's group in Gbarnga-- very excited about LEAD coming.

Weather: Hot and dry, with moderate levels of humidity. Little night time breezes, with light and variable easterly winds throughout the day. No rain in a week.

Monday, December 03, 2007

ReedsNews Update: December Edition

Weather: Sunday night saw the most rain seen in a month. A thunderstorm brought first two hours of very heavy rain followed b y eight hours of light rain. About four inches of rain total. Otherwise hazy, hot and humid most days. Last year, we received virtually no rain from November 20 until March, so the occasional rain may indicate a wetter dry season. But of course, I have no idea. Now, some news:

Item: The Christmas season is here, and that means mostly two things: frantic, pressured shopping and rogues breaking into more homes looking for holiday booty. Vera, who helps us with laundry and weekday dinners, had some guys break her door in the early morning hours Friday. She called out and the rogues fled without taking anything.

Item: Renita’s left arm is in a sling and may stay that way for some time. She has what some people call “tennis elbow,” or an inflammation of the tendons around her elbow. Being left-handed, this has really cramped her style, and not being able to help as much is frustrating for her. But she’s sometimes in lot of pain, so she’s taking it seriously.

Item: We had an uninvited visitor Friday, a four foot long black cobra found its way into our yard and casually made its way across our lawn. Actually, there are three venomous black snakes that inhabit Liberia, the black mamba, the black spitting cobra, and the black tree cobra. Vera and Noah both thought they saw a hood, so this is why we thought cobra. The spitters are more likely to be in area, so that's the one we think it was. These are some of the deadliest snakes in the world, so naturally everyone became very excited. I was at a conference, so I could not join in the adventure. Apparently, there was enough human activity that the snake decided to leave the way it came. So just as some neighbors showed up with their cutlasses—all snakes are killed here on sight—the snake escaped. We discovered how it got in and plugged the hole in our wall with cement.

Item: The conference I attended while the cobra was in our yard was hosted by the World Health Organization. It was on substance abuse in Liberia. As I already suspected, substance abuse is at near epidemic levels, with both alcohol and marijuana at the top of the list. Both are very cheap here—a shot of strong liquor or a marijuana cigarette cost about ten US cents—and both are readily available.

Item: “O’ Henrietta, we hardly knew ye… but you were delicious!” As planned, we bid farewell to the pig our friends in Kakata gave us in the spring. Killing her was unpleasant but I felt an obligation to be there with her, so I helped hold her down while the deed was done. We invited many of our neighborhood friends for the pork roast the next day, and Henrietta supplied full bellies to about fifty folks. None of her was wasted except her hair, and Renita had me save the brain, heart and an eyeball to be dissected for science class the day after the festivities.

Renita, arm in sling. She has a rubber ball wrapped in the ace bandage that covers her forearm and elbow. This supplies additional support and counter pressure, which eases the pain.
The black spitting cobra, likely the type in our yard. Naja nigricollis woodi. Beautiful creature.

Now on to Henrietta. This was last Wednesday, as Rev Zar, Sam Befelon, Bernard the Butcher and I prepare an alarmed Henrietta for dispatch.

After the deed, Henrietta is cleaned of all hair, washed, then her innards are removed. Rev Zar was thrilled to take all the innards home for a "fine pepper soup" for his very large family.

After a night in our refrigerator, we roast her on a home made cooker. Here, after roasting for four hours, we are turning her over. She got a bit burned at first, but just on the surface.

Alex, secretary of FACT, cuts off some meat as some of the fifty guests that came that day enjoy Henrietta.