Monday, August 24, 2009


Day Two – Empowering Teachers to Change Their Country!

Friday, August 21st, 2009
Written by: Lois

Today’s report filed by Spryte Loriano, Chief Humanitarian Officer, HUB:

Today was a day like none other – we thought that the worst was behind us from the pandemonium of trying to register so many people the first day! And arriving in the morning, Kimmie and his staff plus over 20 volunteers were already there leading a smooth as silk process for the second day. The world seemed perfect – I went upstage and the Audio/Visual manager was preparing and testing his equipment, the camera technician was setting up – all was right with the world. And then five minutes into the training of the day, Trish and Jan were on stage, having a ball, and so was the audience – and the audio equipment completely stopped working! There is no way in a crowded auditorium such as this that one could possibly shout loud enough for all to hear – so we did the next best thing… I ran out to the lobby and grabbed the MEGA-PHONE from Kimmie!

Can you imagine trying to teach your class with one mega-phone between two speakers? But these girls pulled it off with grace and class and lots of laughs at their expense that everyone just rolled with without a single complaint from them or the audience – I’m sure that’s not an all too uncommon occurrence to this audience! And gratefully, we were back up with microphones in about an hour.

A few startling facts that surfaced during the day…

Trish asked the 600 teachers how many of them had ever used a computer – about ten hands raised!

She asked how many had a television – about five raised their hands!

She asked how many watched at least one television show during a week – less than 20 raised their hands!

And when she was teaching about how to share reading skills with their classes and taught them that the average person uses only 220 words every day in ALL of their conversations, and that this was the basis for books wisely written by Dr. Seuss, specifically “The Cat in the Hat,” and asked how many knew about Dr. Seuss books – ONE person raised his hand!

A sobering experience, and one that speaks so loudly as to the mission that we are on. How can people be empowered to exist on an equal playing field in the world economy without access to the resources that so much of the developed nations take for granted?

But what Liberians do have is the newspaper. I have been amazed since my first visit to Liberia by the number of people I see in the streets reading a newspaper…it is their only access to what is current, relevant and possible in their own country and beyond. And they read it fervently and daily.

One of the programs we support through YAI is national school libraries. I remember visiting here in March, when we were dedicating the first of such libraries at the Special Project High School in Monrovia. I asked Kimmie Weeks what he felt it meant to the students to have a library. He responded, “Well, for most of us, it would actually seem strange and absurd to have a school and not to have a library in it. So for these students, it means everything to them to have access to text books, non-fiction and fiction books that they can use to dig deeper into their lessons and expand their thinking. It will open a whole new world of opportunity and possibility for them.”

Trish and her team went on to share with them ways in which they could empower themselves with the resources they did have to expect the best of themselves and their students! One of the ways that they stressed was through community service, especially around cleaning up their environments and picking up trash and creating school projects of pride for the whole community. I happened to walk into the lobby at one point during the day and Kimmie introduced me to the Mayor, Mary Broh, who had come down from her office in City Hall to see what was happening. She’s famous in Monrovia for riding around in a truck with a broom and whenever she sees trash, she stops and gets out and sweeps it up herself! She has also hired a crew of street cleaners that can be seen sweeping up the streets in uniforms! She told me that it’s very difficult to engage the community in clean-up because for generations before the war, Liberians had those in society that would do “that kind of work” so though there is now massive poverty in the city, culturally it is ingrained for them not stoop so low as to clean up the streets. She said that it is her hope that she can inspire business owners to lead the charge for the rest of the community.

And the day was topped off with an experience that only those of us from the US or die-hard rock-and-roll lovers may possibly appreciate. Trish McCarty is married to Steve McCarty, formerly of the Steve Miller Band, who wrote the famous song “Fly Like an Eagle.” Though most of the teachers had never heard it before, Trish put the words of the chorus up on the screen (which is actually two pinned together sheets hanging on the back wall of City Hall) and had them all stand up to sing and dance with the song. She explained the lyrics ahead of time…”shoe the children that don’t have enough to eat; house the people, living in the streets; oohh, there’s a solution,” to which there were cheers and applause. But the greatest joy was watching them join us crazy white girls on stage flapping our arms like eagles during the chorus and seeing a sea of Liberian teachers in love with the exploration of life and love and community!

Yes, another amazing day. And an experience that they will and we will never forget.

with gratitude, Spryte