Ghana – Chapter 17
Accra, January 28, 2006
"Buduburam - Past Kaneshie Market"
First of all, I know you guys have been missing the weather up-dates from West Africa. This is a time of "seasonal" change in West Africa, so I'll digress on the weather a minute - just to make Jukie happy since there are no whales for her to dissect today (see HERE for an explanation of Jukie) and the 2006 hurricane season hasn't started yet.
(with apologies to "Yahoo! Weather")
In January, the harmattan comes to Accra (Jukie: click on here and here to find out more about the harmattan). Basically, it's a hot wind blowing dust all the way from the Sahara Desert to the coast of West Africa. So it's hot and a little hazy all the time - very dry right now.
(I think the Thunderstorm icon is stuck on Yahoo! Weather because Yahoo! has been predicting rain everyday for a year and we have had only about three rains a month since I got here.)
Anyway, on with my latest story...
If you remember Chapter 11 bis, you may recall my first trip to Liberia and my explanation of the situation there. To quickly review, Liberia had about 15 years of terrible civil war. Thousands of refugees fled the country - some to camps as far away as Ghana. There has been peace for three years and the Liberians just had their first post-war elections, electing Africa's first woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (FLOTUS showed up for the inauguration last week - First Lady of the US to us diplo types). But there are still lots of Liberian refugees outside the country who are afraid to go home. The UN keeps the peace in the capital, Monrovia, but out in the country things are pretty rough.
A friend of mine, Christine, is with USAID in West Africa. Christine was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia about 20 years ago, before the war. At the time, she had a Liberian friend named Kiafa Holder. Kiafa had two young sons and Christine was very fond of them - taught them to swim, rode them around on her motorcycle, etc. Christine left Liberia and Kiafa was later killed in Liberia's civil war. Recently, Christine learned that one of Kiafa's sons was in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana. This young man is Morlu Holder.
Morlu Holder and Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp (Ghana)
Buduburam is Here. On the left side of the map, along the road running West (to the left) from Accra, after Kasoa, you will see the small village of Buduburam. That's where the camp is.
That's where I came in. As you know from earlier chapters (Chapter 13 and Chapter 15), I travel occasionally to Sierra Leone to work with Christine, as does a colleague of mine in Accra named Robert Kagbo. Christine occasionally sends money and letters to Morlu via Robert and myself.
Morlu is an amazing young fellow (about 24 or 25 now). He has been in the camp for four years and, unlike a lot of the refugees, hasn't lost his optimism and drive. He has started a youth program in the camp (the Kiafa Youth Career Planning Center - named for his father) which has enrolled about 150 young people in programs to try and give them some career counseling and training. They are working on getting the Center registered with the Government of Ghana as a non-profit organization, but that takes money and they haven't been able to get enough together yet. Morlu scrambles for funds and help from a range of non-governmental (NGOs), civic groups, and churches. Unfortunately, according to Morlu, "Lots of people offer help or offer to volunteer, but they usually don't show up. This discourages the young people."
Morlu has just been formally approved for immigration to the USA as a refugee. He feels he can't go back to Liberia now because of animosity against his family from former rivals of his father. He is concerned that his life would be in danger. The US agreed and this week (Jan. 31) Morlu expects to fly to Atlanta, where he will start a new life. He has vowed that from his new home in the USA he is going to work to raise funds and support for the Kiafa Center and to help it grow and develop.
Morlu and the Kiafa Youth Career Planning Center,
Buduburam Refugee Camp
Buduburam is a fairly desolate, hot, dry place. It's more permanent looking than the refugee camps which I saw in Liberia (which are just row after row of white tents). But there's little water and the streets are badly eroded and never cleaned. The Liberians are allowed to operate businesses inside the camp and there are lots of small shops/kiosks, places to get a cold drink, buy a pirated CD or pick up some soap and rice. But they can't work outside the camp unless they give up their refugee status and apply for Ghanaian residency. In the camp, they get some food, medical care and primary level education services from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR - who run the camp), but there are rumors of bad corruption and diversion of the aid.
Main Street, Buduburam Refugee Camp
I've met Morlu several times. Before he would always come into Accra to my office or my house to pick up the mail I brought back him from Christine, but I hadn't been out to Buduburam until this January. On a Sunday when there's no traffic, it's about one hour drive West of Accra. During the week, it's about a two hour ride in a "tro-tro", the local buses.
This is from my visit yesterday, Sat., Jan. 28.
Morlu is the founder and CEO of the Center and clearly the creative force behind what goes on there. It's a small place - just two rooms. Here is the staff huddled in the office (about 8' by 8').
L to R: Monique Quaye (PR coordinator), Morlu,
Morris Sirleaf (VP of the Center), Victoria Luogon (Secretary),
Rev. Friedman Holder (Morlu's uncle and agriculture trainer),
Aloysius Reeves (Office Manager), and Peter Quaye (IT instructor)
I have starting helping Morlu and the youth center. I am working with them on a business plan to set up a small service center. They will be a cell phone and a used photocopier (about a $200 investment) and make money for the center letting people make phone calls (there are no land lines in the camp) and make photocopies. I am also trying to get a small amount of the money being used to help youths in the IDP (internally displace persons) camps in Liberia set aside to help Liberia youth in refugee camps outside the country. They all want to go home some day when it's safe and will need job skills to survive.
One of the counseling programs that Morlu wants to start is on gender violence. USAID funds some NGOs that work in this area and I've got people looking around to see if they can find someone to come out to the camp periodically and do a program on this.
Robert Kagbo (who's also an aggie) and I are going to help them set up a vegetable farm this year (they will plant when the rainy season comes in May/June). A neighboring village has agreed to let them rent about nine acres of bottom land that is close to water. They need to raise about $600 to buy hoes, machetes, a couple of wheelbarrows, a sprayer, seeds and some other small stuff. The 150 members of the youth center will divide up the land. The vegetables will be used both to feed the youths families, and part of it will be sold to buy more seed and supplies and to help support the Kiafa Center.
(I may recruit David to come over and show them how it's done)
One of Morlu's dreams is for the Center to have a web page on the Internet. Next Saturday, three or four of them are coming to my house to start working on designing and developing the web page. I am a real primitive when it comes to designing web pages (as you can see by the present effort), but I have a desktop and my laptop, a DSL Internet connection, a digital camera, and Microsoft FrontPage software. So we're all going to see what we can come up with. I also have some server space out there in cyberspace (where these chapters are parked) that they can use to test their work -
I'm also not above drafting friends and relatives to help the cause.
- Look out! As soon as Morlu checks back in with me from Atlanta and I have his new coordinates, I'll be sending them to you. Maybe you can introduce him to your churches and local civic groups and they can help him raise a little money to buy books and other materials for the Center (accounting and finance, software, etc.) Packages under 50# can be mailed to me (at my US address - ask Ellen for the address) and I'll get them to Buduburam.
You look out too. You live in the middle of a farming community. Maybe your church would like to help them raise the $600 to start farming. Checks can be sent to Ellen and I can get the money for the Center here. Okra, onion and tomato seeds are also welcome.
Any old agricultural, mechanics or electricity training materials, books, posters, etc. from FFA or the Vo Tech school would also be welcome. They can be mailed (packages under 50 pounds - by the cheapest route: USPS or UPS) to my US address and will get to me over here. Ask Ellen for the address.
Don't worry. They don't need any dysfunctional, bald parrots or books on whaling right now. Besides, you're already contributing through my paycheck.
How are your web design skills these days? How about some media ideas? Remember the Latina Media Project??? Maybe Uncle Gregg could help on that one. A small, youth run radio station for the camp? Monique had a small role in a Ghanaian soap opera, has a degree in journalism and sings with a band. Any ideas for her?
Know anyone with surplus computer stuff (older versions of software, training manuals, hardware, etc. - it's all 220 volts here)? Anything under 50 pounds can be mailed to my US address and will get to me here. Ask Ellen for the address.
Have any college students looking for a really challenging volunteer stint for a couple of weeks? Counseling young men and women? Teaching computer skills? Gender violence? Writing skills? They can get a room at the camp (and spend weekends in my air conditioned palace in Accra).
Be creative!! All offers will be considered.
The Kiafa Youth Center will gratefully acknowledge all donations.
I'll keep you posted on how these projects develop.
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