OP-ED: Liberians Must Pick Up Slack When Int’l NGOs Leave

Look at any cover of Front Page Africa this week and you will see the reality of Liberia today. This is the reality that all we Liberians are left with as the last of the last NGOs and international organizations are pulling out of Liberia before the new fiscal year begins.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of nationals, have been laid off from their jobs these past few weeks after years pouring their hearts and souls into work aimed at improving the lives of their fellow citizens.

Many of these people are now thinking about what is next. Do I try to buy a car and get into the taxi business? Do I open up a restaurant or a tea shop? Do I try to get a job with one of the few remaining NGOs not exiting this year?

The question I’m asking myself is different: “Can I continue to pursue the great work of my NGO and many others even after they are forced to pull out due to post-Ebola funding cuts and other priorities in the world? Can I and other Liberians do this alone using what we’ve learned and the contacts we’ve made?”

Look around. Though Liberia made some progress after falling to pieces during the civil wars and then again after the Ebola crisis, we are still not doing that great. We are still poor. We still lack opportunities to get a good education. We still lack access to basic healthcare. We still see our communities rampant with prostitution, drugs and other harmful activities.

If we all go to pursue private businesses that lack the social justice mission we are all so passionate about, what good will come of our country in these next few decades?

As the last of the NGOs, international organizations, and the United Nations Mission in Liberia pull out county by county, it is we Liberians that must step up.

We must come together and discuss what is needed to improve the lives of our children and our children’s children. And we then must dedicate our time together to achieving that goal. We might think it’s impossible or get discouraged but I think we’ve all learned that nothing good comes easy. And if we do it together as one nation, one people – we will get there in time.

I hope Liberian companies and individuals fortunate to have more than enough money to live on will see the work we are doing and direct corporate social responsibility funding and donations to the work at hand.

As we all ask ourselves what is next, let’s remember social justice. Let’s remember that the future of Liberia rests in our hands and no one else’s.

To begin, we can start small and if everyone does their part, the difference we can make will be even greater.

For me personally, I am returning from working with the Danish Refugee Council and I am returning to my home community of West Point, Monrovia with one mission and one mission only – to educate West Point.

If I’ve learned anything over these past five years working for an international NGOs, it is that the best thing we Liberians can focus on to improve our lives and the fate of our country is education – education for girls and boys.

Just last month, 6,000 out of 8,000 youth failed the University of Liberia’s entrance exam, and this was an improvement on past years. It is great to see that we are improving but we have still got a long way to go until 100 percent of youth can pass that exam in order to go on to college. To get here, it is going to take more effort from all of us.

I personally hope to attend university next year after taking a high school refresher course because I know that it starts with each one of us.

My schooling was interrupted during the war and the Ebola outbreak as was the case for many of my brothers and sisters, but it is never too late to get educated.

I’ve also learned that the most effective thing one can do is to fill the gaps in the system that already exists so maybe I don’t need to start a school in West Point just yet; maybe I can focus on plugging in the children of West Point, including my 4-year-old son, to schools that already exist.

From there, I can study the gaps and design my mission over these coming years to address it. Perhaps that’s a feeding program to prevent children from going to school hungry.  Or perhaps it’s transportation to school, uniforms, books, tuition fees, family counseling, you name it.

I will learn what is needed and mark my words, I will not stop until every child in West Point is enrolled in a good school from the appropriate starting age up through graduation. International support or not, we Liberian people must stay the course.

What will you do? Let’s step up together Liberia, the work is just getting started.

Featured photo by Katie Letheren

Musa Sheriff

Musa Sheriff is a 27-year-old from West Point, Monrovia who recently lost his job but not his belief in social justice. He is now starting the good fight of getting more children of West Point enrolled in school up through graduation.

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