Jan. 31, 2005
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
Residents of Wesley Manor Retirement Community have built 16 desks for schools in Liberia.
By John Gordon*
Ind. (UMNS) — In a basement woodworking shop, there are sounds of
electric saws and drills as retirees turn a hobby into an international
a dozen residents of the United Methodist Church’s Wesley Manor
Retirement Community are building desks for students in Liberia, where
schools have been looted during civil wars. The work is part of
Operation Classroom, a United Methodist program to help rebuild schools
in Liberia and Sierra Leone – two countries that have been wracked by
civil wars in recent years.
"A lot of the schools were destroyed," says Don Pershing, a Wesley Manor resident and one of the desk builders.
"We saw some (desks) that had been built, and I said, ‘I think we can do this.’"
The Wesley Manor woodworkers built 16 desks, which have already been shipped to Liberia. Now they are working on more.
"We just saw poverty," Pershing says. "And a lot of things we take for granted, they just don’t have over there."
coordinator of Operation Classroom, says the effort to help schools in
the two West African countries began in 1987. Internal strife has
wrecked the educational system, he says.
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
John Barker tracks donated books, school supplies and medical equipment in a warehouse in Indiana.
the civil war, people would take refuge in schools," Wagner says. "And
because they didn’t have any firewood, they would just use the desks and
chairs for firewood to cook with."
students are still without desks and sit on rocks during classes,
according to Wagner. In one school, students bring chairs from home.
Classroom is helping 15 schools in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The
program is providing scholarships to allow teachers to attend college to
further improve the educational system. Students also receive
Lay leaders in the denomination’s Indiana Area started the effort, after searching for a major project to undertake.
"Many people have nothing," Wagner says. "This project is really very, very important because the desks are so needed."
books, school supplies and medical equipment are stored at a warehouse
in Lapel, Ind., and shipped at least four times a year in 40-foot-long
containers. Since the program began, $6.5 million has been raised in
donated goods and in-kind services. Wagner says the program needs
another $6.7 million during the next five years.
The program receives financial support from 23 states.
need among Liberia’s people is great. "They don’t get much publicity,"
Wagner says. "But the need is as bad if not worse than Iraq, as far as
the people’s need is concerned."
(schools and hospitals) were stripped, absolutely stripped," says
Lowell Brown, another desk builder. "So we’re essentially starting from
scratch in refurbishing the institutions there."
says residents of the home include retired pastors, teachers, doctors,
lawyers and engineers — all eager to put their skills to work.
I get out of it a lot of deep satisfaction, both working with my hands
as well as working on behalf of people overseas," he says.
of both Liberia and Sierra Leone speak English, so textbooks salvaged
from U.S. schools are also sent there. Operation Classroom recently
received boxloads of books from an Indiana school district.
"Had we not received them, they’d have just been thrown away in the trash or a dumpster or (been) burned," Wagner says.
teams are also sent to Sierra Leone and Liberia for construction
projects, such as building schools, walls and principals’ houses, and
renovating buildings and classrooms.
Enrollment in the schools aided by Operation Classroom has grown to more than 8,000 students, with staffing at 275.
also receive vocational training. The project has introduced power
tillers to the region for agricultural programs and helped establish
addition, Operation Classroom provides trauma counseling for students.
Wagner says most of the soldiers in the civil wars were children.
"A lot of them were kidnapped and taken out, and now they’re back and we’re trying to provide an education for them," he says.
motto has been to take the guns out of the children’s hands and give
them tools to place in their hands for a productive life."
five-year plan for Operation Classroom includes supplying additional
desks and chairs, science equipment and vocational equipment, and
continuing with construction projects. Generators are needed, since some
buildings still have no electricity.
will also provide additional scholarships for students and teachers.
Wagner says progress is being made, but much work remains.
"The need is astronomical," he says. "It’s going to take years."
More information on Operation Classroom is available at http://www.gbgm-umc.org/operationclassroom/. The program receives support through the United Methodist Church’s Advance for Christ and His Church. For more information, go to http://gbgm-umc.org/advance/.
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.