Feb. 18, 2004
By Linda Bloom*
YORK (UMNS) - With renewed pledges of assistance from donor countries,
the reconstruction of war-ravaged Liberia is slowly getting under way.
United Methodists inside and outside that West African nation,
reconstruction means restoring basic services at Ganta Hospital, a
premier church institution nearly destroyed in the last round of
fighting; repairing churches and school buildings; resettling church
members and other displaced Liberians and assisting in the reintegration
of combatants, particularly child soldiers, into society.
the August exile of Liberian president Charles Taylor, who began the
country’s civil war in 1989, the country is trying to initiate a
long-term peace. The Liberian United Methodist Annual Conference is
still taking stock of which church property has been damaged over that
period, according to Edwin Clarke Jr., conference communications
"Right now, there is a need for reconstruction of
several churches around the country and the resettlement of members who
are displaced internally as well as externally," he reported to United
Methodist News Service in February. "Most of our schools up country were
either looted or burned. These also will have to be reconstructed."
the schools damaged, according to Operation Classroom, a United
Methodist mission program for West Africa, are the Arthur F. Kulah
School in the town of Virginia, the Henri W. Dennis School in Toopoe
Village, and the C.W. Duncan School in Clara Town. The schools suffered
looting, and bullets and rocket grenades damaged walls and roofs.
Methodist-related university buildings in Monrovia, located in a
battleground between government troops and opposition forces, also need
extensive repair. People taking refuge in the buildings used chairs and
other furniture for firewood.
Some of the worst destruction
occurred at Ganta Hospital, about 128 miles from the capital city of
Monrovia. But Herbert and Mary Zigbuo, missionaries assigned by the
United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, are working to reopen part
of the facility by March 15.
With the first battalion of U.N.
peacekeepers deployed to Ganta on Feb. 2, security has improved in
northeastern Liberia. "We’ve been able to make four trips to Ganta," the
Zigbuos reported in a Feb. 12 e-mail message. "There is much
destruction of property, and people are slowly returning there now that
the U.N. peacekeeping force is there."
Security remains a prime
concern for those assisting in Liberia’s reconstruction, according to
Jim Cox, executive director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief
Nongovernmental Organization. "Disarmament is absolutely key," he said.
"Everybody is a little bit frozen until that process can get going."
is crucial, he added, for the U.N. peacekeeping force, currently at
only about 65 percent of expected levels, to expand. A smaller
peacekeeping force, he explained. "inhibits the ability to get out into
The United Methodist Committee on Relief NGO is
assisting the U.N.’s World Food Program with emergency food distribution
in Liberia, particularly at camps for displaced people. A container
shipment from the agency’s Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., has
provided health kits, layettes and used clothing.
Cox said the
agency has a proposal for an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for
International Development to distribute seed and farm tools in Liberia
that is "all but signed" and will work on water and sanitation issues at
refugee camps if funding becomes available.
At a Feb. 5-6
"International Reconstruction Conference on Liberia," hosted by the
United Nations in New York, representatives from 96 countries and 45
organizations pledged $520 million to assist with reconstruction and
humanitarian needs in Liberia. According to the U.N. news service, the
representatives agreed "on an inclusive, community-based approach to
reintegration and reconstruction which fully incorporates the needs of
all segments of the population affected by the conflict, with special
focus on women and children."
Cox said the relief agencies are
pleased with the commitment, but a bit discouraged because the funding
is being allocated for longer-term development and not the immediate
emergency needs that remain.
He called the plans for disarmament
and reintegration "critical for the next step." As a Human Rights Watch
report, released Feb. 2, pointed out, donor governments need to fully
fund a planned program to demobilize and reintegrate former child
soldiers into Liberian society.
The report, "How to Fight, How to
Kill: Child Soldiers in Liberia," found that both the government and two
opposition forces there forcibly recruited boys and girls as young as 9
as soldiers - a violation of the Geneva Convention and a war crime
under the International Criminal Court’s statute, which Liberia ratified
in October. Girl soldiers also suffered from rape and sexual assault.
are involved in all levels of Liberia’s revitalization. Gyude Bryant,
chairman of Liberia’s interim government, acknowledged that fact when he
attended the U.N. conference. Bryant, a lay leader of Liberia’s
Episcopal Church, thanked U.S. church leaders for their support and
expressed optimism about the long-term resilience of the Liberian
The Rev. John McCullough, a United Methodist pastor and
executive director of Church World Service, was part of the meeting with
Bryant at the Episcopal Church Center, near the headquarters of the
United Nations in New York.
McCullough said Bryant "sees the church as a strong link between the peoples of Liberia and the United States."
to the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Liberia can
be made to UMCOR Advance No. 150300, Liberia Emergency. Checks can be
placed in church collection plates or mailed to the agency at 475
Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can
be made by calling toll free (800) 554-8583.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com