Church teams assess Liberia's needs in wake of war
11/18/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
story is part of a weeklong Close Up series on how the United Methodist
Church is helping Liberia recover from war. Photographs, video reports
and other features are available.
By Joni Goheen*MONROVIA,
Liberia (UMNS) - As peace takes hold in this West African capital,
United Methodist teams are busy trying to identify the needs of a people
whose country has been ravaged by war.
The United Methodist
Church's longtime partnership with the Liberian people - dating back to
the country's earliest days in the 19th century - is more important than
"We have always been involved in terms of providing relief
assistance, counseling and just helping to give our people a sense of
hope," said Edwin Clarke, communications director for the church's
Liberia Area. "The church feels that at this time it is important to
come and find out exactly what the situation is, in respect to what they
intend to do, what they have done in the past."
assessment visit to the Samuel Doe Sports Complex, which is being used
as a temporary camp for displaced people in Monrovia, Clarke explained
some of the ways the United Methodist Church provides assistance.
church will write several project proposals to some of our partners in
the (United) States and in Europe," he said. "The church also asks for
volunteer contributions from its members. So people, who have used
clothes, had them brought here and we donated them to the people here.
The people were glad to receive them. We also had some food come in, and
the church was gracious enough to purchase some rice that we
At the sports complex, almost everyone is
housed on the concourse. The thousands who live in this and other
temporary camps have staked out small personal areas, creating invisible
walls using rocks, tin cans, or plastic tarps. The permanent camps,
located outside the capital city, have thatched huts, one-room living
quarters that stretch for miles, row upon row.
As Clarke and his
team from the conference walked the concourse, word of their presence
spread. People came up to them, telling their stories and asking for
assistance. One woman told Clarke her house was destroyed and that any
help the church could give would be appreciated. Clarke asked where she
could be found later in case a contribution could be made, but he gave
her no promises.
"It's difficult to treat individuals because her
case is just one out of a thousand," he said afterward. "Her case isn't
even one-third of what you will hear. Some cases are even worse than
hers. Some cases may tell you that their entire family got killed, and
they're the only ones that survived the attack. Some other persons would
tell you that they lost their entire family while running. They don't
know where their families are. These cases, when we hear them, we try to
talk to them in such a way that they should understand our position
(that) we cannot treat them case by case."
But some cases can be
handled on an individual basis. A small number of opportunities are
available with specific conference programs. The church's women's
organization can assist with start-up micro businesses; the youth
program strives to help young people find alternatives to violence.
"It's not enough, and we want to do more, but we are limited, given the situation," Clarke said.
a woman, crying in pain, walked up to Clarke and told her story about a
shrapnel wound that had not healed, he tried to comfort her. Afterward,
he said, "It would be difficult for the church to respond to that kind
of need in particular. We just can't. It would be difficult given the
circumstances that we're in now. We feel what she's been through, but
there's nothing that we can do.
"On a whole, the church is also
here to give hope to these people, and we try our best to talk to them
in such a way that they should not lose hope in our God, and God will
take care of situations like these. But my heart goes out to those
persons who are wounded, someone like her. If it was in a situation
where our hospital in Ghanta was not destroyed, we could easily â€¦ take
her there and see what we can do from there. I doubt, in a case like
this, how she would be treated. The hospitals may not be able to cope
with the operation that she has to undergo."
The conference is
working not only with United Methodists but with the Liberian public as a
whole. The church has been trying to identify smaller displacement
centers where it can have a bigger impact than it would have with larger
Assessment teams are also traveling outside Monrovia to
permanent camps in suburbs and the countryside. The teams usually target
only camps that have security forces provided by the Economic Community
of West African States or United Nations. Travel in parts of the
country is still unsafe, so assessment cannot be conducted in some of
the more rural areas.
"The need never ends," Clarke said. "It
just goes on and on. It seems at one point we were rich, and now we
can't do anything about those needs again. We still like to give them
hope in the midst of all of this. Life still goes on."
He and his
team are looking forward to the time when these assessments will become
a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen
Contributions for ministries in Liberia may be
designated for the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Liberia
Emergency, Advance #150300, and dropped in church collection plates or
sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. More
details are available at
# # #
*Goheen is a freelance writer living in Morrison, Colo.
Tomorrow: United Methodist relief agency responds to huge sanitation problems.
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