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Michigan Girl Scouts explore Liberia from afar

Genevieve Freeman ties an African head wrap on 17-year-old Girl Scout Trais Cooper during "Liberia night" at Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Mich.
UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Oct. 18, 2007 | SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (UMNS)

Breana Wilks, 12, makes a kufi, a rounded cap worn by many Africans.

For students accustomed to their parents driving them to modern schools, learning about life in Liberia came as quite a shock.

"What surprised me the most is the kids walking to school for several days," says Kierra Adams, 12.

Adams and other Girl Scouts at Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, near Detroit, organized "Liberia night" as part of an annual peace rally at the church. The Girl Scouts set up booths with Liberian head wraps, art and food, danced to African music and wrote letters to pen pals in the West African nation.

"I didn’t even know that there’s a country of Liberia before I got involved in this program," says Briana Ratchford, 13. "I’ve learned how poor the schools are and how (it's) … been through the wars and stuff."

Years of civil war have done more than destroy Liberia’s infrastructure. The Rev. Charles Boayue Jr., a Detroit United Methodist pastor and a native of Liberia, spoke during the peace rally about the challenges the country continues to face following its civil war.

"When you enter Liberia, you see the physical destruction of infrastructure, but that’s not the only level of destruction," says Boayue. "You have emotional destruction; you have a relationship destruction. You have destruction of some cultural values of seeing people kill each other with absolutely no reprisal or no judicial procedures around us."

The Rev. Charles Boayue Jr., a native of Liberia and United Methodist pastor, describes civil war and poverty in his
West African homeland.

Barbara Talley, director of the Detroit West District Peace Center based at Hope United Methodist, says the Girl Scouts organized Liberia night to earn credits toward their silver badges. But Talley believes what they have gained goes far beyond the scouting program.

"That’s what we’re trying to accomplish for our young people — to broaden their perspective of just their little closed world of the United States," says Talley, "and to get them to know that there’s others that really are in need."

Humanitarian ties

The troop has collected school supplies to send to Africa. The Peace Center, which was established three years ago, is planning a mission trip to Liberia next year and plans to hold reconciliation and peacemaking training for youth and adults.

"It bothered me that the schools are very poor and that the children were in the army," says Olivia Peace, 13. "I think that people deserve a better education so they can be leaders when they grow up."

In the pen pals program, the Michigan students become ambassadors and write letters to kids their age in Liberia.

"I think it’s a cool experience that I can talk to and communicate with somebody in another country," says Nia Gamble, 13.

Barbara Talley is director of the Detroit West District Peace Center housed at
Hope United Methodist Church.

Boayue led a mission team last February to build a church in Sanniquellie, Liberia, and is scheduled to lead another church-building team in January.

"Religion can be different. Races can be different. Languages can be different. Levels of education and wealth can be different," he says. "But humanity’s hunger for the basic things of life — food, shelter, clothing and happiness and freedom — is the same thing the whole world around."

Talley is challenging the students to be peacemakers and to continue reaching out to Liberia.

"It’s going to change their future dramatically," she says of the experience. "And when they go to college and when they go in their secondary schools, … they can then have a broader perspective about the world."

*Gordon is a freelance writer and producer in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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