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Ganta Mission re-emerges after Liberia's civil war

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

Workers, including ex-combatants in Liberia’s civil war, learn how to make furniture at Ganta Mission.
Aug. 9, 2005

By Dean Snyder and Jane Malone*

GANTA, Liberia (UMNS) -- Sampson Nyanti is on his cell phone trying to get building supplies delivered from Monrovia. Workers are repairing Ganta Mission's elementary school, and he doesn't want the project stalled or workers idle for lack of materials.

The workers' salaries are being paid by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development, for which Nyanti is grateful -- only four Liberian United Methodist schools have received such grants -- but he has to keep the workers supplied with materials.

In a nation still disorganized from 14 years of civil war, where monster potholes have made long stretches of highways barely passable, getting supplies delivered promptly is demanding work for Nyanti, the associate superintendent of administration for Ganta Mission.

"They pay for the work, but they don't want to have to worry about the materials," Nyanti says, with a shake of his head. "We have to get everything up from Monrovia somehow."

The United Methodist mission serves a range of needs in the region, including providing education and health care.

Supervising construction on the elementary school is just a small part of Nyanti's responsibilities. He is also initiating a poultry project. A thousand chicks are being delivered from nearby Guinea, and a newly reconstructed chicken shed must be ready for them if they are to survive. A truckload of chicken feed has been delivered, but it got soaked by a sudden downpour and needs to be spread out to dry.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

Workers rebuild the roof of a woodshop devastated by a 2003 bombing raid on the Ganta Mission.
Nyanti is proud of the chicken shed. "We need to become self-sufficient," he says.

With U.S. visitors trailing him, he passes through the high school's home economics building to say hello to teachers and students making clothes at pedal-operated sewing machines. He hurries to see if workers installing a new tin roof on the mission woodshop have all they need. The multi-room woodshop is one of many buildings at Ganta Mission that lost its roof to missiles shot by rebels from across the Guinea border during the final months of Liberia's civil war in 2003.

At the Ganta Mission warehouse, Nyanti checks to see how many bags remain from the last delivery of cement. Bags of cement not immediately needed for reconstruction at Ganta Mission are resold to nearby residents for a small markup. The profits help support the mission, he says.

Then Nyanti stops by the metal workshop to greet welders who are repairing a livestock feeder. He takes a minute to examine charcoal stoves being assembled and welded in the workshop. Nyanti hopes the sale of the stoves will generate income to help pay mission workers' salaries.

In a room in back of the metal workshop, he checks in with carpenters using a new band saw and drill press recently shipped from the US. The carpenters are busy making student desks and chairs.

Germany's Methodist Church recently gave Ganta Mission a contract to supply new desks to 20 elementary schools that lost furniture and other supplies to looting during the civil war. The carpenters are also building chairs for high school students. Nyanti will figure out how to pay for them later.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

Williette Bartrea, head nurse of Ganta Hospital, and the Rev. Issac N.V. Harmon, professor of Gnarnga School of Theology, stand outside the hospital.
The carpenters are training ex-combatants -- young men who had been drafted by the rebels, sometimes when they were as young as 12 or 13, to fight in the war. They spent their youth fighting and now are eager to learn a trade so they can make an honest living. A small grant from the United Methodist Church in the United States underwrites the salaries of 10 ex-combatants, who are paid one U.S. dollar a day, to learn carpentry.

"I wish we had funds to train more," Nyanti says.

Finding useful trades for the thousands of ex-combatants -- often still in their 20s and 30s -- is essential to the nation's future stability.

Enterprises such as raising poultry, sewing, the woodshop, the metal workshop and welding equipment, and the building supply warehouse are projects Nyanti hopes will produce enough income, along with the grants, to pay the salaries of the mission's 70 employees (not counting administrative and hospital staff), and to create jobs. This region of Liberia has a 95 percent unemployment rate.

He especially concentrates on the projects that will help the mission become self-sufficient and less dependent on grants. Like most Liberian United Methodist church leaders, he knows what it is like to be in the middle of a project and have funding dry up.

During his busy day, Nyanti pauses to tell his U.S. visitors about George W. Harley, a missionary who came to Liberia from Durham, N.C., in 1926. Speaking with reverence, repeating the missionary's full name every time he refers to him, Nyanti tells the visitors that George W. Harley cut his way to Ganta through the bush when there were no roads, believing that God was calling him to serve in this remote community. The ministry George W. Harley began in 1926, Nyanti says, grew to become Liberia's most sophisticated mission, including one of Liberia's finest hospitals, until it was nearly destroyed by rebel missiles between June and August 2003. Nyanti tells his visitors that George W. Harley's ashes are buried beneath a stone monument outside the church building at Ganta Mission. The monument used to have a marker honoring George W. Harley, he says, but the rebels stole it.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

Employees of Ganta Mission and Hospital attend Miller McAllister United Methodist Church, on the mission grounds.
Nyanti hurries his visitors past a section of Ganta Mission's more than 400 acres that is not available to be visited. Surrounded by razor wire, it is occupied by a Bangladeshi contingent of United Nations troops who have taken over a complex of Ganta Mission buildings as the base for their peacekeeping activities in the region.

Hospital rebuilds

Past the U.N. compound is Ganta Hospital, with many of its wings and outbuildings in ruins. Having once provided inpatient care to 250 patients a night and outpatient treatment to another 175 patients a day, Ganta Hospital has only recently managed to restore medical care to some of those who make their way to the hospital from throughout northeastern Liberia as well as nearby regions of Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire.

Head Nurse Williette Bartrea says the hospital, which reopened to just a few patients in April 2004, is now caring for some 60 patients daily.

The hospital's blood-testing lab used to be one of the best in Liberia, Bartrea says, but all of the equipment and supplies were stolen by the rebels. Slowly over the past year, the lab has been rebuilt and basic blood tests are being performed there again.

Bartrea had relocated to Monrovia when the hospital's nursing school was moved to the crowded United Methodist University campus in the nation's capital, far from Ganta, for security reasons. She is praying, she says, that the nursing school will soon be able to return to Ganta, but many of the school's buildings will need to be repaired first.

Last February, Liberia's interim government promised Ganta Hospital a grant for repairs, but so far it has not delivered on its promise, Nyanti says. He had hoped the money would help rebuild some of the hospital's bombed-out wings.

Because of limited usable space, at times the children's beds must be pushed into the hallways, according to the Rev. John T. Togba, Ganta Hospital chaplain. Togba, who stayed behind during the 2003 bombing to rescue a child who was a patient, was the last person to leave the hospital. Bombs were exploding all around him, sometimes in places where he had been standing moments before they hit. He is still amazed that he and the little girl he was trying to rescue survived.

"Praise the Lord," he says, "the little girl God used me to save is doing well today."

Ground will be broken Aug. 13 for the construction of a new 100-bed facility, according to Bishop John Innis, episcopal leader of the Liberia Annual Conference. United Methodists from all the districts of the conference will bring bags of cement and building blocks to contribute to the project he said.

"Ganta is the hope for medical work in Liberia," the bishop adds. "It is key for United Methodist evangelism and education in Liberia. We want to do everything we can to tell our missionaries, ?you didn't come here for nothing.'"

*Snyder and Malone are communicators living in the Washington D.C. area. Snyder is senior minister of Foundry United Methodist Church.

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