“All are tales of human failing,
All are tales of love at heart”
She sharply grabbed my wrists. “Please, help me,” she hissed. No one in the crowded New York City Au Bon Pain seemed ruffled by our intense conversation. Jana, a trauma therapist was sharing her experience working with former child soldiers in Liberia. Her plea for help was a reiteration of the voices that clawed at her while working at her nonprofit counseling clinic called Second Chance Africa.
When I decided to go to Liberia, my only references were National Geographic and names on a map. Since then, the story of this country has unfolded before me in stilted, unexpected ways.
There are no books exclusively on Liberia in Barnes & Noble or the local library. Static interviews from expats living in Liberia became the best resources for historic and cultural anecdotes.
I heard snippets like “Liberia has the largest U.N. presence;” “the U.N. is keeping the peace;” “the U.N. officials don’t do anything;” “Liberia is the closest thing the United States has to a colony;” “Liberia is where the American Colonization Society sent all the freed slaves in 1822;” “when slaves arrived they continued the cycle by making the indigenous people their slaves;” “there are no traffic lights;” “the Chinese are invading;” “there is no electricity;” “there are great sushi restaurants,” and “Liberia is famous for its child soldiers.”
Child what? According to the Human Rights Watch, thousands of children have been recruited to fight for the main rebel forces, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
The psychological consequences of war on adult soldiers are crippling. Rehabilitating a child exposed to the ravages of violence must be a lost cause, or at least I thought.
The goal of Second Chance Africa says otherwise. The civil war ended in 2003. The child soldiers are now young adults. There are serious and vast security risks for calling them a “lost generation.” Violence has been woven into the future. If the youngest war victims do not receive proper detoxification, both mentally and physically can there be hope for a peaceful Liberia? A formidable Africa? A collaborative and productive global community?
Naiveté about the Liberian plight is not for lack of trying. Even news junkies rarely receive information about the West African melting pot. Second Chance Africa needs an educated public to see psychological services as fundamental to peace building. Donors need a sensitive translator to turn them on to a cause too often left in the dark.
I hold my breath while pressing the submit button on the Delta flight to Monrovia and reassure myself that advocating without due diligence could be lethal to the operation.
The 11-day visit is a necessary step to strategize how to gain attention for multicultural psychological
services and make counseling a priority on par with shelter, schooling, and traditional medicine. Exhale.