Workshop Trip to Liberia

The following entry was composed by Nora Gordon, a second year MIA student concentrating in Human Rights.  Nora spent Spring Break, and an additional week in Liberia participating in her SIPA workshop.  She is back now but wrote this while she was away.
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I am currently working in Liberia with my workshop team on improving vocational training programs for youth in Liberia.  We are here for two weeks conducting trainings in vocational training centers about market assessment.  Our goal is to help staff and participants learn how to use a market assessment toolkit that was produced by a SIPA workshop team in 2008.

Here are a few quick notes from the trip so far . . .

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We went to work on Saturday morning for a quick meeting with our supervisor.  Our project involves making a short film and other training tools for people working on job training programs for youth. We will get to visit 4 Youth Employment Program sites throughout the country.

The idea is for us to help local programs figure out market needs and shape their training accordingly.  When we finished our work meeting, a Liberian guy walked into the office singing “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” We all laughed.  He gave us a giant, gummy smile and told us his name, McNeal.  “I’m the IT guy,” he said.  We told him about our video and he was excited to be on camera.  Then we tried to find out some details about the local culture.

“Do people dance a lot in Liberia?  Where do people dance?”

“Whaaaaaaat?!!  You ask me this?!!  How you gonna ask me if we daaaaance?!”

We laugh.

“A typical Liberian will never answer a question,” McNeal explains.  If you ask “I hear in Liberia you don’t answer questions. Is this true?” We will say “Where did you receive this information!?”

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I’m finding some similarities with other places I’ve worked, like Rwanda and oddly even more with East Timor.  Maybe these are just commonalities for conflict/post-conflict zones.  But, for example, there are chips of broken glass cemented along the top of the walls surrounding residences.  There are lots of locks on every door, 24 hour guards, and in our compound there are a bunch of bars on all the windows.  We have 24 hour guards and a curfew.  We’re not supposed to even walk ten feet outside by ourselves after dark (6:30pm). I’m feeling very protected/restricted.

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Today we did our training in the field, which involves introducing a “Market Assessment Toolkit” for vocational trainers and youth.  There was a 14 year old boy named Morris in the class who asked “Why is it called a toolkit?” Good question. I’d explained earlier that it was like tools in a toolbox- like a hammer, but for your brain.

So one of his teachers explained that metaphor to him, and I thought, “This is great, let’s put him in our film!”  We’re making a film as part of our project in order to help make sense of the toolkit.  As class went on, though I realized the boy was quite cross-eyed, and I thought “Ugh, now if I put him on film, it will be so stereotypical, ‘Oh look at this poor little cross-eyed African boy’ and people will just focus on that instead of what he’s saying.”  Or else mean people might laugh.

But then I thought, “It’s not fair to discriminate and not put him in the video because of a physical condition.”
So I had this idea to pull him aside later and have him talk to the teacher so he would be looking at the teacher not the camera, and it wouldn’t be so noticeable.  It worked out nicely and is great for our project.

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