“Six boxes of chalk and one ream of paper.”
One short sentence, spoken by the man who, functionally, was the principal of the local public school, summed up the problem with education in Liberia and one of the reasons that our mission is here. While, officially, the governemnt of Liberia provides free public education, that doesn’t mean that what is provided bears any resemblance to public eduction in the United States.
In Liberia, public education means the “government school,” which is a school, and it has teachers that are paid by the government, but any similarity to schools that we are used to in the United States ends there. The teachers, here in Harriburg, are paid by the government… except when they’re not. During the Ebola crisis, all of the teachers were furloghed, without pay, because the government was trying to limit public gatherings. A year or two later, the government just stopped paying their teachers altogether for four or five months, but, passionate professionals that they are, they soldiered on… for free. This year, the teachers’ paychecks have been cut in half. No explanation has been offered, but the teachers still come.
If these dedicated souls don’t sound heroic yet, then you should also know that these four government employees teach 350 plus children in grades K-9. A few years ago, when the government lauched its effort to rebuild the nearby hyroelectric plant, the influx of families seeking jobs caused the student population to more than quintuple (from 65 to 365) in a single year, but the number of teachers stayed the same. So dire was the situation, that the local PTA recruited nine volunteer teachers to help out.
Three hundred and sixty five children, with four teachers and nine volunteers, in grades K-9, in a school building without heat, air conditioning, running water, or windows, only six or eight classrooms, and so desperately poor that they can’t even afford blackboards or paint for the walls. Many children don’t get any education at all because their parents, in a country where the average income is $35 per month, cannot afford to buy a school uniform or basic school supplies. There are no computers, no office staff, no copy machines, only one or two textbooks per class, and most years there is no curriculum. The sum total of the government support for the school, other than the understaffed, sometimes unpaid, teachers, is…
…”six boxes of chalk and one ream of paper.”
Not per classroom. Not per teacher. Six boxes of chalk and one ream of paper… for the entire school.
That’s why they need our help.
And that’s why we come.