Liberia: An Experience of a Lifetime

After having a few more days to reflect and process all that happened while I was in Liberia, I feel even more strongly that it was the most amazing experience of my life.  Everything about Liberia; her people, the food, the culture, and political atmosphere was all very refreshing and remarkable.

Being able to have the opportunity to take part in the Carter Center’s observation mission was nothing but incredible the entire time. The people I met, interacted with and got to know on a personal level were extremely intelligent and had so much international experience. Hearing all the stories of their work all across the globe, working for governments, NGO’s, and the UN, all strongly reinforced my desire to pursue my career in international affairs and development.

While being a short-term observer (STO) with the Carter Center, I was able to experience first hand the extreme poverty and low standards of living (compared to North America) that Liberians, living in the rural areas of the country, must endure daily.  Being deployed in Gbarpolu county was definitely an experience I will never forget. The people were very welcoming but were also very shocked to see an “American women” (as they called me) be in their communities.  While walking around the small city of Bopolu one evening with Humphrey, my STO partner, I got to see more closely the living conditions and the extent of the poverty in the town. Although it was staggering and heart-wrenching to see the tremendous dearth of resources, I was told by our driver, Marcus, who grew up in rural Liberia, that although resources are low, that it is a simple life and that it isn’t as bad as it seems. I found this particularly difficult to accept as I watched children bathing in the river, carrying heavy loads on their heads, and looking very malnourished.

The enthusiasm and fervor that Liberians expressed in the days leading up to, on, and after Election Day was especially inspiring to experience first hand. Everyone that I talked to wanted one thing first and foremost: PEACE.  Of course, they all had a reason and a rhyme for whom they were voting for, but ensuring continued and sustaining peace was always number one. It was refreshing to see how involved and passionate the young population were about the elections and the pursuit of democracy in Liberia. It is such a struggle to get even a fraction of youth and young adults in North America to pay attention to politics and democracy, wherein Liberia, everyone knew the issues and had an opinion on the matters.

While I Liberia, I also did research on the mental healthcare policies, and access to mental health services in the country.  In 2009, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare put together a mental health policy that aimed to train many mental health clinicians, increase support groups for families, and reduce the strong stigma towards mental illnesses. I examined the policy and met with the director of the Mental Health Program to discuss the progress of the policy, and the timeline to implement the remaining goals of the policy. I also met with the director of the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in Liberia about the training of mental health clinicians. The Center plays a crucial role in the progress of mental health in Liberia by promising to train 150 mental health clinicians in Liberia.

I loved every single second I spent in Liberia. The relationships that I formed with my classmates are also ones that I will always cherish and never forget our memories. Our drivers and our guides were essential in ensuring our safety, increasing our knowledge of Liberia, and exposing us to the richness of the Liberian culture. I would go back in a heartbeat, and can’t wait for my next international experience. Liberia and her people will always have a special place in my heart and I hope that one day I can, in some way, give back to Liberians in the fashion that they so generously gave to me.

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