Archive for October, 2008

In Buchanan, Fate of Academic School in Limbo as Students’ Lives Threatened

October 29, 2008

 

 

(The article also appe

ared on FrontPageAfrica http://www.frontpageafrica.com/newsmanager/anmviewer.asp?a=7593&z=3)

The building now used by the National Academic Junior High School (NAJHS) in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, is in a deplorable condition; posing threat to the students.  The building could fall on the students because part of it is broken.

 The information gathered by FPA is that the school is still housed in the half- broken rented building because the new structure is not completed due to alleged fraud. The report furthered that a European lady Mrs. Jose Hermans Gbaa financing the construction of a decent new edifice for the National Academic School was allegedly duped by another Liberian, Mr. Benedict Reeves, a friend of her husband (Dahai Gbaa, a Liberian from Grand Bassa).

The information says when Mrs. Jose Gbaa visited Liberia 2007 she went Buchanan and vowed to solicit funds from friends to put up a new structure for the NAJHS upon her return to Europe.  The information revealed that she felt sorry for the students after seeing the deplorable state of the school.

 

When FPA visited Buchanan recently, the reporter met with the Principal of the National Academic School, Mr. Moses Gbaa; Mrs. Jose Gbaa’s brother-in law. Principal Gbaa narrated that when his sister-in law and husband visited Buchanan, she told him to write a proposal to build a new structure worth US$ 50,000. He said he did and she consented to solicit funds.

 

Positive response from sponsors, but…

 

 “After she got some positive responses from sponsors regarding the funds, she came back to Liberia on September 11, 2007 with Mr. Benedict Reeves, a refugee in Ghana. She told me that her sponsors embraced the idea of a newly constructed building and Mr. Reeves would head the building project because she didn’t want to trust a family member who might eat the money based on the relationship established between them.

 

Principal Gbaa further narrated, “January of this year was the ground breaking ceremony and Mr. Reeves was empowered to start the project. Jose sent him some money regularly. My sister-in-law said she expected the building finished September of this year; so she started sending more money. In August 2008, Jose asked for a photo of the proposed two storey building but she felt disappointed, knowing that the building didn’t represent the money sent.”

He said the lady requested that the job be halted until she came to Liberia to inquire what had happened. “The job was stopped August 25, 2008 and she came to Liberia September 11, 2008 and got the police involved. The police then summoned Mr. Reeves for investigation. Benedict didn’t have any remorse when questioned by Mrs. Gbaa as to how the money was spent. Later, she instructed him to present a written report but he said he didn’t have any. Instead he presented a pile of receipts without any where to start.”

 

According to sources in Buchanan, Mr. Reeves is a son of the soil but fled to the refugee camp in Ghana due to the civil war in Liberia. The sources furthered that Mr. Reeves was seen lavishing huge sums of money offering friends.

 

One source said, “At one time he staged a luncheon for the entire Superintendent’s office.  He used US$900.00 to buy gas for his generator which used to sleep on, and his car engine used to remain beating whenever he went to meeting or any function.”

 

Another source indicated that Mr. Reeves used an open top jeep rented daily. “He took the money and open bank accounts in some of his relatives’ names. The man was living a money boy’s life because he really lavished money in this town.”

 

Building could fall at anytime

 

During the tour, FPA visited the building being used by the NAJHS and noticed that anyone would wonder about the well being of the students as the entire building is deplorable. Part of the roof is falling while the wall has cracks all over, just waiting for the appropriate time to fall. Who knows if it will fall during school hours because disasters don’t warn before they strike?

 

When students were leaving the campus for the day, a female student noted, “When it rains, we don’t have lessons because the whole building is flooded with water.”  The student said they all go to a classroom that is not leaking and stand to wait for the rain to stop before they take lesson; adding “or when the rain is very heavy and long, we don’t take lesson at all.” The student wished their new building would be finished for them to learn without being disturbed.

 

On the grounds of the new two-storey building that is supposed to be constructed, the ground floor is not finished while the top floor is still flat; without a wall raised. It was noticed that the land is partly a wetland.

 

FPA visited the county’s authority and was told by local police Supt. E. Wiggs Drunwillie, Deputy Commander, Grand Bassa County that Mrs. Gbaa did carry Mr. Reeves’ complaint to them and they questioned him on the money spend. 

 

“Mr. Reeves told us he didn’t have any report or document to show how the money was spent but he alone is not to be held liable for the used money because the money was not sent to him alone but some was also sent to Mr. Moses Gbaa, brother of Jose’s Husband and present principal of the School.”

 

It was than that the police showed the record of how the money was received by both men, but Mr. Reeves said he didn’t receive any money from Mr. Gbaa while Mr. Gbaa said he received the money and gave it to Mr. Reeves but didn’t make any receipt every time the money was given.

Officer Drunwillie said Mr. Reeves was arrested but was not prosecuted because Jose and her Husband had to leave earlier and they could not keep him in police custody after 48 hours. The police officer said if the lady comes back and decides to re-register the case, she can do so but in her absence, they can’t do anything. 

 

‘No need to ask for receipt’

 

The record shows the total money received by both men was US$73,959.94. Mr. Reeves received the total amount of US$35,599.04 and Mr. Gbaa (Principal) US$38,360.94.

 

The Principal told FPA he and Mr. Reeves received the money through Western Union because the money was too much to send all at once.  “My sister -in- law told me that she wanted to send more money but could not send all through Mr. Reeves because it was too much so she used to send some money in my name. When Benedict and I collected the money, right on the spot I would give the money to Benedict.”

 

When asked if he made Mr. Reeves make receipts to show that he received money, the principal answered, “I didn’t know Benedict would have said something like this because I trusted him; so I felt there was no need to ask for receipts.”

 

Upon leaving the Police Station, FPA contacted Mr. Reeves via mobile. He said he was ready to comment but due to the bad road condition, the meeting was rescheduled the following week when Mr. Reeves was expected in Monrovia. On that Thursday, FPA contacted Mr. Reeves who begged that he had not come to Monrovia but would come Tuesday, the following week.  But that Tuesday, Mr.Reeves didn’t show up nor answer his phone. His phone was switched off. 

 

FPA contacted Mrs. Jose Gbaa via mobile phone. She said when she came to Liberia May 2008 to find out about the money sent for the school construction; Mr. Reeves admitted using some of the money to establish a business and buy some things but said he was going to pay back the money. She added that he said “after all it was only a few thousand United States Dollars. When I took him to the police, it was when he indicted my brother-in Law, Moses who everybody knows in Buchanan, can’t take money if it is left on a table with nobody around.

 

“I was in communication with Benedict when I sent the money to him and Moses.  He did not tell me that Moses didn’t give him the money when he (Moses) received it. When he knew that he was guilty, he tried dragging Moses into it. Benedict stole my money, and if a big man steals somebody’s money, he is no longer a big man.”

 

Mrs. Jose Gbaa disclosed that the “school is Moses’. Therefore, he can’t steal his own school money. And if Moses had eaten the money, Benedict would have been the first to report Moses. In fact, Benedict was the project manager and he was the only one allowed to go Monrovia and buy materials.”

 

Financial crisis hampering construction

 

When asked how she came to know Mr. Reeves, she answered, “I got to know him in Ghana through my husband. We all worked on a project in Ghana and he appeared very serious; so I trusted him to head this project and didn’t know he would have done this.”

 

Commenting on the building under construction, Jose said with the financial crisis, she does not know where else she can raise funds right now.  “Those who helped are not feeling good about what happened to the money that should have helped the children in Bassa get a decent building.

 

“I can’t turn my back on the Liberian children now.  I will look for some way but if I do raise money, I will come to Liberia and start the building project myself because I can’t trust anybody again.”

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At TRC, Veteran Journalists Discuss Role Before, After War in Liberia

October 29, 2008
(This article was also published on FrontPageAfrica http://www.frontpageafrica.com/newsmanager/anmviewer.asp?a=7590&z=3.)

 

The thematic hearings of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) featured Liberian journalists from

both Liberia and the USA, who spoke on their roles played before and during the conflict in Liberia.

 

At the hearings yesterday were five journalists which included Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, publisher, Daily Observer newspaper; Stanton Peabody, editorial consultant, Daily Observer; Mr. Gabriel Williams, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information, Cultural and Tourism (MICAT); Fanny Cole Weefur, former news anchor, Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) and Mr. Robert Lomia, former managing editor, The Eye newspaper.

 

The Journalist talked about freedom of press before and after the various conflicts in Liberia. Comparing press freedom during the 1940’s-1978, Mr. Peabody talked of how there was no press freedom because journalists were jailed whenever they published something deemed negative by the government.

 

Mr. Best spoke on difficulties experienced by the Liberian Media encountered during the regimes of Tubman, Tolbert and Doe and how he was thrown into prison seven times for publishing articles that were not favorable to the government.

 

Publisher Best who started practicing journalism in 1964 said the first time he went to jail was in 1981 when his paper published three letters from students criticizing the military government for banning Liberia National Students Union (LINSU) President Commany Best Wisseh. Mr. Wisseh had, according to sources close to LINSU in the 1980s criticized the excesses of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) government and asked the PRC to say when it would return the government to civilian rule.

 

On mercenary journalism, he said it exists in Liberia. He said some newspaper publishers themselves are engaged in the practice because they serve as public relations officer for business people. However, he did not state the impact of such practice on the Liberian conflict.

 

Speaking further on the current situation in the country, Mr. Best said the members of the National Legislature are selfish; only concerned about themselves. “The problem with those in power, they don’t give money back to the masses. This is what got poverty rate high. They should begin to think positively by giving the money back to the people in building schools, etc.”

 

For her part, Mrs. Weefur said during her stay at LBS, the level of press freedom today is better than during the regime of President Samuel K. Doe. She called on the current to provide scholarships to educate the masses.

‘They Tore My Clothes and Raped Me’ Liberian Women Share War Experiences

October 23, 2008

Whenever there is a conflict universally, women are the most affected victims because they are usually raped, tortured and harassed. Sometimes many die while others stay alive to tell the stories so other wounded hearts can be healed from their friend’s testimonies.

 

The fourteen-year civil war in Liberia has made a lot of women stronger, which has added to their strength before their disasters occurred during 1989 – 2003. It is known that women are the backbone to every society; they support their partners and contribute to society by sending their children to school and training them while their husbands go to work.

 

Some women in Liberia suffered bitter experiences after the war that left them completely traumatized while others died because they could not be reached in time for counseling. Women in Monrovia were lucky to have benefited from most trauma healing programs established by some international and local NGO’s. Just imagine, women living in rural Liberia that have no access to road facilities for some trauma healing groups to reach them and hear their stories!

 

Recently an analysis of women survivors of the Liberian conflict from 1989-2003 was done by three women groups including “Isis Wicce” (an International partner who are responsible to the, Linking of women internationally); Women in Peacebuilding Network (WINEP – a women’s program) of the West African Network for Peace Building-Liberia (WANEP), in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development. These women and international partners went into four of the sixteen counties in Liberia (Lofa, Bong, Maryland and Grand Kru) and identified some women survivors at the verge of losing hope.   

 

One of the survivors from Maryland, in the southeast told her ordeal before a large audience at the Monrovia City Hall yesterday. The victim explained that she was raped several times by five rebels. She said when the rebel hit Maryland late 1990, she, her mother and children decided to go to the border of Ivory Coast, and while passing through the bushes of Pleebo District by way of the short cut, they fell into a trap of rebels who told her ‘to service’ them (have sex) or they would kill her children if she had refused.

 

Sobbing profusely, she said “they told me to naked myself before my children and the first rebel commanded my son to hold up my legs apart for him to enter or my son would die. So he did it because I didn’t want any of my children killed, and after he got through, he told my son to wipe me dry which he did.  Just imagine how I felt when my son looked into my private?”

 

The lady believed to be middle aged further said after the second rebel came, he told her daughter to wipe his sexual organ after he had finished “having me. I beg saying, ‘my people I beg your for mercy’ but the head said if we leave you we will kill your children.  I lay still until they finished because I wanted to carry my children with me. My old mother was crying after they finished, so one of the rebel told another to waste sand in my mother’s eye because if she could not see she wouldn’t have caused noise, and from that day my ma got blind because of me. She is living with me and is 91 years old, why did she have to suffer because of me? Another victim from Lofa said eight men including her brother raped her in Lofa during the LURD invasion in 2003. “When they came into Foyah, they killed my father because they said he had dragon and practiced witch craft act. After they finished killing my father they also killed my mother and instructed me to put my dead mother’s head on my laps and pet her. I was told to tell my dead mother, ‘Old Ma don’t feel bad, that the war.’ 

 

“They then tore off my clothes and raped me one after another and told my brother to have me, when he refused, they threatened to kill him. And so I beg him to, which he did because I didn’t want them to kill my only living relative at the time. My brother and I do not speak up till present, when he sees me, he goes another place as I also do; we are not on good term.”

 

The lady who said she has a son, disclosed that after they finished with her the rebels pushed a torchlight into her private parts that left her bleeding, she could not walk several years due to the damage caused by they rape. She narrated that she used a wheel chair but started walking by herself recently but usually with the help of others; adding, “I’m still suffering from the rape.

 

To peepee (urinate), I can still bleed.”

 

After her story she asked for assistance to take further treatment and send her son to school. Her testimony touched Vice President Joseph Boikai who went to represent the President who had left for the USA. V.P. Boikai vowed to support her and the son’s education until he reaches college. 

 

Cecelia Doniwoly, on behalf of the women group said according to statistics taken from the four counties researched, there are “over one million cases” of women survivors; of which some are willing to speak while others are not talking. She termed it dangerous because other women without help would die from their trauma as there are still more cases in the remaining counties not reached.

 

She disclosed that one million Euros has been donated by EU to help support the psychical and mental strength of women in Liberia, saying “nothing happens in Liberia if a woman is not in the center of it.”

 

‘Forgotten Communities in Liberia,’ How Are Citizens Faring with Life?

October 18, 2008

There are some communities in Liberia considered forgotten. And such communities were known during elections in 2005. People running campaigns for various parties were seen in these places, convincing citizens to vote for their candidates as every vote counted was important.

Little did these people know they were going to be forgotten or considered outcast once their votes were cast for candidates showing so much attention during elections season!

It was so pathetic to see people who claimed they voted for ”Ma Ellen” (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) as she is known, reduced to eating  wild roots such as bush eddoes, yams and potatoes, because the price of a cup of rice is sold at L$25.00 which many people can’t afford.

Talking about bush eddoes, known as “hummie,” I’m a living testimony because during the beginning of the Liberian civil war in 1989, I ate it. Because there was no food, bush eddoes were the only food available for survival at the time but it itched my mouth the whole night that I did not sleep. Just imagine what those people are going through when they have to scratch their mouths after eating what they consider food!

When FPA visited a part of Rock Hill described as “Forgotten Community” in Paynesville, Montserrado County and saw almost everybody including men, women and children breaking rocks to make ends meet, a family comprising of father mother and three children would go on the field to break rocks.

During the breaking of the rock into crushed rocks, the children would be piling the crushed rocks to make a big pile for sale. The chances of buying the piled rocks are slim because they are so many ‘crushing rocks,’ the only business they know. Hence, they must resort to eating hummie when there is no buyer for the day or the day’s catch is small.

Most of the residents in this area are living in zinc, mud and mat makeshift houses that could be easily penetrated by snakes or other crawling creatures. Some of these makeshift houses look so deplorable that one won’t believe that human beings live in them.

One such person crushing rocks for livelihood is Blessing Jackson; a junior high school dropped out who left school because she got pregnant for a boy she claimed paid her school fees from the money he made from breaking rocks.  Blessing pointed out that since he left her six months pregnant to go Nimba and find a job; she has been breaking rocks to sell at L$30.00 retail price for a five gal oil container, to feed her and the baby.

Blessing who lives in a mat house, said she wishes to go back to school but can’t because she has no one to care for her baby. She disclosed that she and some friends are forced to find boyfriends to help them break rocks because when new to the trade, it is difficult to break a giant size rock from under the ground.

“When a boy or man helps you, they will also expect help from you by giving your body in return, and if you say no, you will suffer because a man won’t help you for free.”

During tour in the area, FPA encountered Old Man Jacob, burning some tires over a big rock to make it easier to break.  The whole area was polluted with black smoke from the tire burning. Taking into consideration the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental laws the smoke from the tire is dangerous to those inhaling it.

Old Man Jacob lives in a rustic zinc house with his wife and five children, including a two month old baby. He said “I have to burn four or five tires over a big rock like this. One truck tire costs L$100.00, equivalent to almost US$2.00. I will burn it today and when it cools of by tomorrow, I will start breaking the rock to sell so my family can at least have rice to eat tomorrow.”

He said rock breakers sometimes buy the rocks from those who have them in their yards but referred to the transaction as “buying pig in a bag” because if he spends more money in buying the rock and getting less after selling the rock, then “the whole business is lucky ticket.”

There is also Abutu Zorleh who also breaks rock in the area. A father of two children, Zorleh dropped out of secondary school. He told FPA he left school to break rocks when the unfortunate death of his child and sister’s occurred when a fence broke and fell on the kids, killing them instantly. The sorrowful part about his case is he still lives in the same place the fence fell on his kids in a mat house he later built.  But when one looks at the house, you would wonder why he is living in a place fit to be an animal house.

When asked why he still lives the same place that reminds him of his kids, he answered, “I have no where else to go but hang right here because I can’t afford money to buy a land of my own. The money I make is only enough to feed my family on a daily basis.”

The house Zorleh lives in indeed hangs over a cliff, where a disaster could occur at any time. It is so close to the edge that if they make mistake and break just a piece of rock from around the house, it will slide into the pit.

Also breaking rocks with a big hammer was thirteen year old Darhukai of the kpelle tribe. He said his father who is a watch man (night guard),   had gone to work and instructed him to break some rocks and sell to buy food to feed him (Darhukai) and his smaller brothers. He said, “I watched my father break rock, so it was how I learned the trade.”

Many children Darhukai’s age, whose parents can’t afford school fees, usually go to school in the morning and break rocks in the afternoon and evening hours. Others don’t go to school at all because their parents can’t afford.

There are many others who have created death traps for themselves by breaking rocks from the same spot they build their houses. They are not conscious of the danger they put themselves in because they need money. Therefore, they break any rock they can lay their hands on, even if it is their death warrant.

Rocks extracted from most of these places have created large holes or pits that even if one builds a house up to roof level, the top won’t be seen. Some of these pits are approximately thirty to fifty feet deep.

The other time a tragedy occurred when a two year old fell into one of the smaller holes a rock was extracted from due the rain that filled the hole. The baby went to draw water innocently as she used to see the older children do but no one was in the yard to see the child walk right into pit and drowned. The only reason the parents knew the child drowned was because the slippers of the child were seen floating over the water.

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October 11, 2008

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