I can still record on the night of December 22nd when I boarded the Air Maroc flight to Dakar, Senegal. My Mom travelled a seven hours distance from the rural part of the Liberia just to see me off, I had just celebrated my daughter’s second birthday the day before, and Ebola was still killing the peace loving people of Liberia. Some of the questions I was asking myself while boarding the flight that night were unanswerable at that time but I think it’s the right thing to do in such situations. I kept asking myself, is the Atlas Corps Fellowship worth my entire 2015? Will my daughter remember me or my name when I return? How easy will it be to get reintegrated into the Liberian society when I return? I was in a complete dilemma – the reason for leaving was just as strong as the reasons for wanting to stay, leaving me suspended between the two. I was probably horribly aware of how big this decision was, and just how much it could impact my own life as well as the lives of the people I was leaving behind. I guess you are wondering how I was able to make up my mind? The truth is, you won’t know if the decision you make is right until you make it. As the journey continued I had to go to Dakar, Senegal which was a brilliant suggestion from the Atlas Corps team in order to avoid further complications when I arrive in the US due to the health crisis (Ebola epidemic) back home. I spent three weeks in Dakar before finally arriving in Washington DC on January 9, 2015.
Totally a cultural shock from January 9th to present – the weather, the twenty four hours electricity, the people and simple things as the transportation systems. Liberia as you may be aware, just returned from a fourteen (14) years of civil crisis. Liberia as a country experienced one of the largest recorded economic collapses during the civil war with the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) falling by over 90 percent between 1987 and 1995. This left a legacy of extreme poverty, with almost two-thirds of Liberians living below the poverty line, severe capacity constraints, significant under-employment and a vast infrastructure deficit. In fact the first elected post-war government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had to begin from scratch because all banking institutions, including the Central Bank of Liberia, were massively looted and emptied of their contents. The destruction was so massive that many residents who owned properties before the war died of frustration and heartbreak upon seeing their properties in ruins. Even hospitals were looted, sometimes resulting in the destruction of doors and windows. Liberia has also been ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries by the World Bank in the last 10 years. There’s no twenty four hours electricity out there, good governance, health delivery systems, education, employment opportunities still remain a huge challenge in the Liberian society. Being part of the generation born in the late 80s, this confirms that I am still experiencing a lot of basic necessities of life for the first time as I travel to other countries. For example, my first time to board a plane was in 2011 when I was selected by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery to attend the International Conference of Crisis Mappers in Geneva Switzerland. Growing up as a Liberian in the last two decades hasn’t been a smooth road at all. I have had to listen to gun shots as though they were music, I have tasted hunger, hardship and have lived part of my life in refugee camps in the republics of Ivory Coast and Ghana.
After all – here I am – an Atlas Corps Class 17 Fellow serving at Creative Associates International in Washington DC, the capital of the World’s superpower.
Since my arrival about a month ago, the most interesting part of this journey was the first two weeks, during the Global Leadership Lab. I had the chance to be with my fellow Fellows from different countries and continents. I had the opportunity to listen to their stories and learn about their cultures while sharing mine. Living abroad is awesome, the fellowship is awesome but as everything is going well at the moment I am also constantly reminding myself that there will be challenges ahead. As exciting and promising as fellowshipping or studying abroad can seem (and usually is), the experience doesn’t come without its challenges. But interestingly the Atlas Corps staff and Fellows community is a blessing. How could I be afraid to embark on this journey now that I know I got such a rich and supportive community that have got my back?
I am now facing the reality that I am in a new place, new environment and a different culture. I am trying to enjoy every bit of it; this time might never come back. But I am trying to be responsible as well. I know I might not be able to abide by all the instructions of your family and friends, but I am trying to take care of myself in the best possible way. I am not a kid anymore so I’m making all my decisions carefully and also fighting to make my experience at my host organization, Creative Associates International worth remembering. I have been blessed to work with a hardworking and very team supportive team in the Technology for Development Unit at Creative. The mission for which I came to the US remains constant – learn, share, network and return to Liberia to impact the Liberian society positively by using new and old technologies to inspire social change.
Last but not the least; I trying my best to never forget those who care about me back home. I am constantly staying in touch while I do my fellowship.
I am of the strong conviction that I made the right decision. I came here for a good purpose. The Atlas Corps experience is going to develop me personally and professionally. Personal development is all about progress. Motivation is key to on-going improvement and this is something I am going to gain from this fellowship. This change in pace in my life’s own little marathon will definitely inject that extra spark of energy and creativity in me.
I encourage the young people of Liberia and other emerging countries to keep pushing through challenges and everything will work out – if nothing else, they will have lots of stories to tell like me.