Saturday, August 14, 2010

St Matthews United Methodist School, Logan Town, Liberia

By the Grace of God, by Teri Weefur

Although this story is not based on a real account, the location, Logan Town, and the disheartening statistics cited are all factual. This could be the story of any one of the students supported by Operation Classroom. Through the generosity of the St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Bowie, Maryland,, students at St. Matthews United Methodist School in Logan Town, Liberia, have the opportunity, through scholarships and support of the school, to attain the education entitled them, and to have a chance at a better life despite many odds they face.

The line of people—mostly young mothers with their babies tied to their backs or lying listlessly in their arms—winds around the corner of the small building. I try, as fast and as carefully as possible, to attend to each person before my exhausted but dedicated staff has to leave for the day. Our days leave us drained, sometimes frustrated from the limited resources available to us, especially in a town where there are no hospitals, in the second poorest country in the world where the life expectancy is 56 years, more than half the population is illiterate, and the unemployment rate is 85%. But despite the mountains we have to move each day, we are all fulfilled in the mission we are committed to.

Day after day, I recognize many of the faces that came into the clinic. Most are people whose lives could easily have been my own had it not been for the blessings I had received as a child. Some are even former kindergarten classmates, many of whom were forced to drop out in order to help support their families. Others come from families that had wanted to let them remain in school, yet simply couldn’t afford the fees. My mother could have fallen ill, my father out of work, and it would have been up to me, as the eldest boy, to go out into the fields and pick greens to sell in my mother’s market on the side of the road. Worse still, I could have lost one or both of my parents to Liberia’s violent, 14-year civil war, and would have been charged with the responsibility of raising my four younger siblings—making education just a pipe dream.

Yes, I think, there, but for the grace of God, go I. There are a hundred other scenarios, some quite unimaginable, which could have made me a statistic: less than half of school aged children are enrolled in school—there are just not enough schools. Instead, through the goodness of the Lord, and the compassion of people I encountered and most I would never meet, I was given a chance. And even with that opportunity, with strangers across an ocean believing that my life was worth something, and that I deserved a better future, life has still been a challenge.

As a child, I walked many miles to school each day, often on an empty stomach. Yet there was no way I would miss a day knowing that someone somewhere had skipped a lunch to send me to school. I was determined not to disappoint my faithful friends, my family, and my countrymen. Of course I was tempted by the idea that quitting school and going to work peddling wares in a wheelbarrow on the side of the dusty road would more quickly put food in my stomach. But I remained stalwart in my commitment to the long-term, to my desire to pay the blessings I had received forward to the other people in my small community of Logan Town. A place where there is no electricity or running water, along with the rest of the country, Logan Town is essentially a shanty town, its tin-roof shacks crowded together along garbage-strewn streets where women set up shop to try to make ends meet.

Schools in the township lack proper resources to provide the quality of education that should be afforded every human being. Students—many of whom are more than twice the age for their grade—learn what they can in overcrowded classrooms from overworked teachers. Still, even with such deplorable conditions, those fortunate enough to be enrolled in school are always eager to learn.So each day, as I administer vaccinations, check lungs, ears and mouths, give aspirin to lower high fevers, and comfort those beyond my power to heal, I speak with parents about their children’s futures. I tell them my story, and encourage them to invest in education—that it is the only way out of the life of poverty that feels so binding at times.

Sometimes they make excuses—some of which are valid—and other times they look at me incredulously, exclaiming their disbelief that the town’s only doctor was born and raised there, and I am one of them. “Anything is possible in God,” I reply, knowing that this was in fact the only reason I am where I am today. I owe my gratitude to God and to the faith that one congregation a world away had in a small town, in one seemingly insignificant school in a forgotten corner of the world. Their hope for me, and my dedication to giving that hope wings, helped make something of my life. And for that, every day I show up for work in my small clinic, faced with challenges and setbacks, I draw from that Godly love, to continue to move mountains for others around me.

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