Saturday, May 27, 2006

About Liberia

Located on the West coast of Africa, Liberia is a small country between Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Originally purchased by the American Colonization Society, it was to be home for the freed slaves of America who wished to return to Africa. (Liberia is Latin for "free land.") The first group of freed slaves arrived in 1812, and fighting began then. The newcomers from America wanted to rule, and those who had always lived there resented someone coming in and taking their space. Despite the difficulties, in 1838 the Commonwealth of Liberia was formed. The American blacks held all the important government positions, and it is even reported that some of them owned slaves, and treated them much like the black slaves were treated in the United States. In 1920 the Firestone Rubber company from the America leased large plots of land from the Liberian government, bringing much needed money into the struggling nation, and the economy improved.

With the economic growth, the standard of living also went up. Electrical plants generated power for the cities, and roads were built to accomodate the growing number of cars and trucks. Tourists came on safaris to hunt and explore this beautiful country.

In 1971, William Tolbert became president. Under his rule, the gap between the richer American-Liberian descendants and the natives became wider. Rubber prices dropped, and rice prices increased. Unrest set in amongst the poorer native Liberians, as they became envious of the American-Liberians, who now comprised only 5% of the population. In 1980 men from the military overthrew the government, and Samuel Doe became president. The American-Liberians were no longer the people in power. Samuel Doe had many of the former officials killed and imprisoned.

In 1989 an all-out civil war began. Three groups were at war, two rebel groups fought against Doe's soldiers and against each other. Each group represented one or two ethnic tribes. The entire country was caught up in the conflict as tribal loyalties separated the people. Samuel Doe was killed by one of the rebel groups in 1990, but the fighting did not stop. West African peacekeeping forces came into the country, to help bring about the much desired peace to the war-torn nation. Charles Taylor, head of the rebel group INPFL (Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia) was declared president in 1990. The other rebel group (NPFL) still roamed the land, terrorizing village inhabitants. Anyone from a different ethnic tribe was in great danger. Many fled to neighboring countries, seeking to escape the horrors of war.

Orphaned, abandoned and neglected, they wandered from place to place, struggling to stay alive.

The major cities were destroyed. Power plants no longer operated, and sanitation problems increased. Poor people wandered about, seeking food and shelter. Hundreds of families were torn apart, and the children suffered the most. Orphaned, abandoned and neglected, they wandered from place to place, struggling to stay alive. Many became ill and died. Orphanages were established by compassionate people and International organizations. Many children found refuge in these homes. But the war was not finished. Between the rebels in the bush, and the cruel reign of Charles Taylor, peace still evaded the Liberian people. And the number of orphans and suffering children increased.

In 2003, Charles Taylor was deported, and the people of Liberia are, once again, looking for peace and liberty. The fighting has died down, and the rebels have surrendered their arms to peacekeeping forces, who now have control of most of the country.

In January 2006 Liberia celebrated the inauguration of the first woman president in all of Africa, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson. Mrs. Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice attended the inauguration. The people of Liberia are hopeful for reform and the opportunity to rebuild their shattered nation under this new administration. It will be many hard years before the country can stand again.

And the children? They are still waiting. Not for elections, or new leaders, but for homes and families. Some of them are in orphanages waiting, and some are still waiting to come into the orphanages. And this is where we hope to make a difference, to help the suffering Liberian people, starting with the children.

Taken from, "About Liberia"

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