Thank you for your interest in coming to Liberia. Our projects in Liberia are making lasting improvements in people’s lives and we are sure your experience will do the same for you.
Please read this handbook carefully, as it covers a lot of important information that can help make your experience in Liberia a good one. The following factors will affect your experience in a positive manner:
A willingness to put expectations on hold and “go with the flow”, a sense of humour, a sense of humility and an attitude of openness and curiosity.
Conversely, there are things that work against you:
A sense of superiority, focusing on inconveniences, such as a lack of hot water, confusing this trip with a vacation and too much focus on your own feelings.
While in the country you will represent an outpouring of care and concern for the Liberians whose lives are improved by our projects. Meeting you will help our Liberian friends understand the larger community that supports them in their quest to rebuild their country.
We hope your stay with us enriches your lives and touches your hearts as our time in Liberia has done for us. We look forward to seeing you there.
The UOF Team
Why Go To Liberia?
Liberia is a country on the mend. A civil war spanning 14 years brought the country to its knees and as Liberia regains its strength it needs a helping hand. For 12 years now peace has reigned over Liberia and the people here have been working to rebuild their country.
Located on the west coast of Africa, between the countries of Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia is home to 3,476,608 Africans. 55% of the adult population is illiterate, that percentage increasing to 84% when only referring to women. During the war people had to flee for their lives and education was difficult to prioritize.
Flights – $1900 – $2500 approximately. Brussels and KLM offer fights to Liberia that route through Europe and Royal Air Morac has a transfer is Cassablanca.
Hotel rooms in Monrovia – $135 per night and upwards
Food – $50/day
Visa (1-3 months) – $70 (plus a fee if you use Embassy Link)
Vaccinations – $ depends on what you need
Malaria Medication – $5/day for Malarone (most expensive option)
There are some beautiful fabrics for sale in Liberia as well as carvings, paintings and jewelry. If you plan on taking gifts home please consider your financial needs for this. A mask can cost from $10 – $30, fabric $10 – $25, paintings $14 – $100 US dollars.
It is strongly recommended that you contact your physician or travel clinic 8 -10 weeks prior to your planned departure. Be sure to have on hand all necessary prescription medications to cover your time away. Review your current health insurance regarding coverage for illnesses/accidents occurring outside of Canada or the US. Verify that your insurance will cover emergency medical evacuation by air ambulance. Bring with you the phone and fax number of your physician and health insurance company. If you have any drug or food allergies, bring medication and documentation as needed.
You MUST have your Yellow Fever vaccination to enter Liberia. It is also recommended that your tetanus and other boosters are current. Please consider the recommendations of your travel consultant. Physicians will recommend anti-malarial medication that begins before you leave the country. Although it is your choice as to whether or not you take it, we strongly encourage you to consider their advice. Malaria is prevalent in Liberia. Malarone and Doxycycline seem to be the most recommended. Doxycycline is well known for causing heartburn. For those of you who live in Vancouver there is a travel clinic at L-5, 601 West Broadway, Vancouver (604-736-9244). There is also one located on the North Shore.
Links to resources:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm
• Vancouver Community Health http://travelclinic.vch.ca/
1. Passports: Please be aware of the current requirements for passport expiration. At the moment, the requirement for Liberia is that the date of expiration must be at least 6 months after the date your trip begins. This could change, so please check as soon as you know when you will be traveling to Liberia.
2. Visas: Canadians require a Visa to travel to Liberia and are advised to look into and begin the process of obtaining a Visa very early – as soon as you know when you are traveling. We have experienced a lengthy (and potentially frustrating) process when dealing directly with the Liberian Embassy in the States.
The Embassy of Liberia in the US is:
5201 16th. Street, NW
Washington DC, 20011
Tel: (202) 723-0437
Fax: (202) 723-0436
There are companies that will manage your visa application for you and these services can be very helpful.
a. Valid Passport.
b. Two (2) passport size photographs – American size (full-face view on a white background).
c. Medical Certificate from a recognized physician indicating that the applicant is in good health and free from all communicable diseases.
d. Application for Visa to be completed in duplicate.
e. Evidence of financial support.
f. Letter requesting a Visa, indicating place of accommodation in Liberia.
g. Letter of invitation from Universal Outreach Foundation
Our place of residence in Liberia is:
Kendeja Road, Paynesville, Montserrado County
To fly to Monrovia, the best major centers from which to embark are New York, Montreal, London, Amsterdam and Brussels.
We have a guest suite in our compound in Payesville. Please check with us to ensure its available.
There are various comfortable and secure hotels to stay at in Liberia. Trip advisor has some helpful reviews on all of the top hotels at www.tripadvisor.com.
In Country Transportation
If you choose to venture out on your own these are your options. Rental vehicles with drivers are available for $50 to $175 USD per day plus fuel. There are affordable taxis at a negotiated price. The taxis stop frequently, are very crowded and usually don’t have seat belts.
Telecommunications in Liberia
There are four cellular service companies currently servicing Liberia. Many of the USA, Canada and European cellular services do not work in Liberia despite their advertising claim for coverage. However, this issue appears to be getting better so you may want to bring your mobile phone from home with you.
Alternatively, you may wish to purchase a cell phone for your visit to Liberia, as it is the best current means of communication. The cost would include; cell phone US$25; SIM Card US$5; and a Scratch Card US$ 5, for a total of US$35.00. The $5 scratch card will give the average user approx. 4 days of use.
Money and Acceptable Forms of Payment
Until recently Liberia was a cash-only country. The currencies used are USD and Liberian dollars. Liberian dollars can only be purchased in country. ATMs are available in the country, but are not reliable. If you are coming for a short stay we recoomend bring enough cash to accomidate your stay. Credit cards are accepted at finer establishments such as hotels in Monrovia.
A wide variety of styles are acceptable in Liberia. Women and men will dress in traditional Liberian attire one day and switch to western sttire the next day. Liberians take great pride in their appearance and although it is a poor country, you will see some very well dressed people here. You’ll tend to only see adults wearing shorts in very casual settings. Liberia is a hot and humid country with the average daily high being about 34 degrees in the dry season with about 85% humidity. Keep this in mind when packing.
For women we recommend packing on the conservative side with skirt lengths close to the knee. Casual days on the beach are a different story and shorts and short skirts or dresses are fine. Capris work well and, if you feel comfortable in these temperatures wearing pants or jeans, these too are appropriate.
Foreign men seem to be able to get away with wearing shorts and although locals may consider this undignified. We recommend light weight pants and shorts and we will let you know when its appropriate to wear shorts or pants. Bring at least nice pair of slacks and a button up shirt as if attend an event, you will be in the company of very well dressed local people.
This is a difficult subject to explain in a few paragraphs. Basically, expect things to be different from home and be prepared to roll with the new experiences. The following are a few things we want to mention.
Liberians are very interactive people. It is considered normal here to yell at someone who is walking down the street or offer advice to strangers. Visitors will often be called white man or white lady (if you are Caucasian) and women will be referred to as mommy or missy. There is no need to take offense at this.
The effects of the war can be seen everywhere from the buildings to the people. There are a great number of amputees here. Some of them are functioning very well in Liberian society due to retraining programs while others choose to beg for a living. It is up to you whether you want to give or not.
Over 20 African languages are spoken in Liberia, but English is the official language. Having said that, the local version of English they speak can be difficult to understand. Liberian English is quite distinct from British or American usage. It has some archaic American expressions held over from the “pioneers” of the 1800s (like “vexed” for angry), but it also has some British and other diverse expressions.
Pronunciation tends to drop the final consonant of words ending in consonants, so that “Jared” sounds just like “Jerry”. “Th” is often pronounced like a “T”, and so “think” becomes “tink”, and “Thank You” becomes “tank you”. At the end of a word, “th” is often pronounced as an “F” (i.e., ‘truth’ becomes “truf”, and “Ruth” becomes “roof”). Word order is often quite different as well, so that question sentences are phrased differently than in Standard English. For example, the question “When did you take the exam?” becomes “What time you took the exam?”.
Spiritual Life in Liberia
Almost half of the population in Liberia is Christian, close to 20% Muslim and the remainder follows traditional religions. Spirituality is very important to Liberians and statements about God and Jesus will be found everywhere from the local church banner to the back of a taxicab. Regardless of your personal beliefs, we ask you to respect their approach to their religion of choice.
After your plane lands you will disembark on the runway and be directed to customs. Once inside, look for the booth labelled “other passports”, unless you are traveling under an African passport. They may ask you how long you are staying, where you are staying and what you are doing here. Please give them your hotel name or our address at UOF Compound, Cooper Beach, Paynesville,
Once through customs you will enter into the baggage claims area. People may offer to help you and if you take them up on it expect to hand over a dollar for their services. If you don’t want help, a polite “No thank you” is all you need to say. Your baggage tags will be checked to ensure you have the correct luggage. Either a family member of Universal Outreach will be there to meet you or else a predetermined representative. This person will be waiting right outside the door exiting the airport. It will take an hour to travel to Monrovia from the airport.
Security in Liberia
At this point the government of Canada does not recommend traveling to Liberia for non-essential reasons.
In spite of the warnings against traveling to Liberia we chose to come here. There are many expatriates here from around the world working for various NGOs. The people we associate with here range from couples raising young families, to retired people, to single women working in remote areas. We are comfortable being in Liberia but you need to weigh the risks for yourself. Please check out www.voyage.gc.ca for the Government of Canada’s most recent information on travelling to Liberia. Other web sites we recommend looking at for information on Africa are:
♣ Work clothes (light weight work pants, and three or four cotton T-shirts)
♣ 2-3 pairs casual lightweight pants/skirts and shirts for non-working times. Jeans are fine if you can manage them in the heat.
♣ An outfit of nicer clothes to be worn to church or out to dinner – casual. Dresses or skirts preferred for women, close to knee length.
♣ Socks and underwear – there is no laundry facility other than sink washing
♣ One light sweater or jacket for air-conditioned rooms
♣ Shoes and sandals
♣ Hat and/or bandana or two
♣ Bathing suit and shorts for beach trips
♣ Water bottle
♣ Purell – small, pocket-size
♣ Ear plugs, if desired
♣ Personal toiletries and medications
♣ Insect repellant with high Deet content
♣ OTC stomach and anti-diarrhea medicine
♣Towel for showering or beach time (two work best)
♣ Shower shoes, if desired
♣ Journal to write in, pens, etc.
♣ Book to read
♣ Personal night light for reading, battery operated
♣ Small flashlight
♣ Camera, not expensive is recommended unless you really want high quality photos. Comments on photo taking: when taking pictures of the children, staff or Liberians in general, we ask that you always ask permission. It is good to have some sort of relationship with those of whom you are taking pictures so that you can match pictures with names upon your return. You will get a varied response from strangers ranging from “yes” to “no”, to “give me $5” or to outright yelling.
♣ Internet-accessible email account for sending and receiving messages from home
♣ Airline ticket, itinerary, passport, ID, yellow travel clinic booklet if you have one. Make two copies of your passport to bring with you.
Things to leave at home
♣ Expensive jewelry
♣ Anything valuable