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Visitors to Liberia Handbook

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Dear Volunteers,

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

• 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

• Too much focus on your own feelings

If you are traveling as a group we recommend:

• Preparation as a group in advance

• Designating a key person who is willing to exercise responsibility

• Screening out potentially disruptive persons BEFORE getting to Liberia

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.

Sincerely,

The UOF Team

Table of Contents

PART A – For the work team member

• Why Go to Liberia?

• Our Liberian Partners

• Our Projects in Liberia

• Costs Involved

• Medical Preparation

• Travel Preparation

• Visa Requirements

• Flights

• Hotels

• In Country Transportation

• Telecommunications in Liberia

• Money and Acceptable Forms of Payment

• Clothing

• Cultural Differences

• Language

• Spiritual Life at DASE and in Liberia

• Arrival Logistics

• Your Accommodations at DASE

• Potential Activities During Your Stay

• Interacting With the Children and Staff at DASE

• Security in Liberia

PART B – Appendices

• Packing List

PART C – Dictionary

       How to speak and understand the Liberian English language    

PART A

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.

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.

For 6 years now peace has reigned over Liberia and the people hope to regain some of the amenities they once had.  We at Universal Outreach choose to focus on helping Liberia reestablish schools and hope that, through our work, communities outside of the capital of Monrovia can have access to a quality education.

You can be a part of our vision by coming over to Liberia to view our projects and to meet the people of Liberia who will benefit from your actions.  Seeing first hand the smiling faces of children at our schools will make you truly understand what a gift you are giving when you choose to support our efforts.

Our Liberian Partners

Universal Outreach’s work here would not be possible without our partnership with The African Methodist Episcopal Church.  In 2007 Bishop David R. Daniels of the AME Church invited us to come to his country and help him fulfill his dream to build schools for the children of Liberia.  We have established a working relationship with the AME church where we organize the financing and building of the schools and they manage the operational aspects.

We feel it is essential to have a local, well established, organization running the schools as they have an excellent understanding of their country’s needs and a vested interest in seeing that the children of Liberia become educated. The NGO arm of the AME church is called the Daniels Educational Empowerment Project – DEEP.  This is the entity that governs the schools and it is the DEEP board with which we meet when making decisions about our projects in Liberia.

Our Projects In Liberia

As of July 2009, UOF has built two schools in Liberia.  The Daniels Adams School of Excellence (DASE) is the first school and the focus of much of our attention.  It is located on 275 acres of AME Church land in the township of Royesville, one hour to the north west of Monrovia.  Prior to the war, DASE was known as the Jordon Agricultural Institute.  With a focus on agriculture, this boarding school provided an elementary level of education to the community.  The school shut down in 1990 due to unrest in the country and soon after it fell into disarray.

UOF rehabilitated the buildings that remained and added on the following facilities: two teachers’ living quarters, a teacher’s washroom/shower building, a teacher’s cooking and washing hut, a student washroom facility, a water tower, a generator shack and three palava huts.  The school now offers grades pre Kindergarten to grade 9 and has approximately 150 students enrolled.

We are presently adding a Junior and Senior High School to this site as well as a nursing facility, playground and basketball court.  The vision for this school is to provide an option to the community that will enable their children to earn a grade 12 education without having to leave Royesville.

Topoe Town is the second school we built, approximately 150 km northeast of Monrovia.  This school was the dream of Ed and Jacquie Unger, a Canadian couple from the greater Vancouver area.  Since Ed and Jacquie couldn’t oversee the physical building of the school themselves, Universal Outreach Foundation helped them fulfill their dream by managing the building process. The school is now complete and the DEEP Board of the AME Church has taken over operations of the school.  It is presently open with 200 students enrolled in grades pre K through 10.  This school is also built to house a Senior High and, once the administration is ready, grades 11 and 12 will be offered.  Although UOF’s job in Topoe Town is finished we still like to check in to see how they are doing.

On a smaller scale, we have also engaged in a community project on the beach side of Royesville, approximately 2 kms from where the Daniels Adams School of Excellence is located.  UOF partnered with the community to establish two desperately needed water wells.  We provided the materials and expertise and the community provided the labour.  The wells are presently producing excellent drinking water.

Costs Involved

Flights $1900 – $2500 approx.

Hotel rooms in Monrovia $135 per night and upwards

DASE $10 per person per night

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)

Airport Departure fee $5

Transportation $50-150/day with driver

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.

Medical Preparation

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/

• World Health Organization:  www.who.int/ith and www.who.int/health-topics/idindex.htm 

http://www.mdtravelhealth.com/destinations/africa/liberia.html

Travel Preparation

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

http://www.embassyofliberia.org/

Although it is more expensive, we highly recommend using Embassy Link out of Vancouver. They can be reached at 1-866-538-5645 or 604-443-5076 and www.embassylink.ca

Visa Requirements 

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.

Our place of residence in Liberia is with:

Bishop David R Daniels

14th Episcopal Residence, The Bryant House

Old Congo Town

Monrovia, Liberia

Flights

To fly to Monrovia, the best major centers from which to embark are New York, Montreal, London, Paris, and Brussels.  Royal Air Maroc flies from all of these places, usually departing its European centers on Monday and Thursday and arriving in Monrovia the next day in the early morning.

Brussels Airlines leaves Brussels on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and returns on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday.  In the past we have found Royal Air Maroc to be the most affordable option but with the savings comes a less than ideal arrival and departure time.

www.royalairmaroc.com

http://www.brusselsairlines.com

Hotels

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.  The Royal Hotel is the closest to the UOF headquarters and Kendeja has the most walking friendly beach.  A few examples of prices are as follows:

The Royal Hotel – $195 single/$220 double

Atlantis Guest House – $135 Queen/$150 Suite

The Cape Hotel – $150 single/$200 double

Kendeja Resort – $240 single/$265 double includes breakfast

The Palm Hotel – $90 single

In Country Transportation

Government and public transportation is an issue at the present time.  Rental vehicles with drivers are available for $50 to $175 USD per day plus fuel.  There are 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 

Liberia is a cash-only country.  Currently, the only acceptable form of payment is cash in US dollars or Liberian dollars (the two official currencies in Liberia).

There are no ATM machines or credit card advance processes available in Liberia.  Traveler’s cheques may be used on an extremely limited basis and there is a hefty cashing fee of 10% to 20%.  Businesses and banks do not accept personal US or Canadian cheques from short-term visitors.

Clothing

It appears that a wide variety of styles are acceptable in Liberia.  Women and men will dress in traditional attire one day and switch to western dress the next day.  Liberians who have a little bit of money do tend to take great pride in their appearance.  Although it is a poor country, you will see some very well dressed people here.  One thing you don’t see very often is shorts – especially on adults.  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, it’s a bit too hot here to wear pants all the time.  Bring at least one nice outfit to wear because if the occasion arises and we go out to an event, you will be in the company of very well dressed people.

Cultural Differences

This is a difficult subject to explain in a few paragraphs.  Since we have only been in Liberia for a few years and we are still learning ourselves.  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.  Liberian women tend to be a bit more reserved; however, like anywhere in the world, everyone is different.

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.

Begging is very common here and you will most likely encounter it every time you leave your room. Since the war, begging is considered a very natural thing to do for some people so you’ll need to decide if you want to give or not.  We discourage this activity with the staff at our school and the employees at UOF and we ask you not to indulge them.  However, please be nice about it.

Language

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 at DASE and 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.

Arrival Logistics

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 the 14th Episcopal Residences address.

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.

They used to charge a dollar for the carts but we didn’t get asked to pay last time we arrived.  Keep your luggage tickets handy.  On your way out of the last door, they will want to check to make sure that the luggage you are taking belongs to you.  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.

Your Accommodation at DASE

DASE has a visitor’s facility at which you are welcome to stay.  The room there contains 3 bunk beds, 1 bathroom with shower and a kitchen/eating area.  This space is quite small so expect to spend most of your time outside.  There is power for three hours per day and no air conditioning. The beds have sheets and pillows and the kitchen has all the basics needed for cooking.

There isn’t a store in the area so all provisions need to be taken out with you.  You will have an opportunity to stop at a grocery store on the way out to the school.  The charge to stay there is $10 per person per night with all funds going to the school.  There is a security guard who works at the school but the school is not fenced in.

Potential Activities During Your Stay

 

– Spending time in Royesville at the Daniels Adams School of Excellence

– Trip into Rivercess County to visit the Topoe Town School

– Robertsport excursion for beach walking and surfing with or without an overnight stay (the hotel in Robertsport costs $100 for a canvas tent with 2 double beds)

– Touring the local markets

– Visiting the beach side community of Royesville to see the wells we installed

– Visiting various orphanages

– Sunday service at the AME Church

– If there are any personal objectives we will try to accommodate them

Interacting with Children and Staff at DASE

Common sense dictates certain behavioral considerations.  Be mindful of the schedule the children and staff are on, and don’t ask for adjustments for your own sake.  The staff is very interested in meeting you and spending time with you, but they are also working.   Please don’t ignore them, but also respect their responsibilities.  The children love the attention from visitors and you will find them playful and interactive but everyone is different and some may be more reluctant to interact than others.  Please remember that they too are on a schedule and have to be in class at a specific time.   Engaging with the children is best kept to break times and after school.

Visitors often want to bring things to give to the children – usually candy or toys.  Particularly if a sponsor is visiting, they want to bring something special for their boy or girl.  Here too, we need to request your understanding.  It is essential for the staff to treat all the children with fairness and equality.  They take great care not to set up situations where some child feels left out or unfairly deprived of something.  Likewise, sometimes children are being disciplined for something, and they should not be receiving treats.  For all of these reasons, DASE asks that team members not bring personal gifts for a boy or girl.  Also, in an effort to create fairness, sponsored children do not know they are sponsored.  It is the minority of the student body that is sponsored and we do not want those kids feeling superior.  Your money goes to benefit every child in the school as well as community projects so we ask for your discretion on this topic.

Does this mean that work teams should not bring things for the children?  It means, please do not bring personal gifts for them.   However, many work teams like to bring supplies that DASE needs, such as school and medical supplies.  These are very welcome and much appreciated.   Please ask us what is currently needed.  These too should be given to the Director sometime during your stay.  You may want to ask the Principal when would be a good time to present the things you have brought.

It is encouraged that people bring some activity they can do with the children.  This can range from small games like jacks or marbles, to sidewalk chalk or drawing pictures, to something more organized like an arts and crafts project.  Bigger projects would need to be planned for ahead of time with the Principal.  UOF will facilitate this conversation with him.

Security in Liberia

At this point the government of Canada does not recommend traveling to Liberia for non-essential reasons.  The UN was brought in to stabilize the country and at this point they are slowly pulling out. The only guns we have seen in the country belong to the UN.  Police officers, as well as security guards, do not carry guns.

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:

http://allafrica.com/

http://africa.reuters.com/

http://www.humansecuritygateway.info/

Part B

Packing List

Clothing

♣ 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

♣ Work shoes

♣ A pair of casual shoes or sandals

♣ Hat and/or bandana or two

♣ Work gloves

♣ Bathing suit and shorts for beach trips

Personal items

♣ Water bottle

♣ Purell – small, pocket-size

♣ Safety glasses, if desired

♣ Ear plugs, if desired

♣ Personal toiletries and medications

♣ Sunscreen

♣ 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.

♣ Sunglasses

♣ Book to read

♣ Personal night light for reading, battery operated

♣ Small flashlight

♣ iPod or personal music player (with earphones) for use in volunteer house

♣ Watch

♣ 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.

♣ Cash

Things to leave at home

♣ Expensive jewelry

♣ Anything valuable

PART C

The Liberian English Dictionary