As you may have heard, Kent and I decided to not board the last plane out of Liberia on March 21th. After this flight left, the airport closed to public passenger airlines which means “staying put” indefinitely.
Outside of our work, we live a quiet and simple life here. We have a comfortable apartment, meaningful work, a large rooftop area and an uncrowded beach/ocean very close by. After watching what was happening in the rest of the world we knew that life as we knew it was likely to change, but we also knew that our comfort with simple routines would serve us well.
Like everywhere in the world it’s an uncertain time and as the UN predicts a difficult road ahead for developing countries we’re glad to be with our team in Liberia weathering this together. We all have different perspectives and when times get stressful or rumours abound it’s helpful for all of us to share information, dispel myths and collectively decide on the best way forward.
On a note of gratitude, all of us are very grateful for the large amount of soap we have on hand right now thanks to the soap-making workshop we hosted this past January with the Rocky Mountain Soap Company from Canmore. Since we had so much soap available we were also able to donate boxes of it to a quarantine facility that’s been erected in Liberia.
Only essential members of our team come to work right now (if they chose to) and, as a group, we’ve decided to distance ourselves appropriately, use our hand washing stations, sanitize commonly touched surfaces and wear face masks (how to take them on and off has been discussed). To ensure masks intended for hospital facilities make it there we’re getting masks made locally by The Bomshel Factory, a fashion business that employs an all-woman staff of Ebola survivors, rape victims and the deaf to sew their garments.
Liberia confirmed its first case of the coronavirus on March 16th. after a person returned from a conference in Geneva, Switzerland. At that time the Liberian government took the following actions:
On March 16, 2020, the Liberian authorities issued a declaration designed to enforce social distancing, including: closure of all schools, night clubs, cinemas, beaches, spas, mosques and churches; banning of all street selling and gatherings of more than 10 people; limits on admittance to banks and restaurants to five customers kept six feet apart; social distancing for health facilities and pharmacies (which are to remain open); and mandatory washing with soap and clean water at all public and private establishments. In addition, a hotline has been established for use by the population to report those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
Up until recently the numbers remained low, and although they still are, they are beginning to rise. As of April 7th there have been 14 confirmed cases and 3 deaths.
As it becomes Liberia’s turn to face COVID-19 they can draw on the experience of countries who are currently managing this along with their considerable knowledge gained from the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak that killed 4,810 people in Liberia alone. The Ebola crisis left the country with a number of experienced contact tracers and new tracers are currently being trained.
In a recent interview with BBC news Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf reflected on the Ebola outbreak commenting, “Fear drove people to run, to hide, to hoard to protect their own, when the only solution is, and remains, based in the community.” The rest of her speech can be read here.
Asking people to distance themselves in a neighbourly and social country like Liberia can be challenging. Houses are used more as a place to sleep and store things than to sit in all day long. It’s normal to see people outside cooking, doing laundry, bathing their children and talking to their neighbours. In the more densely populated areas many people live in one-room dwellings lined up side by side which makes it difficult to distance oneself from their neighbour. Jingles about social distancing fill the radio stations and everyone is doing their best.
The government issued ban of petty trading on the streets yet this is how many people here earn their daily bread. Without a small daily income most folks won’t eat. Some people have the financial strength to stock up on extra food if illness forces them to stay home, but this is rare. It’s impossible to enforce an action that requires people to go without food, so in the less congested areas petty trading continues.
Hand washing is highly promoted and adhered to, but this doesn’t mean turning on the bathroom tap while ample water pours over soapy hands. Hand washing buckets have popped up in front of homes and businesses, but keeping those full means multiple trips to the community well. We’ve helped by establishing hand washing stations at the main roads that lead into our community so anyone entering has easy access. The community chairperson has recruited volunteers to work at the stations and they are diligently managing them.
With the loss of jobs from the temporary closure of non-essential business the government of Liberia has asked employers to remember the labour laws and obligations to pay out staff accordingly during this time of lay offs. There is no employment insurance here so when a job is lost there is no safety net, only family support.
Strive, our community resource center closed its door on March 16th with the rest of the educational facilities in the country. Thanks to the 2019 donations from the Universal Outreach community we are able to keep the staff from Strive on salary to ensure they can continue to provide for their families.
I’m going to leave it here for now as we have a newsletter coming out next month and I can update you on stories related to Universal Outreach programs at that time. I’m including a very short video from outside the compound this morning as it sums up the mood that is growing here as the country prepares for what’s to come. Fortunately, its dry season in Liberia so even though it’s overcast and raining today I know the sun will eventually shine again.
Greetings from Africa!
I’m Aaron Williams and I work for Universal Outreach Foundation as the beekeeper training manager and also as a beekeeping extension worker. Being with Universal Outreach means a great deal to me because of the passion I have for the work I do; most especially gives me an opportunity to share my knowledge with my fellow Liberians.
Right now I’m in Egypt participating in a project analysis course. This opportunity was made possible thanks to funding from the Egyptian government and the Universal Outreach community (thank you!). I look forward to returning home later this month so I can use my new skills to impact the lives of the Liberian people.
The project analysis course is helping me better understand the value and impact of project design. I see this being advantageous as beekeeping grows in Liberia and we look to a future where Liberia is the hub of beekeeping in West Africa. With project analysis I’ll be able to design and evaluate the best way for the Association of Beekeepers in Liberia (ABEL) to invest its time and resources. When Universal Outreach encouraged us to start this association it was because they knew that in the long term it is ABEL that will be the voice of beekeepers in the country and I want to ensure we are progressive.
Egypt has also opened my eyes to what is truly possible in the field of agriculture. Egypt is a desert country, but they are producing crops and exporting. Liberia has land that is rich in organic matter, but because of the limited knowledge of the average Liberian farmer agriculture is still at a subsistence level. In Egypt, I’ve learned ideas like grafting citruses (bees love the citrus tree flower), field layout for irrigation and the usage and preparation of organic fertilizer. These are all helpful ideas that I look forward to sharing with farmers in Liberia.
I could say so much more about my program, but I’d like to conclude by thanking the UOF family for their continuous support to the development of Liberia. Thank you for supporting the development of the honey industry over the past six years—you have done very well for us. If you came here to meet the beekeepers you would feel proud. I look forward to us working together to support small-scale farmers with the new techniques I’ve acquired in Egypt. Where there is food there is also good health and joy!
Aaron B. Williams
A few months ago I wanted to get some fresh beekeeping photos, so I tagged along with the beekeepers while they harvested honey in Nimba County. We ended up in a village that was gifted hives from another organization, but didn’t get any beekeeping training to help guide them. I have to commend the people I met for their courage, but courage wasn’t going to translate into cash unless this group learned how to manage bees and harvest honey properly themselves.
When they asked if Universal Outreach could give them some tips, we were happy to oblige because WE CAN. This is an example of the benefits of having an extension team that travels the country ready to support beekeepers. They have the time to meet with people like this who are willing and able, and very cost effective for us to support. This kind of program flexibility in a budding honey industry is incredibly valuable as it allows us to respond to real needs in a timely manner.
One month later, two Universal Outreach beekeeping trainers hosted a workshop with this enthusiastic group to ensure their future as beekeepers. Now instead of getting crushed, bees are now being gently brushed out of the way when frames go back into the hives, instead of getting stung, beekeepers are properly dressed to protect themselves from aggressive bees, and instead of harvesting everything in the comb, honey is now selectively chosen so only the quality capped honey is harvested. This group is set up for a bright future in beekeeping and I’m glad we were able to help.
Landis Wyatt, Communications Manager for Universal Outreach
In December 2016, we asked the Universal Outreach community to give the gift of beekeeping. Three months later and the our beekeeping team was on the road to south-east Liberia to train a community to beekeep. Enjoy this story from Cecil Wilson, Universal Outreach’s Country Coordinator and head of the Beekeeping Extension Team, as he tells you about his journey into south-east Liberia and meeting some of Liberia’s infamous honey hunters.
“When we arrived in the village, community members lingered close by with great expectation. They’ve heard about improved beekeeping practices and many times both government and NGO’s have promised to train them, but never have those promises materialized. This community is noted for having the most fruitful and brave honey hunters in Liberia.
When they were told that the Universal Outreach would help them with training and starter kits, it seems like one of the many promises they received in the past. Now the vehicles were coming into their village full of beekeeping supplies. At this point it seems like a dream to them. Some skeptical people thought that we had come to draw honey from their rich forest where thousands of Kola trees mingle with other forest trees, for our personal gain, but soon enough we knew they would realize our team was set to deliver a beekeeping program unlike any other they have ever seen and dispel their concerns about potential ulterior motives behind our presence.
The training goal was to construct sixty beehives for twenty participants, supply them with hive management knowledge, honey extraction equipment and also a year of intensive extension support for as long as they remain committed to beekeeping’s best practices. They are also going to receive top dollar for their honey when harvest comes.
On the first day of the workshop, the venue was stormed with more then forty people seeking to be admitted into the training hall, but—as the nature of our program is—knowledge is available for those who see the value, so we allow all interested persons to sit and drink from the facilitators. The Universal Outreach facilitators have been trained to help people seeking to jump out of poverty and move up the economic ladder to a life where they have a better influence over the direction their children’s lives take. Up until this point this community generates its income from farming, a little hunting and honey hunting.
Precisely forty-two people went through the training, but at the end only the targeted twenty persons received beehives. The other inputs such as beekeeping suits and harvest equipment will be shared on an “as per needed “basis. They were also told that the extra people who were allowed to sit in on the workshop will receive our extension support if they take the initiative to build their own hives.
This was also the first workshop in which participants elected a person who did not receive beehives to be their chairperson. To our surprise he went on to start the construction of sixty hives in the month following the training—a sign of true resilience!
It is our hope that these people, with their great knowledge of their Kola forest and existing experience with bees, will create the best possible environment for the bees; become the bee’s champion and not its enemy; and become productive honey producers and conservationists.” – Cecil S. Wilson