As volunteers pass bricks one by one to their companions, a primary school emerges from the dust of a deserted field in rural central Liberia. Most of the workers are former refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who recently returned to Balama, in Liberia’s Bong County. With a little help from ARC and a lot of community spirit, they are building a better life for their children, brick by brick.
Over the course of Liberia’s 14-year civil war, most of the residents of Balama fled the region.
“We returned at the end of 2004 only to find our whole town destroyed,” said John Goloka, the town chief. “Our houses, the school, community meeting spaces - everything had been demolished or burned by the rebels.” Most people returned to Balama as they left it - with little more than the clothes on their backs. With so few resources, people wondered if the town could ever be rebuilt.
It’s a common story across Liberia these days, as it sinks in that resettlement means much more than just returning home. It means rebuilding communities. ARC is easing the process by helping communities mobilize the resources they already have to rebuild their towns. Through a series of discussions facilitated by ARC, communities determine their needs, prioritize them and propose solutions.
“We held a meeting with a group of elders, women and other residents to decide which project to start with. Everyone agreed. We should first build a clinic. But the children complained.”
The children in Balama were tired of getting up at 5 a.m. in the morning and walking for miles to reach the nearest school. Balama had a school before the war, but the rebels burnt it. The kids insisted on a school and constantly complained to their parents and the planning committee. After three more meetings, the community gave in. A school would be built in Balama.
To help with the community projects, ARC has been working to build capacity in Balama. ARC trained Balama’s planning committee in project planning, management and evaluation. Ultimately, Balama has the responsibility for developing and monitoring the progress of the school building project.
With planning set, all of Balama came together to begin building. Women started making bricks, while young men volunteered to build. The community organized a rotational work schedule so that everyone would still have enough time to tend to their own farms and families. Everyone was enthusiastic to pitch in and move on with their lives.
“Building the school really brought our community together. Nothing like this has happened in Balama for a very long time,” said Benedict Keleme, principal of the new school.
Over 1000 children from Balama and nearby villages are eagerly awaiting the day the school opens. Many of them have watched as the school has grown from the very first brick.
As the school nears completion, the adults of Balama are glad they gave in and built a school for their kids. But they aren’t taking any time to admire their work. The planning committee is already hard at work determining the community’s next project. They still need more housing, a clinic, clean water…
“The needs of Liberian communities can seem endless,” says Justin Biragane, ARC’s Community Development Program Manager. “War and displacement can have an extremely negative impact on community cohesion and social structure. Working together, these people are not just rebuilding a school. They’re rebuilding their lives and their community.”
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