John Humphrys reported for the Today programme this morning from Liberia about how the country has much potential, but that even though the country has come so far there is still so much need.
I visited Liberia in mid-January and arrived in the capital, Monrovia, it was steamy and overcast – with a lot of pollution thrown in.
There are shiny new roads in the city. However, being conscious about the environment is not something I saw as a priority – an empty plastic bag is disposed of by simply throwing it out of the window.
I travelled with ActionAid country staff to Gbarpolu County.
The four-hour journey got progressively bumpier and bumpier and at some points we had to drive into a ditch as it was less hazardous than driving around the many pot holes!
I was visiting a group of people who had been brought together by a community radio station. Many of the children I met were sponsored or waiting to be sponsored, but as well as meeting the kids I met their parents and the younger people of the community.
They had been helped by a peer coordinator, Albert, whose project’s aim was to help rehabilitate them back into their communities.
Ravaged by conflict
It was impossible to ignore that this was a country that had been ravaged by conflict.
Every family had lost someone or had been affected. When we finally gathered it was midday and sweltering hot.
We sat on wooden benches covered by a roof. The elders of the village and the children came along and even though I had arrived during a period when people should have been working, the young people felt so strongly about telling their stories that they broke from work and came over to share what they had been through.
First of all I chatted to four women about their experiences and was just so impressed by the strength of these teenage girls.
As Matu, 18, from Kanga told me how she’d been forced to become a sex slave all I could think was how could she look so stoic?
From the expression on her face you’d think she was simply retelling me about an issue that was bothering her about her best friend not about the horrors she’d been through.
She has two children and her main priority is for them to get the education that had been cruelly halted for her.
When I met Dennis, 23, he told me his woefully familiar tale of having been forced to be a child soldier at 16.
The atrocities he described made the hair on my skin stand on edge. He told me that when he returned to his village he was so confused.
He still felt like an angry rebel and had bursts of anger, but he was also ashamed of what he’d done.
Dennis and Hannah
The ActionAid project helped him to learn to respect himself again and as equally as important… women again.
Dennis’ little sister Hannah is his closest relative. If she’s sick he takes her to the clinic. If she needs advice she asks him.
Just as he wants to make this new Liberia work for himself, he wants the many public posters that give out messages like ‘No sex for Jobs’ to be ingrained into her psyche.
This is Liberia today. It’s come a long way, but there are a lot of children who need our help so that they can run and make an even better success of the Liberia of tomorrow.