Notes from Africa. by Lauren Emerson


I wish I had been more diligent about documenting my experiences and reactions in Liberia, but I seemed to always put off the act of writing.  I always told myself I was too tired or busy, but the truth is that I had a very difficult time reflecting on the barrage of experiences at the time. Throughout my time in Africa, I realized that I did not once shed a tear.  It was only once I was on the plane from Accra to New York, on my way back to my privileged and comfortable life, that I was able to absorb the memories and the pictures that I was taking with me. As I looked through the pictures I had taken on my camera, I cried for a half an hour straight. I cried thinking about the hopeful faces on the small children at Temas Orphanage that I was leaving. I cried for young people of Grand Bassa County who do not have the opportunity to go to school.  I cried because I realized that my life would be changed forever and I cried because I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness. 

During one of my first days in Monrovia, I got a glimpse into Kimmie’s enormous and overwhelming undertaking. We began with a meeting to get an overview of the many Youth Action International projects in Liberia and we were each asked to select projects that we would like to work on.  After choosing to work on opening a women’s center in Monrovia, I went to another meeting to discuss the specifics that such a task entails. I realized then just how much needed to be done to complete that one project. I felt that although every little bit counts, this was just one center aiming to help about 150 women of hundreds of thousands of women in the Monrovia area that are in need of help. So while I felt that we were doing something great, I felt helpless as well.

While I witnessed many shocking and tragic things, it is the good and inspiring memories that have left a lasting impression upon me. I will never forget being in a community meeting in Grand Bassa County and seeing at least five young men stand up and urge community members to work on empowering women in schools, jobs, and community organizations. Everywhere I went, topics such as women’s empowerment and education were on everyone’s minds. People understand the all-inclusive nature of community development. As a councilman of a poor community in Monrovia said to the other men when they asked how the men of the community would be helped, “If the women are okay, then the children are okay, then the family is okay. And when the family is okay then the community is okay”. The resilience of the people I had the honor to meet and their dedication to making change is a powerful motivating force. The youth of Liberia are capable and ready to make change especially with someone like Kimmie to guide them.

While we tend to focus on the negative and the media loves to portray all of the problems in Africa, I think it is just as important to focus on the positive.  It is true that remnants and signs of war are everywhere you look in Liberia, but I found that Liberians are not dwelling on this reality, but trying to rise above it. Yes, terrible things happened in Liberia, but look at what Liberians are doing to help themselves. Former child soldiers are coming together through organizations to give back to the community. There are countless youth groups dedicated to making change. While these initiatives are in need of resources and money, it is important to know that Liberian youth have the intelligence and the spirit to initiate change and that is empowering. In hindsight, I feel that I have gotten so much more from this experience than I was able to give at the time, but I know that this experience has given me the emotional connection and the drive to make change so that hopefully I will be able to repay my gratitude to the amazing people that I have met.