Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Liberia Trip June2010

The 1100 Delta flight from Phoenix to Atlanta flight was full but I lucked out and there was an 1115 Air Tran the next gate over that I was able to get on. Now sitting in a window seat hacking away on Kirk's (Barb's) Ipad and AirTran's GOGO inflight wireless. Pretty cool stuff, the Ipad and the inflight wireless. I guess I'll be able to get some last minute work done. I have a six hour stopover in ATL then onto Accra, Ghana, where I don't have a visa or a hotel room, just a ticket on Virgin Nigeria for the next day. This should be interesting. The adventure begins.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

ESI & The Sustainability Jedi

ESI and Arizona State University's student organization, the Sustainability Jedi, or SJedi, are revving up for the fall semester with a huge agenda!

We recently met with Professor Narcisso Macia about integrating his aquaponic pond design into our green shelters for the sustainable village.

Yesterday we met with Lela Preshad and JD from Niijel.org and they agreed to create some maps of the Duayee project area based on GPS data we brought back from Liberia in May as well as GIS databases and satellite imagery found online. Sweet!

Will be busy in the next few weeks getting prepared for the Green Summit and the ASU Student Sustainability Coalition programs. Lots to do. P

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Liberia Trip Report Jan_2008

Liberia Trip Report
1-15 January, 2008
Peter Gbelia

Its hard to know where to start. I was running from the time I hit the ground until I left. I left after two weeks because I ran out of money. There is extreme poverty. The country population is around 3.5 million and over 1.2 million of those live in Monrovia since that is where the jobs, schools, NGO headquarters and opportunity are. I was able to wash about every third day and ate about twice a day. Liberian food is cuisine, its absolutely wonderful. Rice as a staple and some kind of soup to go along with that: cassava leaf; potato greens; delicious palm butter, fufu and GB with spicy fish soup, and fried plantanes with all the mango, papaya, pineapple, nuts of all varieties to choose from. There is no power or electricity since the hydro plants that provided it were destroyed in the war. The wealthy, businesses, and even government use petrol generators. The rest burn the bush to make charcoal to use for cooking, and oil or candles for light. There is massive air pollution and deforestation due to this fact. There are no landfills since there was never any city planning, just corrupt politicians and warlords that used government as a private piggy bank and as the means to reward family and patrons. Thus, the city is engulfed in rubbish. Added to this, the one sole waste processing plant was destroyed in the war so human waste is a huge issue as well as waste from business or any other activity. Most waste is dumped in water bodies such as rivers and lakes. Individual homes dig septic tanks which eventually leak into the groundwater which is abundant and feeds the extensive well system. Even that well system was built by NGO's well before the war and many wells have become contaminated or have failed due to disrepair. The chemicals required to keep the wells clean are expensive and the system is unsustainable. Many people die of water borne illnesses that we never see in the developed nations. Although Liberia gets more rain than just about any other African nation, water availability, and clean water resources, are a real issue. There is no national water management plan that can collect and distribute clean water nor prevent its contamination. Groundwater remains the main source although rainwater is collected at times by individuals and stored in cisterns. There are few clinics with little or no supplies and a long waiting line. Malaria and cholera are some of the most common diseases, and now late onset diabetes caused by malnutrition during the war is killing many adults. Its difficult to know how many deaths there are or to what they're attributed to since data collection is minimal, and there is no time for community outreach so people don't report deaths, births, sicknesses, etc. Life simple moves on after tragedy, something Liberians have become accustomed to. The infrastructure in Liberia is devastated, the roads are only that in name and resemble cluster bombed roads in wartime. The vehicles that travel along the road are kept running by prayer and some duct tape and there are many fatal accidents, especially since each car is usually packed with six adults and a few children in order for the driver to make enough to cover costs of any journey. The UN is heavily present and there are UNMIL checkpoints throughout the country. The people are grateful to them and happy to have them. They instill a sense of peace, they train the local security authorities, the help with development. Alongside the UN are many international
and local NGO's that receive a huge amount of funding from us, the American taxpayer through USAID. There are also many UNDP development projects among the many that I researched. These great agencies help rebuild roads, create victim advocacy centers and empowerment programs for young girls; medicins du monde was there treating the sick. Others help build schools, provide technical training in agriculture and construction or carpentry, and treat wells. The many agencies and NGO's do great work but just don't have enough staying power to build capacity and sustainability. Many people that are trained finish their training but have no jobs to go to, many young girls learn empowerment but have no opportunity to use it and end up back in the village, humbled. The food security is a real issue since many of the farms were abandoned during the war. The few farms that are operational cater to the Firestone Rubber Plantation, growing acres and acres of rubber trees to make rubber, but no food stuffs like rice and cassava. This practice not only creates food shortages, but the clearing of the land to plant rubber destroys the biodiversity of the rainforest. Other farmers not having been trained in sustainable farming techniques use slash and burn farming or overuse the land and destroy the topsoil in the process. Although I saw much poverty and many problems, great hope and opportunity remain. Liberia has some of the best soil for agriculture, it is one of the 25 most biodiverse places on the earth, it is rich in gold, diamonds, iron ore, and many other natural resources. Oil has been discovered off the Atlantic Coast and there is a scramble for influence on Liberia's development among the top nations. China is gaining much strategic ground in Liberia having won many contracts to build roads, and other infrastructure in the interior. Mittal Steel just won a huge concession to mine the iron ore from Nimba mountain, with the promise to help rebuild the infrastructure and create development projects for the people it will employ. Food is abundant, in the ground in the trees, from the jungle. Within that deep bush lies many cures from the many diseases that ail us worldwide. Furthermore, Liberia finally has a competent government. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a technocrat, with management experience in government and in foreign corporations such as the World Bank and the UN. She is tireless in her efforts to create a transparent government backed
by the rule of law, and laws. Her government is busy creating laws that never existed before and incorporating entities that existed without legal backing, like Roberts International Airport. ROB was never incorporated which is very problematic in Liberia's search for assistance in rebuilding it. The government must first determine its legal status so that it can negotiate contracts with corporations willing to do the hard work of creating a modern airport. There are many property issues to be solved, and property rights remains a complex and contentious issue. Traditionally tribal individuals don't own property, the tribe does, so when modern notions such as property rights tied to assets allocation come into play, it is very difficult to determine legal courses of action. Yet again, the government is slowly making progress on all these issues and because of their successes' and transparency, the international community is rewarding Liberia with investment, which will lead to more job creation and thus more opportunities. The highlight of my trip was the visit to Banliguea, just outside of Tappita in Nimba County where my father was born. I didn't know what to expect, thought I'd simply meet more cousins and aunties that I'd never heard of before. The path to Banliguea was a rough dusty road, deep into the bush. As we approached the village a mass of humanity stood on the hill awaiting our arrival. Goose bumps ran across my skin as hundreds of people sang and danced, and my heart raced along the rhythm of the massive beating drums. As I got out of our vehicle I was mobbed by people, lost in a sea of family, welcomed back with hundreds of open arms to the place from where my fathers came. That night we ate like kings, and danced in a circle in the house my fathers built, where my grandfather lay buried under the floor. I drank Cane Juice, which went down my throat like fire, and palm wine, which tasted like rotting citrus, an acquired taste I'm told. I snuck off to sleep but the entire town celebrated, danced, sung throughout the night, drums beating, and before I knew it, the magnificently powerful sun was rising upon a new day. My trip was a complete success. I met with the President, Vice President, Senators and Congressmen, the director of the EPA, the secretary general of Conservation International Liberia, the Secretary General of YMCA, Liberia, NGO's like NADRA and Peace Wind Japan, Superintendents, Paramount Chiefs, Mayors, Village elders, and just regular people. I met with so many people from all walks of life and they told me their tragic stories from the war, horrible stories that gave me nightmares and can't be repeated here. In Monrovia there is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is currently holding hearings, open to the public, and gruesome stories of death and greed are repeated in the local papers daily. Many youths ride small Chinese made motorcycles in the street, a scene you'd commonly see in Asia, but also now
Liberia. They use the bikes for taxi service, transport, and personal use. Many of these riders are former soldiers in the war, barely old enough for High School and already been through so much horror, and most were the ones committing the atrocities on orders from their warlord commanders. Its amazing how resilient the young are. I rode on the back of one taxi, his name was "Mosquito" and he was a warrior with the NPFL, one of the former factions. He told me tales of his fearlessness as we rode quickly down a dark jungle path on the way to a river crossing. He told me how he would charge in front of bullets, because he was immune, and brave. I wondered how anyone could fight in such a dense, dense jungle. He told me it was easy, how they would just go into the bush, because they knew the land, it was their home. Mosquito is now a candidate for the new Armed Forces Liberia, the AFL, who will be trained by the UN and by elements of the PAE. His new mission will be to protect all Liberians, and to forget those memories from the past. It is the same for all Liberians, they must go forward, with hope, and the promise of opportunity, for the good of all Liberians, and forgive the memories of the past. I'd like to thank the Great 313 AS for all their support and Alaska Airlines for granting my Leave of Absence to conduct my journey. P
Peter Adolphus Gbelia, Jr.
Empowerment Society International (ESI)
Executive Director

Monday, December 31, 2007

Alaska Airlines Article

Alaska's World's Christy True wrote a great article about my upcoming trip to Liberia. The response has been fantastic. So many people have written in support of my efforts. Because of this, i've received a huge jolt of energy and enthusiasm to make my trek.

ESI has also received donations from some very caring individuals, thank you! I immediately sent a $200 Western Union to my staff at the refugee camp in Buduburam. Professor Appiah of the Agricultural Department, University of Ghana, APAM, is finishing up their semester of training early in order to participate in the Africa Cup of Nations beginning Jan 20th.

Their learning sustainable agriculture and other basic techniques that will tranlate into good trainig for future sustainability endeavors.

Thanks again, to everyone, for your continued support. I will write again from the road. P