Let's Rebuild Liberia: Yes We Can!

By Cornelius Toe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 14, 2009


Location is Liberia, West Africa. The period is from 1989 - 1996. The event is one of Africa’s most vile civil wars. The war claimed the lives of over 200,000 Liberians and displaced a million others in refugee camps in adjacent countries. What is even more shocking is that three years after the end of the first civil war in 1996, a second war would begin from 1999 to 2003. The second war also claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Liberians. The two events bring depression, shock, and extreme rage to countless Liberians. Nonetheless, one thing prevalent among many Liberians is happiness: happiness that the over-decade-long civil war ultimately ended. Now, there is hope for a better Liberia. There’s hope for a better Liberia not only for the present generation but for many generations to come.

Indeed, Liberia is a broken thing that needs to be fixed. Since the war’s end in 2003, many countries have contributed millions of dollars to Liberia to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. These countries donated millions to build schools, roads and homes. These countries donated millions to improve healthcare and increase employment rates in our beloved Liberia. They have done their part and they continue to do such. Their efforts in fixing Liberia continue. Their efforts will never go unnoticed given they chose to act rather they simply watch. Among this benevolent group of contributors is the United States of America, the largest of contributors in the effort to rebuild Liberia.

Back in 1991, few years after Liberia’s bloody civil war erupted, the United States implemented the first designation of TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Liberia. Of the million plus Liberians that were displaced as a result of the war, several thousands were granted TPS into the United States. As the war progressed, making Liberia even more unstable, several thousands more Liberians were granted TPS. These people came to the U.S. and stayed here for many years. Within those years, they started families, got employed and began careers after years of college educations. After more than a decade under Temporary Protected Status in the United States, an estimated 3,500 Liberians were scheduled to leave the U.S. by October 1, 2007 to return to an uncertain future in Liberia. With the help of several activists in various Liberian communities throughout the Unites States, former President George W. Bush directed Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Michael Chertoff to defer the enforced departure (DED) until March 31, 2009.

Enjoyed by many Liberians, another miracle occurred for the 3,500 Liberians that were scheduled to be deported on March 31, 2009. Approaching the DED date, on March 20, 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order, extending the temporary stay in the United States for the scheduled Liberians for another 12 months. These Liberians will enjoy yet another year in the country they have come to loved and take as their second land. Nevertheless, within the next year, their joy will turn into great sadness when they approach their inevitable deportation to their homeland. Following the 12-month extension, would there be another extension? We as fellow Liberians can only hope there certainly is. Nonetheless, if there isn’t another extension, how will it be for those Liberians once they get back to our recuperating homeland? With the inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in January 2006, Liberia began the lengthy road to recovery from its over-decade-long civil war. Liberia’s road to recovery is long. It is a road of hope, togetherness and care. It is a road that must be taken by the countries that advocate the rebuilding of Liberia. More significantly however, it must and I repeat it must be taken by every single Liberian of age in America.

Rebuilding of Liberia by Liberians is imperative. Dear Liberians of America, it is our turn to help rebuild our own country. Let’s all convey our gratitude to the many nations that are helping to rebuild our beloved country. The U.S., and the United Nations have done their part, they have acted rather than simply watch. Now, it is our turn to act rather than watch others help rebuild our country.

In addition, like Dr. King, I too have a dream that one day, our nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We the People of the Republic of Liberia: Exercising our natural, inherent and inalienable rights to establish a framework of government for the purpose of promoting unity, liberty, peace, stability, equality, justice and human rights under the rule of law.” I have a dream that one day; the thousands of displaced Liberians can go back to their homeland without reluctance or fear. This however, cannot be done without the help of Liberians in America. Like the long road to Liberia’s recovery, my dream too, is one of hope, togetherness and care. Again, without the help of Liberians in America, this dream will merely remain a dream. This is how we can make this dream of a reality that promises a brighter and better Liberia.

A German polymath, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that, “what is not started today is never finished tomorrow.” Today, we the Liberians of America have the power to start something meaningful and revolutionary. Take this into thorough consideration. There is an estimate of over 100,000 Liberians living in America. Let’s imagine for a moment that about 70,000 of these Liberians are over the ages of 18 and are working. Now, imagine each individual taking $10 from their paycheck for a single month. If that $10 is multiplied by 70,000 Liberians, that amount comes up to $700,000 for only a single month. With such figure, the possibilities are endless. Imagine how much we can rise within a 6-month or a 12-month period. This money will be saved in a special fund called LsRLT (Liberians Rebuilding Liberia Together). Together, we as Liberians of America can make this dream a reality.

Langston Hughes once asked “what happens to a dream deferred?” We must not let this dream of rebuilding Liberia dry up like a raisin in the sun. Nor must we let this dream fester like a sore. This dream is indeed a long shot but we will remain oblivious of the outcomes unless we try. Like Barack Obama, YES WE CAN! Yes we can rebuild Liberia with $10 per Liberian. Yes we can give the new generation of Liberians a chance to blossom with $10 per Liberian. Yes we can impact over 60% of the Liberian population that still lives below the poverty line. Yes we can impact over 70% unemployment rate with simply $10 per Liberian. Ladies and gentlemen, the time is now! We must make the rebuilding of our beloved country a top priority. Again, my dream is one of hope, togetherness and care. Together, with this $10 per Liberian, we can build new schools, homes, roads, give jobs, restore infrastructure—the possibilities are endless. We can do it. YES WE CAN!

No event in Liberia’s history has caused more sadness, uproar and brutality than the Liberian Civil War. Despite the adversities, atrocities and great sadness triggered by the civil war, one fundamental truth remains: something good can result from extreme cruelty and misfortune. My childhood experiences in Liberia have conveyed to me the essence of the human spirit. The human spirit guides and propels each and every man, woman or child to do great things. What distinguishes us from other species is our human spirit. It is this human spirit that transforms ordinary individuals into great ones. It is this human spirit that alters misfortunes into opportunities. The unbearable conditions many Liberians endured during the civil war are only one example of the human spirit. But together, we can demonstrate this human spirit in an endeavor

Today, our broken Liberia needs repair. We often watch the news and read the newspapers about violence happening around the world. And we say to ourselves, “how depressing.” What is even more shocking is that sometimes, these atrocities happen not too far away from us. Nonetheless, we say to ourselves “how depressing.” And we go about our normal lives, driving our cars, eating our nutritious home cooked meals and drinking fresh and safe waters. The one thing that continues to make our Liberia so broken today is lack of action. It is one concept to watch or read about all the horrific things that people in Liberia and the world’s poorest countries face daily. However, it is an entirely different concept to watch and then do something about it—A.C.T. We can impact our world by first impacting our small country of Liberia, which is in need.

O Dear Liberians, today we need to go one step further and change our country. Rather than being reminded of how troubled it truly is, we need to A.C.T. (Actually Care Together). We can change our world little by little by first helping rebuild Liberia. If each of us can do our part, simply imagine for a moment how influential it can be to other recuperating countries around the world. Care and action will ultimately help fix our broken Liberia and our world ultimately. A writer once said that a good story is one that often [remind us] of our troubled world. More prominently however, a great story is one [that goes a step further]: reminding us of our humanity and prompting us to A.C.T. A great story emphasizes how our motivation, needs, determination, our ability to exist, thrive, and prevail under difficult conditions is indeed the human spirit. Liberia is an example of a great story. Therefore, we must demonstrate our human spirit by helping rebuild it. Yes we can. We can rebuild our beloved country with simply $10 per Liberian. Let’s attempt to make a dream reality. Let’s attempt to bestow the new generation of Liberians the chance of a promising tomorrow. With $10 per Liberian, we can do this.

Cornelius Toe is a student of Stony Brook University (Bronx, New York)

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