Liberia Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day Three

 

Liberia Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day Three

Posted on July 13, 2012 by Monte Dube

Reflecting back on today--could today's action-packed, emotion-laden, statistics-filled, extraordinary experience really have been only ONE DAY??--led me to reflect on what brought me to this day.

Just before our family left for Liberia, as we were frantically packing everything in our closets, I happened across a worn out, crumbling, dog- eared journal in one of my bedroom drawers. My last entry was New Years Day 1987. My entry described my descent from the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, my first and, until now, only visit to Africa. Tonight I was reflecting on what was meant to unfold in my life in the last quarter of century to bring me from the highest point in Africa to Liberia, which, upon first impressions, seemed to be among the lowest points on Earth, a post- apocalyptic appearing place of devolution, pain, and trauma.

What brought me here was so clear right in front of me. The great good fortune of a successful career, which enabled me to join this study tour. The great blessing of having met my wife Lori, whose spirit and goodness is evident wherever we go, from the supermarket to the Imani House. Watching her share her gift of tallises to Leymah Gbowee and Ruth-- probably the 30th talisses she has shared with lucky recipients, once again made me recognize my good fortune in sharing my life with someone whose actions are so ennobling and inspirational.

And, of course, watching my daughter Lily endlessly, happily shuttling a million photos on her new camera, and listening raptly as Leymah described the gender-based violence which is so endemic in a post-civil war society, where a generation of young men (and women) have known little but the value of force and intimidation.

And watching Louie and Abe, endlessly, lifting, twirling and touching a gaggle of beaming, beautiful children, with mouths and hearts agape at my boys' largeness of bodies and spirit, the world cup of soccer, 2012, being played out on the dirt fields of Imani house. Right by the former chicken coop which was converted into a place of healing.

And having the gift of becoming more deeply involved in AJWS, first as a donor, now as a board member, and today as a witness to the manifold ways our mission is operationalized on the ground.

Today has been another day of sensory overload and intellectual challenge. How does one worship God and serve Hashem? Ideally, I think, with all one's heart and with all one's body and with all one's soul. That, in part, is the wisdom of V' Ahavta, the ode to love of God we recite after the Shema. We start with our feet-- we showed up in Liberia, half the world away. We are in the game, walking the walk. Our hearts continue to open as we meet our Liberian beneficiaries, from newborns to teens ( not the elders, yet), who obtain the most basic health care services in clinics without running water or electricity, school rooms in bombed out buildings. John helped open our minds through productive discomfort discussions and text readings. Fellow study tour newfound friends open up candidly about their discomfort yesterday leaving Low Cost Village and shmeering on hand disinfectant-- were we washing our hands, literally and figuratively of what we had just witnessed?. So, we did come all the way to Liberia and have parachuted in--but so what??

Who owns this house, and who is its boss?-- Sharon, echoing our forefather Abraham--forced us to consider. Later in the morning, at the US embassy, our Charge D'Affaires tells us that the Lesson of Liberia is that there must be local ownership of their programs and progress--local ideas, planning, and implementation. Really, an affirmation of AJWS's way of giving-- with humility, and with acute awareness that our answers, our impatience, our paternalism (and even materialism) may not necessarily be in the best interest of those we hope to help.

And, because AJWS's goal is to present a Nobelist-a-Day on our Study Tours, a goose bump-inducing interview of Leymah by Letty. While Leymah spoke so passionately about her life story, what struck me was her express and insistent yearning for a prayer-answering God. One who hears the request-- for strength, for guidance, for forgiveness.

For me, though, and this was reaffirmed to me today in the most crystalline way, God's hearing of our prayers is simply icing on the proverbial cake. It is our striving, our reaching out for human connection and empathy across borders and across the street, which cannot but place us in a position of gratitude. For our great good fortune. For our desire (for that is where it must start) to "do good", even just a little bit. By showing up. By opening up-- our hearts, our minds, our wallets.

Today was a day I will never forget. It was another summit experience for me in Africa. Twenty five years later.