By Priyanka Pruthi
GANTA TOWN, Liberia, 16 September 2011 – War, bullets and bloodshed – words which generations of Liberians are still more familiar with than books or schools. It’s only been eight years since the country knew peace; the scars from its paralyzing 14-year civil war remain visible as its people try to heal. Today, the government is working to rebuild the infrastructure that was completely destroyed – large parts of Liberia doesn’t have roads and millions are living without basic access to water, healthcare or electricity. But ask any Liberian what they need most and the answer is the same – education.
Prince Manguo, 16, realizes that education is his only escape from a life of poverty. He left his family behind in their village in Bahn and moved to Ganta, the second largest city in Liberia, with the single-minded focus of finding a school that would help him turn his dreams into reality. “I want to be a mechanical engineer because I want to help the country build some houses,” he said.
Alone but determined, Prince found his way to the newly constructed Ganta Public School. With its sprawling campus, well ventilated classrooms, playgrounds, solar powered electricity, computer laboratories, clinic and cafeteria where students are served lunch free of cost.
Restructuring education sector
Constructed with support from UNICEF and the Government of the Netherlands, The Ganta Public School is part of an initiative that aims to build high quality schools in a country where overcrowded public schools with inadequate staff and infrastructure are the norm.
“All the physical facilities at the institutions of learning – basic, secondary and tertiary were destroyed (during war), both in the private and public sector,” explained Othello Gongar, Liberia’s Education Minister. “Fortunately this new government started with some
emphasis on restructuring the basic education sector with assistance from partners including UNICEF, USAID.”
Built on 25 acres of land donated by the community in Liberia’s Nimba County, The Ganta Public School is slowly charting a new course for the education system in the country.
“It is one of the 21st century schools in the Republic of Liberia in that it has a lot of modern facilities that will attract and make the children learn well, that will encourage the children to remain in school,” said Oswer Gbengan, the Principal of the school.
Paving the path
But it’s not just the facilities that create a unique environment at the Ganta Public School. “This school has several components – it has a community center, a mini radio station, latrines for boys and girls…something you don’t have in other schools,” said Matthew Flomo, UNICEF Education in Emergency Officer.
UNICEF helped teachers become more attentive to the needs of their students, and also established a parent-teacher association to keep the community involved in the growth of the school.
“We gave initial support even in terms of school materials – copy books, pencils, toiletries, hand washing materials – basic materials to be able to first maintain the school,” explained Mr. Flomo.
A sharp contrast
Decontee Coffy, 17, feels the Ganta Public School is a sharp contrast to others she has attended.
“Over here the teachers are putting an effort,” she said. “I feel that I’m learning better, they encourage us to be creative.”
The school is now nearing end of its first academic year with over 450 students in classes till the eighth grade but the progress remains slow. Many of the promised facilities are still not up and running
“We have a library, we have a science lab, we have a radio station, we have an auditorium – we have so many facilities but the radio station is not in function and the library has no books,” explained Decontee.
Hope despite hurdles
For the Pastor of the local church, who is now Prince’s caretaker, the Ganta Public school has brought with it precious opportunities that are invaluable to children in the community.
“I’m a father of six children and things are very difficult but we are here together,” said Pastor John G.B Kennedy. “We are thankful for the Ganta Public School where we don’t have to pay fees so Prince can go to school.”
At the end of the day, even the smallest push goes a long way for students like Prince – students who are waiting for a chance to break away from their country’s violent past and claim their future.