I'm not quite sure what I expected to see at a Liberian refugee camp...but whatever it was, I didn't see it. About 45 minutes outside of Accra there is a camp for displaced Liberians that, over the past few years, has slowly evolved into a small village....and if I had the choice between living in the refugee camp or the slums of Accra, I would pick the refugee camp any day.
Over the course of a 13-year civil war in Liberia (a country founded by freed American slaves) about 340,000 Liberians have fled their country and settled in nearby West African nations such as Ghana and Nigeria. While the refugee situation is undoubtedly heartbreaking, what many people don't realize is that most of the refugees choose to live there even during times of peace and prosperity. Many are waiting to hear from relatives in the US and Europe. Others just prefer the refugee camp to their homes in Liberia. While I was there, one of the refugees asked me why Americans and Europeans are so passionate about helping refugees but are oblivious to other social, economic, and political problems in Africa...and, honestly, I could not think of a good answer
for him. While many of us are probably appalled by the idea of not having a home or a place to call 'our own,' I think it is important that we not divert all of our time, money, and energy away from other problems -- domestic violence, urban filth, government corruption -- that are slightly less in vogue.
That being said, I had a great time at the refugee camp and learned a ton talking to the refugees and some of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) volunteers. The main purpose of our visit was to paint a mural that Timo, who is an art student at Leeds in the UK, had sketched a few days earlier. The mural was primarily for the children of the camp and consisted of lots of happy, smiling foods asking to be eaten (kind of like that 'let's go out to the kitchen...' milk commercial in the US) and a bunch of bare benches that we transformed into animals. I tried to draw/paint a bird, a lion, and a fish on three of the benches (see pictures). The fish and lion came out well but the bird.....looked more like a pencil
Do you see it? Because I don't.
with a beak :/
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