Life in Liberia: Happier voices to be heard…

In this moving blog, Andy reflects on the children of Liberia and shares his experience of a recent visit to Gbar village, where Mary’s Meals are being served for the very first time. 

Andy Goss
Andy Goss
Communications Officer

Back to all stories | Posted on 07 Oct 2015 in Life in Liberia

Today I visited the 300 children I had heard about. They lie buried in the shadow of the church just the other side of the hill I gaze upon from my veranda at the Mary’s Meals compound here in Tubmanburg. The children died of starvation when the town was besieged by rebel forces during the prolonged and bloody civil war.

The mass graves cradled by a canopy of tropical greenery are marked by a large, simple white cross. Below a stone is inscribed with a short verse from Matthew: “A voice is heard in Ramah. Rachel is crying for her children.” Inconsolably, according to the Gospel. It is a peaceful spot. Profoundly moving.

The series of brutal conflicts lasting 14 years and ending in 2003 tore Liberia apart. The unprecedented violence haunts the country still, despite ending more than a decade ago. Some say it set the country back 30 years or more. The scars run deep. Many will not speak of it.

It is why Mary’s Meals is here in Tubmanburg. Father Garry Jenkins from the church and Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow worked together to plan the compound where our Liberia operation is based today.

Fr Garry is still to be found at St Dominic’s, a legendary figure here in Tubmanburg. The former British soldier has lived and worked in Liberia some 40 years. “These children here died in 1996. They starved to death. That’s why I wanted Mary’s Meals to be close to the cemetery. I never want children to die again of starvation,” he said.

My experience at the church was in stark contrast to the visit I made to an isolated bushland village, where I saw happy children playing in front of their school. The children broke into spontaneous applause in response to my question: Did they like Mary’s Meals? I was mobbed by excited, smiling children wherever I walked in Gbar Village, whose school had just served Mary’s Meals for the very first time.

Here I am struck by the children’s readiness to smile, despite their poverty. Many children are lucky to have more than one meal a day.

Oh but how they love to hear stories about faraway places. America, India and they know my country too… if only for the football. Here almost everyone has heard of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal. But when I mention my home town… my tribe… is Leicester City… there are smiles… of confusion.

Then I fetch a football from the truck and there is another deafening cheer of a hundred excited voices and I fear there’s going to be a riot. Even the village chief starts to kick a ball with the same exuberance as the kids and the dust flies high in the schoolyard, as smiling parents look on. It is an idyllic scene.

“The children are very happy. We are so grateful,” says mother Orita Kollie, whose two daughters are attending school for the first time. And the reason is Mary’s Meals.

Later I drove up to the Blue Lake, a quiet, peaceful place at the top of a hill that overlooks Tubmanburg and I thought about the many children I have already encountered here since my arrival, as the sun began to set. I gazed at the densely forested rolling hills that stretch into the distance with the thin mist beginning to rise in the tropical heat of the evening.

And I thought of the children who lay buried on the hill near the mission. In the stillness their voices seemed to call out to me. And I realised the war is still going on. This is the war against hunger and poverty. It is a fight for the right of every child to eat a daily meal and have an education.

In this ongoing fight Mary’s Meals stands in the frontline – and your support means you stand shoulder to shoulder with us in Liberia… in Malawi, in India… in the many parts of the world where there is still chronic food insecurity and we aim to feed hungry children in school.

With your help, more than 9,000 additional children in Liberia have received Mary’s Meals for the first time in the last few weeks, with even more to be added in the weeks to come. Like the happy children in Gbar village, it is these voices that are increasingly beginning to be heard in Liberia. And it is the sound of hope, of humanity, of justice. I’d like to think somehow, somewhere the children who lie buried in their mass graves near the mission feel it too – and that Rachel cries no more.

Find out more about Mary's Meals.