Life in Liberia: Introducing Andy

Andy has just landed in Liberia to take up the role of our new communications officer there. He’ll be sharing regular blogs about his experiences of Mary’s Meals' work in Liberia but before that, let’s get to know him a little better…

Andy Goss
Andy Goss
Communications Officer

Back to all stories | Posted on 17 Jul 2015 in Life in Liberia

What were you doing before you joined Mary’s Meals? 

I trained as a journalist and spent many years working in the UK regional media, before moving into broader communications work in local Government and the National Health Service (NHS). Following the devastating Kashmir earthquake in 2005 I travelled to Pakistan to report on humanitarian issues and latterly worked in South Asia, supporting a variety of international organisations in the aid and development sector before joining Mary’s Meals.

When did you first hear about Mary’s Meals? 

I saw the job posted on Reliefweb, the job board website for the humanitarian sector worldwide.

What attracted you to working in Liberia? 

I have always wanted to work where the need is greatest in support of the poorest communities – and Liberia fits the bill!

Why did you want to work for Mary’s Meals? 

The Mary’s Meals approach to humanitarian development is refreshingly simple. It combines two key elements of development in its programming: Food and nutrition with education. And it works, transforming lives. It’s simply feeding hungry children in schools, which brings more children into the classroom – and able to learn on a full stomach! I also like the strong partnership approach with communities, which is what humanitarian development should be about, engaging with and empowering local people.

What are you most looking forward to about your role and living in Liberia? 

Telling the story of how one meal every day at school can change lives and help break the terrible cycle of poverty – and how everyone can be involved in the Mary’s Meals vision that every hungry child in the world deserves to be fed and have an opportunity to learn. And tropical Africa, its incredible people and culture – that’s an incredible experience to share with those whose acts of kindness help change lives here.

Andy’s role in Liberia will involve travel to schools across the country, meeting and reporting on the people who make Mary’s Meals' work possible. He’ll also be sharing lots of stories of the children who benefit from receiving Mary’s Meals. In his first blog, he tells us about his first few days in the country. 

Welcome to Liberia: Smiles, tropical greenery… and sheets of rain

“It be a nice day”, the airport official smiled in welcome. And it was. Gazing down at the canopy of steaming tropical greenery from several thousand feet is breath-taking as the aircraft makes its final approach before gliding in to land. Monrovia may not be much of an airport, but everyone seemed happy enough to be on Liberian soil.

And it’s easy to see why. There were lots of smiles. Even as we stood in line to rinse our hands with disinfectant as we entered the terminal building and a cheerful health official held a thermometer to each passenger’s head to monitor for Ebola.

And there were more smiles as we queued at passport control, and as people pushed and shoved to collect their baggage from the woefully inadequate facilities. Even smiles from the customs officials as they randomly searched baggage. Liberians are a disarmingly cheerful people, despite the many hardships they have endured. But beneath those smiles there is pain. 

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Average chronic malnutrition rates among children are above 40 per cent. It seems hard to believe that in today’s world of plenty there are children that go hungry and even die of hunger-related issues – as many as 18,000 a day worldwide, it’s believed.

Here in Liberia on the edge of West Africa’s Atlantic coast, lying close to the equator, the country still bears the scars of a bloody and protracted civil war, though more recently there has been stability. 

But the country was plunged into national emergency last year with the deadly Ebola outbreak, which brought the country to quarantined paralysis and claimed the lives of some 4,800 people. At least that’s the official number, though some believe many families did not declare their dead. There are still very real concerns about a return of Ebola, which brought the fragile health service to near collapse. Life is hard in Liberia. And still the people smile.

About half of the country's four million population live in the capital, a sprawling city where slums stretch for miles along the few roads that lead away into sparsely populated tropical bushland. That includes the road out to Tubmanburg, a small town a two-hour drive inland to the north-west where the Mary’s Meals compound lies, on the very edge of that dense bush and jungle territory. It is, essentially, the end of the road. From the compound there is tropical greenery in every direction, dotted with scattered, isolated villages.

But at Mary’s Meals there was jubilation. “The food is here”, warehouse manager Boakal told me, beaming with joy.  The first trucks laden with 65 metric tonnes of dried peas had finally arrived from a shipment delayed by almost two months due to factors such as the Ebola crisis. Warehouse supplies here had dwindled alarmingly low and the logistical challenges of serving meals to 130,000 children across Liberia are clear.

First impressions of Liberia? Smiles, tropical greenery and heavy rain. Sheets of it! It is the rainy season, when the clouds billow up dramatically, the sky darkens and the heavens suddenly open with prolonged downpours. Recently I had worked in Pakistan, where officials bearing automatic weapons stand on every street corner and security tensions are high. Here people everywhere are armed with… umbrellas. And smiles.

But despite living in the shadow of grinding poverty, the threat of Ebola and the intermittent sheets of tropical rain the sun still finds its way through. Somehow. Indeed, it be a nice day in Liberia. Not least of all because the people make it so…

Andy

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