Westminster’s Important Work In West Africa

Jan 19, 2017

Expanding Mission in Liberia A crowd of nearly 350 students, staff, and community members greeted Westminster Presbyterian Church’s eight member delegation during a May 2016 mission trip to assist Hope Mission School in Bernard Farm, Liberia. What started over eight years ago as an effort to raise funds for a new well to provide clean water for a struggling Liberian mission school has grown into an important relationship and a long term commitment for Albany’s Westminster Presbyterian Church (WPC). Initially spurred on by church members who have emigrated from West Africa the various projects at WPC now have an impact in Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as Ghana where WPC already was active. My wife, Lyn, and I, although not members of the WPC congregation were eager to become involved when invited by WPC Elder Felicia Kollie Gambles who not only grew up in Liberia but recognized us from our three years of service as Peace Corps teachers in her village in the early 1970’s! What are some of the needs in Liberia? Liberia is a nation which has suffered greatly over the past quarter century. Starting late in 1989 a civil war devastated the country until 2004. A decade later with recovery from the war barely begun, Liberia was the epicenter of the Ebola crisis. Conflict and disease combined to destroy the already fragile infrastructure of education, health and sanitation, utilities, housing and transportation. UNICEF estimates that no more than 31% of Liberian children are attending school, and literacy is among the lowest in Africa. As WPC’s involvement at Hope School grew, our priorities expanded from the clean water initiative to classrooms construction and scholarships for girls who were woefully underrepresented in the student ranks. Trip to Hope Mission School: May 2016 In the summer of 2015, WPC asked Lyn and me to organize a mission trip to the school. On our May 2016 journey we joined with WPC Pastor Jim Reisner and his wife Martha, Pastor Alexandra Lusak and two WPC members who grew up in West Africa, Liberia’s Felicia Kollie Gambles and Fatmata Hilton from Sierra Leone. We were also joined in Liberia by the Reverend Josh Heikkila who lives in Ghana where he serves as Mission Coworker for PCUSA. It was Josh’s first visit to Liberia. Liberia has never been a very easy place to visit; it is an even harder place to live and, except for the very few, an extremely challenging place to thrive. Our trip required over seven months of planning and preparation including the pre-shipment of several thousand dollars worth of school and health supplies. We brought refurbished laptop computers, solar lights capable of illuminating a classroom for evening lessons and studies, sports equipment and basic school supplies. We also carried good used clothing and books, hundreds of kids’ books for all grade levels. Everything was graciously received by Hope Mission School and its grateful staff and student body. But more than just bringing much needed supplies our delegation saw first hand the impact our work thus far has had AND the many needs yet to be fulfilled. We spoke at length with all the various stakeholders and learned much about their suffering and aspirations. In addition to concrete needs for supplies such as generators, textbooks and vocational training supplies this is a community in need of expanding its own ability to generate revenue. We have made “capacity building” a long term goal of ours. Orphans who continue following the Ebola outbreak One of the trip’s highlights was meeting eleven children orphaned by Ebola during the winter of 2014/15. WPC made a commitment to Hope Mission to support these youngsters to live and learn at the mission until they complete their education. This monthly commitment requires an additional $500/month to provide food, shelter, school fees and medical care. That is inexpensive by American standards but still represents an additional strain to our budget which already supports nearly 50 scholarships and numerous expenses related to school operations. We invite other individuals and organizations to assist us in giving these youngsters an opportunity to grow and thrive and emerge as community leaders. Any congregation interested in hearing a presentation by a WPC representative and seeing a brief slide show from our visit is welcome to contact me through WPC ([email protected]) or directly at [email protected]. Mission Needs: 11 Ebola orphans living at Hope Mission in Liberia ($6,000) Bags of food ($3,550) for orphans at the MOM orphanage in Freetown, Sierra Leone Every dollar goes to care for youngsters who lost their parents during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Can you help? Fundraising Goal is to sustain current support commitment: $9,550 Honorary Committee levels: $50 – $500 Donations in support of the Ebola orphans are urgently needed and can be directed through: The Westminster Presbyterian Church website at wpcalbany.org/give or send check payable to: Westminster Church 85 Chestnut Street Albany, NY 12210 Please add “Ebola Relief” in the memo field. John Kucij is a Schenectady resident who volunteers at Westminster on Liberian Projects. He has 45 years of experience with Liberia and has chaired numerous US-based Liberian activities and organizations.

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