Ganta is an hour from Gbarnga – roads are measured by time not distance. You head north from Bong County to Nimba County, passing the taboo catfish (see last year) and you find Ganta on the Guinea border. As well as Guinea, the crossroads points you further north to the mines and the mountains (cold, apparently…); to the East of Liberia and the rest of Nimba and Grand Gedeh County and the south east coast; and to the border with Ivory Coast, where we’ll be heading shortly to visit refugees on the run from the aftermath of indecisive elections.
Ganta is lively like you’d expect from a town on a crossroads. Every night the people are out and about until 2 or 3am (so we’ve been told) and the town throngs with more than 2,000 motorcycle taxi drivers – an estimated 10% of the population of the town. CJPS works with the Nimba County Motorcycle Transport Union, which has its headquarters in Ganta, to train the young drivers in road safety – many have been injured or killed after starting their taxi trade with only a day or two practising in a field before they are let loose on the road.
As in Gbarnga, CJPS in Ganta find established tradesmen and women – master artisans – prepared to train young people. We visited several mechanics, tailors and beauty therapists and spoke to them and their pupils. All seemed pretty happy with the arrangements: the young people spend 18 months or two years learning the trade they fancy and the master artisans get added labour, advertising and good standing in the community for their part. Incredibly, they don’t get paid for this service, but see it as their civic duty.
As part of the process of rebuilding the post-war Liberian society, CJPS works in local schools offering a tailor-made therapeutic session, which gets into the issues in the heads and home-lives of the pupils that they might not feel confident to broach on their own. The whole session includes ice-breakers, ground rules, an impromptu drama and a feedback session, all done and dusted in 20 minutes. From the first “Hello!” (response “Hi!”), “Hi! (response “Hello!”) to the ending dance, we were amazed at the level of energy of the CJPS facilitators and the participation of the children. So amazed that we threw our own ‘Banana Song’ in at the end as well!
CJPS Executive Director Joseph Howard told us that the organisation sees peace as a process not an event, meaning – we think – that you achieve peace by doing it. We took part in a peace parade along the main street in Ganta and back with more than 150 of the young people representing the schools, training courses and voluntary groups CJPS works with. Slogans on the handwritten placards carried by participants read:
§ “Learn to settle your dispute at community level, instead of the court or police station.”
§ “Motorcyclists and drivers, respect your passengers, they are not your enemies, but your friends or partners!”
§ “The best place for a child is the home!”
§ “Young people, respect the rule of law!”
Bearing in mind Mr Howard’s pronouncement, we came up with this slogan:
“What do we want?”
“Peace in Liberia!”
“When do we want it?
“At the end of a thorough, participative and empowering process involving all sectors of the community.”