Bouncing precariously from pothole to pothole, we entered Gbarnga and pulled up at the aptly named Crystal Palace. The hotel manager had the standard Liberian “Who is your team?” banter and when I told him that I was a Sunderland fan I was shocked to find that “Your team is on TV!” A nice slice of home all the way out here in the middle of Liberia, over three and a half thousand miles away.
This afternoon we had the privilege to visit skills-training projects run by CJPS. They put a lot of time and funding into youth development. They do this by helping to find young people apprenticeship-style placements with master artisans. Priority goes to those young people who have dropped out of school, perhaps because their parents can no longer afford to pay for their education. Both boys and girls can take up the opportunity to gain skills-training in their chosen area (be that tailoring, mechanics or cosmetology), learning on the job, ultimately with the prospect of gaining full time employment with those who train them.
Marline and Joe (both of CJPS in Gbarnga) talked to us at length about these projects and the difficulty of finding a placement for the massive volume of youth that want to take this opportunity with both hands. They explained that there is a large unemployment problem in Liberia, particularly amongst young people and that they look to offer the apprenticeships to those who are at the greatest disadvantage. I can definitely relate to this element of their work, considering the state of youth unemployment back in dear old Blighty. It was interesting to draw comparisons between the rise of university fees in the UK and the costs of sending young people to school in Liberia.
It is hugely encouraging and inspiring that CJPS can show off success stories, like the young people working and training in the shop of master tailor Alphonso. One girl, Madyamu, would have been scraping a living on the streets if it weren’t for the CJPS skills-training program, but now she has been working for Alphonso for 18 months and is a fully qualified seamstress. “In the midst of the challenges we are really moving somewhere,” a quote from Marline.
I’m off now to take on rather a big challenge for one as inflexible and lacking in rhythm as little old me – we’re practicing to take part in a street drama to raise awareness of the issues of HIV and AIDS, our role being to dance to attract spectators…