Before lockdown in Liberia, our partner WE-CARE Foundation was supplying schools, community libraries and universities across the country with the brand new books you help to send.
They were also just putting the finishing touches to the last of six Explorer Libraries in schools – a joint project to create school libraries from scratch, filled with brand new books in under-resourced schools.
Lockdown has closed schools and libraries in Liberia but WE-CARE Foundation are finding new innovative ways to keep children and communities reading and learning.
Here, Michael Weah, WE-CARE’s Executive Director, tells us more.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, this may mean the children will be about a year behind in their education.
Can you tell us a little about the work WE-CARE Foundation normally does?
WE-CARE Foundation is an educational NGO. We run several programs including the Reading Liberia Program where we help schools to set up libraries, supply them with books and train and mentor their teacher-librarians.
We also publish our own books which we supply to schools along with other donated books and supply books to colleges, universities, community libraries and other institutions.
Healthcare workers were victims during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 so most of the hospitals and clinics, which should be helping at this time, are closed out of fear.
What restrictions on normal life are being imposed because of Covid?
As of now, almost everything is at a stand-still. All of Liberia’s fifteen counties are under lockdown and travelling between counties is prohibited. Schools were among the first places that were ordered to close. All religious gatherings have been banned, only businesses that sell food, medicine, and beverages are open.
Healthcare workers were victims during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 so most of the hospitals and clinics, which should be helping at this time, are closed out of fear of contracting the disease.
With schools closed, children are not learning; and many of them do not have books at home.
How is the lockdown affecting people’s lives in Liberia?
People in Liberia are facing serious economic challenges. As safety measures become more restrictive, the price of everything from food to transportation has skyrocketed thus making it difficult for lot of our people.
This was made far worse when the lockdown was announced. Basic commodities from the capital can no longer get to the remote counties while agricultural produce from the rural areas can no longer get to the city.
Most people live by doing daily petty trading and from the proceeds, they feed their families each day. Many of them are engaged in small business and hawking in markets. But the fear is that these crowded markets could transmit the virus so the police have been clearing lot of market stalls, leaving many people with no other means to survive.
We are working with organisations that are supplying books to children to read and study at home.
How is the lockdown impacting children’s education?
The second semester, which is the second half of the school year, was just starting when schools were ordered to close. With no end to the pandemic in sight, it means that the whole semester is wasted. Here in Liberia, almost all of our parents depend on the schools for their children’s learning.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, it means that the whole semester is wasted.
Most parents cannot home school because they are illiterate. With schools closed, children are not learning; and many of them do not have books at home. Research and experience show that the longer the children stay out of school, the further behind they will be. With the Covid-19 pandemic, this may mean the children will be about a year behind in their education.
The local cell phones companies have educational apps for parents to use to teach their children, but few people are using them because you have to pay for data and many people don’t have smart phones. The Ministry of Education has also started a program where students are taught on the radio however many of the stations being used cannot reach the more remote counties.
It is evident that schools may not be opening this year so we are planning to step up book distribution to more communities.
How has your work changed since the lockdown?
Our work has changed drastically. We can no longer visit the libraries and have postponed the distribution of books to the schools.
Currently, we are working with organisations that are supplying books to children to read and study at home, supplying Covid-19 awareness flyers along with books and other school materials. Books are also being given to our staff to distribute (safely) in their communities.
Before the lockdown, we had established what we call ‘Community Bookshelves’ in three communities – small shelves built outside to hold books which people can take and read at home. We are still refilling these shelves every week to support the reading hobby of communities during lockdown.
We are working on ways to get more people in communities involved in some form of literacy activity.
Do you have any further plans in development?
It is evident that schools may not be opening this year so we are planning to step up book distribution to more communities. We are working on ways to get more people in communities involved in some form of literacy activity – even if they cannot read, they can “picture read” with their kids or just have a story time in the home. Also, we are planning to supply our school libraries with more books.
When libraries and schools are open again, what role do you think books will have in helping children to get back to learning?
Children will need to catch up because of the time they have been out of school. It is rumoured that schools may be compelled to promote their students to the next grade, who had passed the first semester. This means those students will be going to the next grade with only half of what they should have learned. This is where books come in. Children will need to do more reading and maths studies to meet the challenge.
… students will be going to the next grade with only half of what they should have learned. This is where books come in.
Sadly, many parents may not be able to afford to send their children back to school because of the economic conditions created by the pandemic. Although government schools are free, parents still have to pay a registration fee for each child as well as purchase a uniform, school materials and books.
Potentially our WE-CARE Library and other community libraries could serve as “schools” for these out of school children when libraries and schools reopen. All of our libraries are positioned to serve their communities but these will need additional books so that we can support out-of-school learners well.
* Photos used in this blog were taken before lockdown.