I can still remember the night of Dec. 21 when I boarded the Air Maroc flight to Dakar, Senegal. My mom traveled seven hours from rural Liberia to see me off. I had just celebrated my daughter’s second birthday the day before, and Ebola was still in full swing throughout the country.
As I boarded the flight, I kept asking myself, “Is the Atlas Corps Fellowship worth my entire 2015? Will my daughter remember me when I get back? How easy will it be to reintegrate into Liberian society when I return?”
I was painfully aware of how big this decision was, and just how much it could have an effect my own life—as well as the lives of the people I was leaving behind.
But this journey was about more than just living in another country, far away from the people and places I know and love. This journey would help me get the tools, knowledge and experience I needed to ramp up the technology for development and social change revolution back home in Liberia.
Arriving in D.C. was a total culture shock– the cold weather, the always available electricity, the people and the simple things like transportation systems.
Liberia has endured 14 years of on and off civil war, during which the country experienced one of the largest recorded economic collapses with national Gross Domestic Product falling by more than 90 percent from 1987 to 1995. Although the war ended in 2003, it left a legacy of extreme hardship—with almost two-thirds of Liberians living below the poverty line—severe capacity constraints, significant under-employment and a vast infrastructure deficit.
In fact, the first elected post-war government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had to begin from scratch because all banking institutions, including the Central Bank of Liberia, were completely looted during the war. Even hospitals were looted, sometimes resulting in the destruction of doors and windows.
During the last 10 years, the World Bank has consistently ranked Liberia as one of the world’s poorest countries. There is no round-the-clock electricity and good governance, quality health delivery systems, access to education and employment opportunities still remain huge challenges.
Growing up as a Liberian in the last two decades hasn’t been a smooth road at all. I have had to listen to gun shots as though they were music. I have tasted hunger and hardship, living part of my life in refugee camps in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
And now, far from the refugee camps of West Africa, I am here as one of 17 Atlas Corps Fellow in Washington, D.C., where I’ll be supporting the Technology for Development team at Creative Associates International. Previously, I was Training Director at iLab Liberia.
Since my arrival in February, the most interesting part of this journey has been getting to know my fellow Fellows from different countries and continents, listening to their stories and learning about their cultures while sharing mine.
Living in the United States, joining the Creative team and being part of this fellowship is awesome, but even though everything is going well I am also constantly reminding myself that there will be challenges ahead. As exciting and promising as fellowships or studying abroad can seem (and usually are), the experience doesn’t come without its obstacles.
I am now facing the reality that I am in a foreign place, a new environment and a different culture. I am trying to enjoy every bit of it and to make my experience at my host organization, Creative, worth remembering.
I am certain that there are and will be obstacles.
However, the mission for which I came to the U.S. remains constant—learn, share, network and return to Liberia to support my country by using new and old technologies to inspire social change.
In the end, my personal journey will be one that not only brings about change in my life, but also changes the lives of hundreds and even thousands of my fellow citizens back home.