Celebrating the completion of our training with a party!
This photo of a raucous group of gleeful students is what you and I both want to see when we think about Liberia. From a photo like this, we assume that the student's have enjoyed and benefitted from the educational experience provided by the tuition free arts education program offered by B4 Youth Theatre, the non-profit company with whom I have been working for 3 years now. Certainly I was happy in this image.
This group of children in Gbarnga are certainly the more fortunate of many kids in Liberia, as they have families in the village that care for them and feed them as best they can. But you cannot see that these kids possibly have not eaten today before our party. You cannot see that some of them had to leave children behind to come to be a part of the training and that this posed a series of problems for them. You cannot see that some of these children are also responsible for provding some measure of financial wealth to their familial well-being and that this too acts as a deterrent to students taking advantage of a free education opportunity.
At this celebration, at the end of our training time together, the students took streams of photos with their instructors and fellow classmates, we danced to music, and we talked about our lives. Lots and lots of posing for photos!
And in this time, it became abundantly clear to me that these children had hard won the experience of this arts training in ways that I never had to. The program required they come to each training, that they be on time to the training, and that they behave cooperatively and respectfully within the program. We did not provide any food daily, except this one time celebratory meal of rice and "soup"(Liberian stew) with fish. Our work was very physical, and exhausting in the 95 degree heat each day, and we worked for periods of time ranging between 1 hour to 3 hours. In short, we asked a lot of them.
These children are champions.