"Will i fall tomorrow?"
Meet Francis, an epileptic teenager in Liberia
For Francis, a teenager from the village of Nyokolitahun in Liberia, October 5th is a very special day: It will be graduation day for the vocational skills program he has been attending in Kolba City, about 15 miles from his home. Now that the dry season is approaching, travel by foot or motorbike will be easier. He’s looking forward to seeing acquaintances and meeting newcomers.
There’s just one problem: Francis is overcome by a sense of impending despair as the question, “Will I fall tomorrow?" cycles continuously through his mind. He can’t get the fear out of his head.
In Liberia, the terms, ‘fall’, ‘fall down’ or ‘fall out’ all refer to seizures. Epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive seizures, is a non-communicable condition associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. When seizures are uncontrolled, epilepsy is disabling. Persons with seizure disorders may experience a warning or ‘aura’ prior to a convulsion, but often there’s no such warning.
One of the most alarming types of seizures is the generalized seizure, or tonic-clonic seizure, which renders a person unconscious, as bodily control is lost and muscles contract violently. Falls commonly occur with generalized seizures, and resultant injuries include lacerations, burns, concussions and fractures. Drowning can occur if a person is in or near water. Seizures can also be complicated by prolonged headaches which adversely affect daily routines. Inadequately controlled epilepsy is also associated with premature death.
Worldwide, approximately 50 million people of all ages live with epilepsy, and epidemiologists are now confirming what has been long suspected: Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest prevalence of epilepsy. Perinatal trauma, inherited disorders, head trauma and infectious diseases, particularly those caused by parasites and bacteria, are some of the conditions associated with the onset of epilepsy.
Seizures can be mitigated through the use of anti-seizure medications. Regular dosing, usually on a daily basis, helps prevent seizures in most cases. However, in the wake of the country’s civil wars, national drug inventories have been insufficient to meet Liberians’ needs for essential medications. There’s also a shortage of medical professionals.
Epilepsy is often accompanied by anxiety and depression, which takes a further toll. Mental health professionals are few and far between in Liberia, and anti-depressants are not commonly available.
In the developing world, societal misconceptions, including the belief that seizures indicate that a person is ‘possessed’ or is to blame for convulsive disorders, often means that individuals with epilepsy are considered contagious and hence stigmatized, isolated and marginalized. For children and youth with epilepsy, this is deeply troubling. Kids want to fit in with peers, rather than stand out. For people with seizure disorders, societal exclusion and isolation further exacerbate anxiety and depression.
Education is adversely affected, as academic performance and school attendance decline. Students may require days to recover following a generalized seizure while prolonged headaches make studying difficult.
Video: Francis and his uncle Morris
Around noon on graduation day, Francis is standing with his uncle, Morris, at the Restore Hope: Liberia (RHL) vocational education center when he developed a seizure and fell to the ground. Onlookers surrounded Francis, while his uncle knelt beside him. RHL nurse Gladys Zarbay was alerted, and went to Francis, placing him safely on his side as Morris explained how Francis ran out of his anti-seizure medication the previous month because of a stock-out at the hospital.
Gladys promptly checked with the hospital: Still no anticonvulsants. Ultimately, she was able to purchase Francis’s anti-seizure medication at a small roadside shop in Kolba City.
When Francis was assessed two weeks ago, he was not feeling well. He was depressed and only reluctantly communicative; he held his head between his hands. It had been a particularly difficult week for Francis, who also suffered a bout with malaria.
Currently, Francis is taking his anti-seizure medication.
This week, in November 2020, Francis is feeling better and regularly taking his anti-seizure medication. But, he’d like to feel well – well enough to imagine that wonderful things are in store for him tomorrow, next week and next year - without the dread of seizures.
Francis, one of many orphans in Nyokolitahun, continues to try to cope with life’s challenges. And while he’s grateful for his grandfather and RHL, he longs for relief from seizures, anxiety and depression. He doesn’t want to succumb to despair. His prayer is to experience wellness, confidence, societal inclusion and the emboldened vision of wonderful tomorrows.
What RHL is doing (and would like to do more of) to help persons with epilepsy:
Liberia Declares State of Emergency: Minister of Health, “Our entire nation is threatened.”
How RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA is responding...
We are one of the only humanitarian aid organizations remaining in rural Lofa county. We must respond to the health crisis that the current pandemic now presents in Liberia.
Here’s what RHL is doing:
We are all witnessing what this pandemic can do to health systems of various capacities around the world.
Imagine the scale of mortality that could befall a country that has scant resources. These two hospitals support a population of over 170,000. THERE IS NOT ONE VENTILATOR, NOT ONE MASK, NOT ONE PAIR OF EXAM GLOVES IN STOCK. THE PHARMACY SHELVES ARE EMPTY. Even basic items are needed—soap, hand sanitizer, bleach and other cleaning supplies, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to protect the lives of our hospital staff.
They are doing what they can: setting up handwashing stations around the hospital and putting in place some measures learned from the Ebola epidemic such as screening points and isolation units.
Without more support, the number of deaths will be astounding.
Your donation will SAVE LIVES.
meet mariama. she perseveres.
Six weeks ago, 14-year-old Mariama was having abdominal pain, but she went to school and attended after-school tutoring anyway. She appeared ill, her eyes having a yellow tint to them, so her RESTORE HOPE tutor alerted our nurse, Gladys Zarbay, who arranged for Mariama to be evaluated at Kolahun Hospital.
Mariama was ultimately admitted, treated for hepatitis and discharged a week later. Her access to basic medical care was made possible by RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA (RHL).
Today, Liberia’s healthcare system is at risk of collapsing. The nation’s hospitals are under-resourced, and conditions that began deteriorating two years ago continue to decline. Thanks to the diligence and compassion of Gladys Zarbay, Mariama got treatment she needed at Kolahun Hospital, and she received her initial medications. Unfortunately, for most Liberians, however, this would not have been possible.
Liberia’s hospitals lack even the most basic of medical supplies and medications. All diagnostic tests and treatment supplies must be paid for by patients or their families. While Liberia’s economy contracts and inflation increases, essential human services and infrastructure are collapsing. Rural roads have become more perilous during the rainy season. Many Liberians struggle to access medical care only to be faced with insurmountable costs once they reach a healthcare facility. The majority of Liberians can’t afford to buy diagnostic tests such as a malaria screen or basic medical supplies like IV catheters and fluids, much less therapeutic, often life-saving medications. The outcome? Declining numbers of clinic visits, empty hospital pharmacy shelves, and the ominous spectacle of empty hospital beds. People are choosing to face illness, even death, at home.
At age 3 years, Mariama underwent surgical repair of a large and disabling abdominal wall defect on board Mercy Ships’ Africa Mercy. The timing was fortuitous, as there were no other treatment options in Liberia for her rare condition. Her recovery went well, but some six years later, Mariama still hadn’t attended school. She was living with her mother in a remote village in northern Kolahun District. There was no money to pay school fees and buy a school uniform.
Thanks to the initiative of several Kolahun community members and the support of medical alumni of Kolahun Hospital, Mariama began school in 2013 at the age of 9. She would become one of RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA’s first beneficiaries.
Mariama’s life is exemplary of many young lives in Liberia: a life of ongoing challenges including post-conflict poverty, food insecurity, educational barriers and under-resourced healthcare. Her perseverance is exceptional. Mariama inspires.
We could help Mariama because of you. Thank you. RHL seeks to do more for more children. RHL plans to increase advocacy for improved diagnostics and treatment in Liberia. RHL continues to advocate for improved rural roads and access to healthcare. We ask for your help to continue supporting Mariama and children like her - children who stoically seek to endure and lead lives of meaning and hope.
Ms. Blama is finding a new way forward
Ms. Blama’s story is one of resilience, of finding hope.
Like most Liberians, she was just a child when the war broke out. During the war, in hopes of surviving, she fled into “the bush”, the untamed lands of Liberia’s tropical forest. During those 14 long years of an intensely brutal war, she bore children.
The very day she delivered triplets, she was raped repeatedly by rebel forces.
She was then captured by the rebels and held as a prisoner. She escaped once, but unsuccessfully. They “chopped” her, as she describes her own experience. She finally escaped into Sierra Leone becoming a refugee. She eventually made her way back to Liberia but remained living in the bush with her children. She was too traumatized to re-enter society.
When RESTORE HOPE learned of Ms. Blama, our team in Kolahun brought her into the community. With ongoing psychosocial counseling, Ms. Blama is finding a new way forward.
As she says, she can now “go amongst her friends”.
With RESTORE HOPE’s intervention and ongoing support, she now counsels other women who’ve gone through such trauma.
Her children are attending school and she’s become a weaving instructor in the Women’s Weaving Cooperative, supported by RHL. We are proud to know her.
Your financial contribution will help others, like Ms. Blama, find a new way forward. Join our community, become part of Restore Hope’s family of donors, and give a most meaningful gift this season.
Meet Manbu — He loves to fix and build things!
Children need to play.
For children to reach their fullest physical, emotional and spiritual development, play is critical. Children who don’t play, don’t thrive. This is especially true for children who have suffered through war, natural disasters, epidemics, death and loss, and separation from loved ones. Even in survival, their lives have been forever changed.
There are no toys or games in places like Liberia, where the opportunities to play are often non-existent. But kids are amazingly inventive: A tightly wrapped ball of rags can become a soccer ball, a simple barrel hoop or old bike wheel, plus a stick, becomes a classic hoop-and-stick toy. And for some kids we see in Liberia, an empty tin can tied to a long piece of string becomes a favorite pull-toy. Imagination does the rest.
And for kids like Manbu, a 10-year-old 5th grader, imagination knows no bounds. The first thing you notice about Manbu is his drive to invent and create. Whenever we see him, he seems to have a new toy or other creation, made from found materials - recycled sticks and twigs, plastic bottles, string and wire, an old broken LED flashlight, taken apart and repurposed. From what you or I would regard as junk or trash emerge a helicopter, a toy truck with electric lights, a bench and table for his mother, a solar-powered cooking stove.
Appropriately, Manbu’s favorite subjects at school are math and science. “I like to fix things,” he told us, “and I want to be an engineer.” How did he learn to connect the batteries to the lights on his truck? “On my own,” he said matter-of-factly.
So far, Manbu’s world does not extend beyond Kolahun. But he hopes one day to go away to college and become an engineer. And after that? “I want to come back to help my mom, brother, and sister, and also my community.”
Perhaps Manbu will be one of those who get the lights back on in Kolahun, solarizes the wells and pump stations, and builds the new irrigation and flood control systems. There are many bright, young minds like Manbu in Liberia, and poverty should not be a deterrence for them to reach their full potential.
Shyly, near the end of our interview with Manbu, he wondered aloud if RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA might help him go to college one day.
We’re working on it, Manbu, we’re working on it!
your help needed - literacy campaign on global giving
URGENT UPDATE: We only have 18 days to hit our target goal of 40 donors and $5000 in RESTORE HOPE's crowdfunding campaign for childhood literacy in Liberia, under the auspices of Global Giving. If we reach our goal, we can remain active permanently on Global Giving's site, providing us tremendous exposure to more donors. With you, we can succeed!
Teaching children to read is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and investing in a future where every life matters. RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA helps meet the needs of disadvantaged children in the country's remote Kolahun District. RESTORE HOPE will train 6 tutors in phonics-based literacy instruction. The tutors will provide focused after-school literacy instruction to 100 children - improving their fundamental skills, boosting their confidence, and offering them a life-changing opportunity.
60% of Liberians are illiterate. Twenty years of civil war and the worst Ebola epidemic in history have devastated Liberia's school system. Most young people cannot read or write at their grade level, if at all, and few Liberian instructors have the skills to effectively teach literacy. Disadvantaged children-orphaned, disabled, chronically ill-are more likely to escape poverty if they are skilled and educated.
RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA's staff of 6 tutors will complete a literacy-instruction training program. The tutors will then assess the literacy level of 100 RESTORE HOPE students, who will then be grouped according to skill level. Tutors will employ their newly acquired skills, including phonics, to boost the youth's reading levels. They will also use culturally-relevant reading materials, e-readers and other effective literacy tools and methods.
Training after-school tutors in phonics-based literacy will dramatically improve a District's entire education system by bringing expert resources into the community. Not only will 100 children in various schools directly benefit from literacy instruction, trained tutors will go on to lead a Training of Trainers with teachers across the District, sharing their newly acquired knowledge with instructors within the schools. For the children, it will be life-changing.
Construction of VET center is 99% complete
Construction of the Vocational Education & Training (VET) center is 99% complete! The final step is the installation of water and sanitation facilities, for which we are currently comparing bids from local companies. We anticipate this will be completed by the summer’s end.
Our office, library, and tutoring classes will be moving into the building in the coming months. The VET will also house the Women’s Weaving Cooperative. The weavers can now set up their looms under cover, just as the rainy season begins.
The community is excited about their new space…and so are we! Thank you to everyone who donated to make this happen. In particular, we want to thank the people of the German Democratic Republic who, through a grant from the German Embassy in Monrovia, made construction of the VET possible. Vielen danken!
finding resources for a deaf student
Inside the sweltering rental car, Juliana sits wedged between her parents in the rear seat. The vehicle zigs and zags along the bumpy road, trying to avoid the large pot holes. No one speaks. We pass small villages of one-room, mud-brick houses with warped, rusty metal roofs. The landscape alternates between remnants of rainforest, parcels of land cleared for cultivation, and tidy groves of rubber trees and African oil palms.
Juliana is thirteen years old. Her stern gaze is fixed on the road ahead. Her facial expression is blank. There is not the hint of a smile.
What is she thinking? What is she feeling?
Juliana is at the heart of this 45-minute trip from Kolahun District to Voinjama: She is deaf.
Because of her inability to hear or converse, Juliana meets RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA’s criteria for beneficiary enrollment in the RHL program that supports children who are disadvantaged by childhood disability, parental loss or parental disability.
In recent months, both James Kpangbai, RHL’s Field Coordinator, and Margret Gieraths-Nimene, RHL’s then Country Program Director, have been exploring suitable schooling options for Juliana. In Liberia, schools for the deaf are rare. Although RHL has supplied Juliana and her family with sign language books and although she’s enrolled in a conventional local school, it’s clear she needs more resources.
A nun, Sister Ann Kelly, had recently told James about a new school for the deaf in Voinjama. Today we’re going with Juliana and her parents to visit this school.
In Voinjama, we stop to get final directions to the school. I catch a glimpse of Juliana; her face still emotionless. Is she nervous? Scared? Apprehensive? Excited? Unsure? Eager? Reluctant?
It’s been seven months since Juliana enrolled at the Voinjama Academy for the Deaf. James in Kolahun has called to tell me he’s sent photos of some of RHL’s beneficiaries, including Juliana.
I open the file of photos and read the first caption: “Juliana and her school mates.” She has friends, she is connected to the world through relationships. And she’s smiling! A sign of HOPE.
“There is substantial evidence in the psychological and sociological literature that individuals with richer networks of active social relationships tend to be more satisfied and happier with their lives.”
Loss of our friend and teacher
It is with great sadness that we report the death of our friend and brother, Francis Kanneh, on January 31, 2019. Francis was a teacher who for the past several years served as RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA's head tutor and head of our after-school tutoring and adult literacy programs. In spite of increasing health challenges, Francis was ever present, always with an easy smile, always helpful no matter the task. He was courageous and dedicated and was beloved by the children, the RHL families, and his friends and colleagues.
Francis was originally from the Vahun District of Liberia; he grew up and attended primary and secondary school in Kailahun, Sierra Leone. He received his initial teachers’ certificate from Bonumbu Teacher’s College in Sierra Leone. Later, after two years at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee School in Kountaya, Guinea, during the Liberian Civil War, he earned a Diploma for teaching the Integrated Course of Study based on the Secondary School Curricula for Liberia & Sierra Leone.
After the war, Francis returned to Kailahun where he taught at St. Joseph’s Primary School for 7 years, and then for another 3 years at the Musu Kanneh Public School in Kolba City, Kolahun, Lofa County, Liberia.
Poor health forced Francis into an early “retirement” from public school teaching but did not slow him down much. He joined RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA in 2013 and continued his teaching and meeting with our many students, parents and caregivers, and many area teachers and school principals. His responsibilities as our “Principal” included assessing student needs and coordinating our tutorial curriculum with the curriculum in more than a dozen different schools in the Kolahun District.
RHL and the Kolahun community have lost a friend and dedicated teacher. But we are heartened that Francis' spirit and determination live on in the members of the communities we serve who will take this work forward. His memory prompts us all to rededicate our efforts.
To all our friends and colleagues: you may not have known Francis, but when you see his work, see him in action among the vulnerable kids and families of Kolahun, in rural Lofa County, Liberia, you will recognize the face of dedication and service, compassion and resilience, a man who was gentle yet strong and determined. And you'll see the work of recovery and development based on a holistic, community-centered, grassroots model that has emerged in the aftermath of war and disease.
We hope you’ll enjoy this short video vignette of Francis' work and time with RHL in Kolahun.
RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA's VET center foundation and structural walls are complete, and the roof has been installed. The local Liberian-owned construction company, submitted a bid for the work in early 2018, and a generous grant by the German Embassy covered the budget.
In the meantime, however, a number of crises, including the Ebola epidemic, brought the country’s economy to a virtual standstill. An inflation rate topping 10% has led to sharp increases in the price of building materials, which means that the Liberian construction company can no longer complete the VET on budget.
Additional funds are needed to finish the building. $5,000 will cover the final costs of materials and labor.
It will be money well invested. The VET center will be owned by the community. We will be creating a vibrant space for a public library, a center for youth and adult literacy, a spacious weaving area, and workshop space for additional vocational training.
Nothing like this exists in Kolahun — no public library or community education space. The women in the Women’s Weaving Cooperative have no indoor space to weave during the rainy season (from May to October), greatly hindering their ability to sustain their business.
The VET center will be more than bricks and mortar. It is already helping grow new leaders.
Your dollars will go directly to the final construction budget. Make an impact. Give today.
Saundra Williams, MPH, MIA
Co-founder and Executive Director