Bringing Hope to Orphans Roaming the Streets of Monrovia

Remarks at The Sunday Project Winter Ball & Buffet Fundraiser
Ramada Inn in Seekonk, MA - February 26, 2005
Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Sunday Project and Executive of Director, Liberian History, Education and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), Greensboro, NC

Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Safety & Health
NC A&T State University, Greensboro, NC


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 2, 2005

Senator Jack Reed; Congressman Patrick Kennedy; Ambassador William H. Twaddell and Mrs. Twaddell; Secretary of State Matthew Brown; Bishop Robert E. Farrell, Dr. Mator Kbangbai, President of the Liberian Community Association of Rhodes Island; Officers and members of the Sunday Project Organizing Committee, Fellow Liberians and Friends of Liberia; Distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the board of directors, the officers and members of the Sunday Project, I want to take this opportunity, in my capacity as chairman of the board of directors, to welcome all of you to the first Winter Ball & Buffet Fundraiser of The Sunday Project. At the Sunday Project, we hope not only to generate funds to care for orphans and children with developmental disabilities from the 14-year civil war in Liberia, but we also hope to initiate an open dialogue and a timely discussion about the future of Liberia.

We want to provide a future for the young children of Liberia, who, without any faults on their part, became child soldiers during the civil war, and orphans and homeless people after the civil war. The project is named after Sunday, a young girl with developmental disabilities, who met her untimely death while fleeing--- her village came under attacks by rebel forces. Sunday was the sister of one of the founding members of this project. In honor of her life, and the thousands of other Liberian children who died or are presently suffering from war-related trauma and disabilities, the Sunday Project was born.

The Sunday Project began in the spring of 2004 when a group of dedicated and thinking sons and daughters of Liberia, among them Henrietta White-Holder, Doris Norma, Ellen Miller-Tay, and Newoky Graham began to discuss the unspeakable death and destruction caused to Liberia and its people. While many persons believe that we Liberians love to talk, Henrietta, Doris, Ellen and Newoky were not talking for nothing this time. The conversation led to something good - the birth of The Sunday Project.

The Sunday Project’s mission and vision are to bring hope to the many orphan children roaming the streets of Monrovia, and to work for a peaceful Liberia where all Liberians will regain their dignity. The Sunday Project’s vision and mission can be summarized as the best example of human compassion and concern or humanism because the objective is to provide resources for a sustainable future for Liberian children, especially comprehensive services to physically and mentally challenged children who became unwilling victims of the civil war in Liberia.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is concern for the children of Liberia that brought all of us together here tonight. And we want to thank all of you, especially Senator Reed, Rep. Kennedy, and Ambassador Twaddell, and every one of you who had to leave your very busy schedules to join officers and members of The Sunday Project and in this great endeavor. I should however request your permission to skip the academics and the fireside stories, and draw your immediate attention to the task before us - which is to care for the fatherless, the motherless, voiceless, and the homeless children of Liberia.

Many of us often like to share our sweet memories about life in Liberia. Some of us would say that Liberia was a shining city on a hilltop in Africa. Some of us would declare with emotion that Liberia was the “gem of Africa.” Some of us would say that Liberia once led the world as the largest marine fleet registering nation. To some, the Firestone Rubber Plantation is synonymous with Liberia as the world’s largest latex producer from local rubber plantations. Those who are from European nations would remember Liberia for its high-grade iron ore.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters would tell me that Liberia was good to Israel because it cast the final vote that created their nation. Equally so, other would say that Liberia was a founding member of the League of Nation, now the United Nations. And still others know the name Angie Brooke Randolph the first woman to serve as president of the United Nation Security Council. Many of my Central African professors know of Liberia for her peace negotiating ability that brought an end to the war in the Congo when the gallant soldier Korboi Johnson hoisted the flag of peace. And others would remember that former Liberian vice president and later president, Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr. flew on a two engine plane during the Nigerian -Biafran Civil War civil of July 2, 1967 to January 15, 1970 on a peace mission that resulted into silencing the guns after some 50,000 Biafrans lay dead. Some recount the Guinness Book of World records 1978 reference to Liberia as the most peaceful nation in Africa. And I would say these people remember Liberia correctly.

But there's another Liberia. The Liberia that can no longer hold onto the glories of the “Sweet Land of Liberty”, the producer of latex, iron ore, and international peacemakers. In the other Liberia, there is much despair on the faces of both the children and the adults. In this Liberia, about 4,500 Liberian children die each year from malaria. Many children are orphans, and literacy is now 15%, thanks to a civil war that carried with it more than 400,000 lives. This other Liberia, according to the United Nations (UN), has 15, 000 to 20, 000 children, some as young as six, who participated in the civil war.

The UN says in this other Liberia at least 6, 000 to 10, 000 children, boys and girls, became soldiers, of which the 4, 300 demobilized and disarmed were between aged 10 to 18. This other Liberia has an estimated 1.4 million people who are internally displaced. This other Liberia is wrestling between unemployment and illiteracy rates at 80% each. In this other Liberia:

> Children are either separated from their parents or lived with disrupted families or no families
> Children have little or no education or no access to education
> Children formed the most marginalized of lowest socio-economic groups in society
> Children are missing one of two key body parts such are eyes, ears, hands, legs
>Children sleep in the city streets, or dilapidated homes
> Children drink from the gutters for lack of safe drinking water
> Children go to bed without food

There is great despair in this other Liberia. My fellow Liberians and friends of Liberia, these children need our help because they are the future leaders of Liberia. Of course, we cannot see the faces of these children from where we sit or stand. But wherever we sit or stand we can lift the spirit of these children from their wheelchairs to the hope train that will lead them to the new frontiers of education, housing, and peace of mind.
My friends what little gift we give or what little pledge we make here tonight will go a long way in rescuing a Liberian child from despair. I therefore ask you, for the good of all humankind, for the love of a once caring, giving, loving and contributing great nation, for the family of Liberia, for the love of our Ancestral God to come forward and help a weak and helpless child in Liberia by investing in the future of Liberian children through the Sunday Project.

Many children in Liberia today have no father, mother, and home to go to. But the children have not given up on the belief that the great human family we all belong to comes in every different color, every faith, and every language. As I speak, Msgr. Robert G. Tikpor, Sunday Project board member has started to actively recruit willing foster families in Liberia for this project.

Fellow Liberians and Friends of Liberia, I believe that God, humanity and history are on side of these children, and that their hope is indestructible and eternal. Oh Ancestral God of our parentage, not my will but thine. Welcome and thanks in advance for your generous contribution!