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Learning to be Young: Rehabilitating Liberian Children

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Posted on 4/3/2013

The people of Liberia have endured more than most. From 1989 until 2003, Liberia experienced just three years of peace between two successive civil wars that left more than a quarter of a million people dead and dealt a devastating blow to the nation's economy. Now, a decade after the fighting stopped, Liberia is still struggling to rebuild in the aftermath of the bloody conflict. With a population of approximately 3.7 million people, 80 percent of whom live below the poverty line, Liberia faces considerable challenges in the years ahead.

The Scars of War

Political instability was a major factor behind the eruption of the first Liberian civil war, which culminated in the involvement of the United Nations and Economic Community of West African States. During the war, children were routinely forced to fight as child soldiers, and many smaller rural communities were left abandoned as families fled the violence. Terrible atrocities were committed during the war, and millions of people were displaced to neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone. Even during the three years of relative peace that followed the end of the conflict, the violence did not fully subside, as skirmishes and localized battles still flared up in some parts of the country.

The psychological scars of warfare are difficult to handle for even experienced soldiers but can be devastating for young children. Forced to commit brutal acts of violence out of fear for their own safety, many children drafted by rebel forces were left isolated and vulnerable at the conclusion of the war. Aside from shouldering the emotional burden of fighting, children returning to their communities were often shunned by parents struggling to rebuild in light of the bloodshed. In some cases, children were viewed as liabilities or even commodities, with many children sold into labor. Others became victims of domestic and other types of abuse.

Lingering Problems

Even children fortunate enough to have a home following the end of the civil war still face a range of serious problems. ChildFund came to Liberia at the conclusion of the second Liberian civil war in 2003 and found that despite nationwide efforts to rebuild the country's devastated educational system, many children still lacked access to basic education. Today, Liberia's new government, particularly President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recognizes the importance of education and rehabilitation efforts in the country. Earlier this year, ChildFund was awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development's Child Protection Network, and ChildFund's CEO Anne Lynam Goddard met in 2011 with Johnson Sirleaf, known as Liberia's "Iron Lady," to discuss the progress that has been made in expanding the accessibility of educational opportunities to the country's children.

To help children re-enter society, ChildFund has introduced interim care centers to offer former child soldiers and displaced children the opportunity to play, grow, learn and address the past. In addition, our community education and investment project has provided more than 110 schools across Liberia with much-needed academic materials, including around 75,000 books.

ChildFund recognizes the importance of helping children learn to be young and the value of empowering communities to rebuild after years of fighting. Although significant progress has been made, there is still much to be done before the children of Liberia can enjoy a healthy, happy future. To help ChildFund continue to provide for communities in need, please consider making a donation to our Essentials for Survival fund. For just $15 per month — around 50 cents per day — you can help us provide clean drinking water, food and basic health care that is crucial to children's development.

Alternatively, making a donation to our Children's Greatest Needs program allows us to empower women and young girls in communities affected by gender inequality, expand limited educational resources in some of the world's poorest communities and teach families about the importance of good nutrition.