Orphans in remote Liberia village adopt Rye visitor
For 36 years 'Mother Young', 80, has supervised 150 children under abysmal conditions
Story, photos by Lani Fortier
Signe of Norway (top left) and Lani of Rye enjoy their new-found friends who attend the makeshift school pictured below.
Liberia, West Africa, is a nation facing many problems. Fourteen years of civil war have left it in a condition that we in the United States would struggle to even imagine. I have been living here for two months now, and I still have trouble comprehending the circumstances in which people of this country are living. Aside from the physical reminders of the war, bullet holes, no electricity, no running water, no public sanitation and few houses made of more than scrap metal and mud bricks, there are emotional scars on every citizen. Anybody over the age of three lived at least part of his or her life in a war zone.
There is no public school system, unemployment is the norm, health care is virtually non-existent, and malnourishment is common. An entire generation grew up seeing nothing but the worst life had to offer. Poverty, illness, and seeing the atrocities human beings commit on one another under the influence of war are the only life many Liberians have ever known. As a result of these conditions there is an unbelievably large number of orphans. To see the circumstances in which the children are living is heart breaking and trying to improve the situation for 150 of these orphans has become the focus of my time here. What started out as going to play with some children one afternoon per week has turned into a full-time job that is completely consuming physically and emotionally.
I came to Liberia as a volunteer crew member aboard the Anastasis. The ship is a non-profit hospital that sails to developing nations each year and provides free surgery and medical care, along with working on community development, education, agriculture, and other programs. The work the ship does is immense, and I am proud of the job I do onboard, but the orphanage is something three of my friends and I took on outside of our 9 to 5 shifts, and it has become the focus of my time here.
The four of us (one girl from Norway, one from Holland, and two of us from the US) first heard of the Fatima Cottage Orphanage in January. A Dutch man owns a trucking company here in Liberia and used to support the orphanage before the war. When he found out somebody he knew was in Liberia, he asked her to check up on the place and that is how our involvement began. Fatima Village Orphanage is run by an 80-year-old woman named Reverend Mother Victoria Young, aka "Mother Young" (photo above). She has been running the place for 36 years, making it the oldest orphanage in Liberia. She really is an incredible woman. During the war when the rebels marched right onto her property, she fled into the bush and took the children with her. When the immediate danger passed, she returned and began taking in children once again. She has mostly war and HIV orphans from Liberia but also takes in refugee children from other West African nations and never turns away a child in need.
The orphanage sits on 11 acres of land and is out in the bush quite a way. It is better, in my opinion, than being in the city, but the living conditions are still very poor. As far as structures go there are two "dormitories", one for boys and one for girls. They are cinder block buildings with cement floors (left) that World Vision helped build a few years back, but they are dirty, are in poor condition, and are much too small for the number of children they house. Very few children have mats to sleep on, and there is no bedding except for the few sheets and blankets we brought from our ship. The older kids cram into a few rooms and share what little they have, but the younger kids sleep out in the halls on the bare cement floors because most of them still wet the bed. As is the M.O. for all places here, there is no electricity, no water, no plumbing, and no windows to keep out mosquitoes and rain.
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