We’re delighted to welcome Team Liberia on the Road to Rio! Street Child of Liberia are our partner organisation and they work in Monrovia to provide opportunities for children to leave street life behind. The following extract is from Street Child World Cup teams coordinator Karin Joseph who visited them recently:
Late on Saturday afternoons, boys from the streets of West Point district in Monrovia come together with Street Child of Liberia (SCoL) coaches and social workers to play football and talk on the beach. Though the scene appears idyllic, the shell of the formerly luxurious Ducor Palace Hotel stands derelict in the background, a stark reminder of Liberia’s recent past. The country has now been more than ten years out of civil war, but many say that Liberia’s is still a fragile peace, as ubiquitous UN vehicles and troops testify. West Point is a small but immensely overpopulated district of Monrovia home to more than 60,000 people. Although no longer a war-zone, issues such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, high unemployment, and too few schools mean that everyday life here continues to present huge challenges for the residents of West Point.
The children who have come to play football today have ended up on the streets for a variety of reasons; some have been orphaned since the conflict, others have fled home due to domestic abuse or abject poverty. They sleep under market stalls, car parks, or in dugout canoes pulled up on the beach. During the day many work for market stallholders hauling loads. Many girls are involved in prostitution, some from a very young age. A national shortage of school places make it difficult for families to support their children through education, and the schools that do exist are stretched, poorly resourced and struggling to meet satisfactory standards (not a single high school student passed the entrance exam to the University of Liberia last year).
Our partner Street Child of Liberia (SCoL) has recently been established as a local organisation in Monrovia, run by Michael John Bull and a team of social workers. Together they work to identify and support street children across Monrovia, reintegrating them back home and then into schools. West Point is one of five areas where SCoL are working in Monrovia.
John Bull, National Director of SCoL, says that general awareness of basic child rights and child protection in Liberia feels virtually non-existent. Street children are simply seen as a menace, as the failures and let-downs of society. Nobody believes anything good can come of them – often not even their own family members. By organising a team to the SCWC to represent Liberia, SCoL hope to start challenging these perceptions and highlight every street child’s potential.
Encouragingly, the need for change is being acknowledged. Government ministers and police chiefs wholeheartedly welcome SCoL and the SCWC initiative. As she officially launched SCoL and their Road to Rio in Monrovia on Monday, a consultant from the Ministry of Gender said, “if children are not supported – our country is always going to be vulnerable… we do not want to go back to war”. Almost every speaker at the launch used the war as a reference point to express how crucial it was to support the youth of the country. In Liberia, defending street children is not just a question of essential child rights, but is also seen as integral to a more stable peace for their nation.
The boys on West Point beach, some of whom will travel to Rio next year to speak up for street children, are part of this journey towards a better future for Liberia.
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