After traveling from Abuja to Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, we drove for an hour and a half through Lagos and out into the country, where an abandoned teachers’ college was turned into a refugee camp in 1990. It is now “home” to about 5,400 Liberians from all sixteen tribes and from all parts of the country. The hostel blocks that were designed for two or three students now house entire families. Creative construction from available materials gives shelter to the rest.
The commandant stepped out into the one hundred degree heat wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Even though he was not expecting us he greeted us warmly and granted us free access to the whole camp. The furniture was sparse and threadbare but there was a sense of the orderliness and quiet dignity.
The three women from Monrovia who had made a presentation in Abuja explained that we had only a short time to meet with the residents. The commandant sent us to the elected camp leader and the head of the women’s group in the care of a resident. As we walked by the first house, a woman stepped onto the porch and said, “Oh good, you are here to take us home”. Further along scrawled in chalk on a drab brown wall someone had written, “God knows the reasons”.
We met the camp leader and head of the women’s group. The ladies wanted to bring greetings from Liberia, an update on the situation there and share about the results of the Abuja conference. Runners were sent to tell people to come to the Church as soon as they could. As we walked across the homemade wooden bridges that span the fields and link the living areas the homemade church bell began to peal. From all corners people begin flowing toward the open air sanctuary.
Evelyn reported on the Abuja conference and the positive changes she has seen. Theresa read the women’s statement. Clara vowed that the women are committed to continue their campaign until peace returns to the land and they can return home. Evelyn presented a gift of fifty dollars to the camp leader for the welfare of the camp as a token of support from their fellow Liberians in Monrovia. We ended by standing, holding hands around the room and singing the Liberian national anthem, a moving moment of hope and spirit.
The Church was full, every bench filled with women and children, men standing in the aisles and people hanging through the windows. I estimated more than 500 were there with no notice or preparation. The pastor commented that more came without notice than show up for the UN-sponsored meetings.
The spirit is there and they are going on with life as best they can but Liberia — “home” — is clearly where they want to be.