Helping War-Affected Children in Liberia

Growing up in a village in Grand Bassa County in the west-central portion of Liberia, Remongar Dennis was one of only seven children to survive infancy in what would have been a family of 13. He was the only child in his family to go to school. Now Liberia’s deputy permanent representative to the U.N. — Liberia’s highest representative, through which the president conducts multilateral diplomacy — Dennis’ main job is to assist the permanent representative to achieve diplomacy goals and policy objectives for Liberia. Here, he talks to Brain World about his long journey, dealing with a war-torn country, and how innovative educational programs are the best hope for his country — and continent.

Brain World: How did you get the opportunity to go to school?

Remongar Dennis: My father was a farmer. In Africa, the men do the hard farm work, then turn the farm over to the women to do odd jobs. My father often went to do odd jobs at the Firestone plantation, which was the largest private-owned rubber plantation in the world. One day they were waiting to get paid, and they had to wait in the hot sun for many hours. Finally, my father saw a young man in his 20s coming with a book under his arm. He could have been my father’s child, and he was the paymaster they had been waiting for. So he went back and told my mother the story of the young man, and then he said, “That boy, he’s educated. That’s why he treated us that way. I think education is important.”

BW: So your family sent you to live with one of the women your father had done odd jobs for. Is that common in Liberia?

RD: He was overseeing a store for a woman, and she was very impressed with his performance and his attitude, and she asked him, “Do you have a child I can raise, because you seem like a decent man and I think your children would be like you?” She was not an educated woman. But she was a highly civilized lady — very disciplined — and she raised a lot of children from all over Liberia. She had a passion for doing that. In our culture, if someone gives you a child to raise, they will not visit, so the child will be properly adjusted. So I didn’t see my father for five years.

BW: How did you do in school?

RD: First, I had to learn English, because I didn’t speak it. I was around 13 years old. It was the middle of the year, so I stayed home and learned English with the help of the other two boys living there. So I started in the first grade, but I was advanced after six months. I was usually at the top of my class through high school. I went to the University of Liberia, where I studied economics and sociology. After I graduated, the government had changed, so I ended up at the ministry of foreign affairs. Then I went to Japan and did my master’s in international relations.

BW: How did the war affect you? How does the emotional impact from the war manifest itself during the war? And after?

RD: The instability actually started in the latter 1970s, the coup in April 1980, and the war in 1989. I graduated in December of 1980, so I was in my senior year. I remained at university until I graduated. The war seriously affected a lot of Liberians. [More than 250,000 were killed over the years.] After the war, [in 2003], law had broken down and the country was in a state of lawlessness. People had no interest in the legal system, so they decided to focus on the rule of law to help the country recover from the civil wars. Establishing and promoting the rule of law to assist the country achieve development is one of the government’s main concerns, along with war-affected children. Development will help young people achieve their goals. We have thousands of children suffering from trauma as a result of the war. Many of them lost their parents in the war, and many were affected by the war, and they all need psychological rehabilitation.

These children feel rejected — they are downtrodden, they suffer from trauma and shock at things they should have seen at an early age. This is a sector of society that needs to be given the most attention so that they can regain themselves and their consciousness. They fear they don’t belong, and they need someone to care for them, to regain hope for the future. Many of them are very young, and they don’t understand what happened. They need the help of people who understand the situation and can help them forget the past.

BW: The recovery and well-being of war-affected children is one of the main concerns in your country. What do they need most, and how does the U.N. community contribute to solving their problems?

RD: The country is in the process of reviving itself from the conflicts, and every sector of the nation was affected. The country needs every form of assistance to help build every sector. And it has to do everything better to recover from the war. It has to focus, and it’s in the best position to build a new country — to redesign its policy, to build new schools — so we cannot afford to go back to the old system. It takes a whole lot of effort, and I think philanthropists should join international efforts to assist children and adults suffering from trauma due to war and poverty to recover properly. Some children weren’t hurt by the war, but they are living in very poor neighborhoods, and they need guidance and direction.

BW: Your U.N. mission has developed a plan to bring brain-based holisitic education to your country, particularly to help war-affected children. What are the benefits you expect from a program such as t his one?

RD: IBREA Foundation has a program that I feel can make a direct impact on helping to cure war-affected children in Liberia. So I am working with them — they established an office and extends its services with the view of trying to study and understand to what extent these children were affected and what help they will need that brain education can provide in the revitalization process.

IBREA’s methodology develops the mental capacity of young people to develop their alertness, make them strong, physically and spiritually — in body and strength — and this is good for children affected by civil crisis.

BW: Why are the children so important?

RD: The children are the bedrock of the society. They are the future leaders of society, and if they are properly educated, if they are properly trained and disciplined, we will have a vibrant nation. That is why my main concern is the children. I know that if all Liberians do not take steps to assist the children, to revive them and have them to focus on positive things, the future of Liberia certainly will have a problem. For the future of the country and for the future of peaceful citizens, for my children and all Liberian children, we should do everything we can to have a better future for the country so that everyone will live in peace and security. And since I have the opportunity to aid the nation, I have an obligation to help.

BW: What does your father say about all your work?

RD: My father is in his 90s. He’s in the village, unlettered but highly patriotic. They know that I work with the government, that I make a contribution, and they are very proud.

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