Our organization began in 2007 after Judy Reed and Jane Scharer visited Liberia to reconnect with people Judy had taught from 1964-66 as a Peace Corps volunteer in the small village of Gbonkonimah, Liberia. The reunion was bittersweet: while it was exciting to reconnect with more than 15 former students, Judy and Jane learned that many of them had lost family members and had themselves barely survived the war years. The photos Judy brought from her two years in the Peace Corps were received with joy and tears, as most of her former students had few, if any, pictures of themselves or their families from the past.
After seeing so many people struggling, Judy and Jane established the Liberian Assistance Program (LAP), a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit, when they returned to the U.S. LAP raises money for its projects through its annual letter to supporters, grants and fundraising events.
Liberia is on the west coast of Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. Covering 43,000 square miles (about the size of Virginia) with a population of approximately 3.7 million, Liberia has a hot equatorial climate with a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November through April.
Liberia became a nation in 1847 when freed slaves from the United States formed a government based on that of the United States. They named their capital Monrovia after U.S. President James Monroe.
The Liberian government was overthrown by a military coup in 1980, marking the beginning of a long period of instability and civil war that left approximately 250,000 people dead and the country's economy devastated. After a ceasefire among the warring groups in 2003, the United Nations established a peace-keeping mission in Liberia. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia in 2005 and won a second term in 2011. She was Africa's first elected female head of state. Her current term ends in 2018.
Today Liberia is recovering from the devastation caused by 14 years of war. The country is rebuilding its roads, health care facilities, housing and schools. But Liberia is still considered one of the poorest countries in the world.
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A parade of students, carrying a welcome sign, greet Judy Reed and Jane Scharer at the entrance to the school grounds.
Jane Scharer and Judy Reed returned to Liberiain 2014 to see the Obama School for the first time and to visit with the principal, staff and students there. They also visited Gbonkonimah and met the principal of the Tubman School. Below are some photos from their trip.
Jessie Kekula, the Obama principal, presents an Obama baseball cap to the president of the PTA. LAP provided a cap for each staff member as well.
Children are ready for the first of several programs welcoming Judy and Jane.
The School Board presents a beautiful wooden sculpture of the school’s emblem and motto to the LAP officers.
Some of the Obama teachers visit with Judy and Jane.
Judy and Jane with the queen of the Obama School
Principal Kekula’s wife Elizabeth serves a meal in the new cafeteria for the Obama School Board members.
During the Ebola Crisis in Liberia in 2014 and 2015, the Liberian Assistance program supported the Obama School by paying salaries for the 16 members of the school’s staff for the six months schools were closed throughout Liberia. We also sent money to buy rice for the Obama students. In addition, LAP sent money to buy rice, buckets and soap for the village of Gbonkonimah, where our chair served in the Peace Corps in the 1960s.
Judy's and Jane's visit to Liberia in 2014
Obama School Principal Jessie Kekula distributes rice and soap to residents of Gbonkonimah. Jessie grew up in Gbonkonimah and was a student when LAP Chair Judy Reed taught there.