Liberia Dispatch: Students Want Answers To Some Tough Questions

NPR's Jordana Hochman is traveling in Liberia on a Gatekeeper Editors trip organized by the International Reporting Project. This is her fourth dispatch. The others are here and here and here:

Students at the University of Liberia wanted us to know that Africa is not all about bad stories. Last week in Monrovia, we held a round table discussion with a group of them on campus.

The goal was to exchange questions with each other, and our first question came from a journalism major. If you look at international media, he said, Africa is made to have more problems than anywhere else in the world. Stories on violence and malnutrition dominate. He wondered if we were in Liberia to do those kinds of stories and he wanted us to focus on positive ones.

Another student also wanted us to focus on positive stories, like educational opportunities for women. In a fuchsia blouse and matching heels, she told us how she’s trying to bring back the Miss University of Liberia pageant, which promotes academic excellence among young women. Other students described their efforts to create a student counseling program on campus. Many of them volunteer to help other students pick their classes, chose their majors, and navigate the college experience.

Then we asked the Liberian students what they would ask their President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We hope to meet her before our trip to Liberia ends. This time, the students’ responses were more negative.

Like citizens everywhere, they wonder what their elected officials will do to improve their country. Here are some of their questions.

— What can she do to minimize teenage pregnancy, get girls back into school and put education first?

— The health conditions in the counties are deplorable. The health sector is improving, but there needs to be more improvement. What is she doing to extend mini clinics throughout the country?

— If she’s reelected, what will be her role be in fighting corruption? Teachers in primary and secondary schools are taking bribes — demanding $100 from their students. What is she doing to get rid of bribery in the schools?

— She is so concerned with the economy, transportation and road conditions, but when buses are brought into Liberia, they last about six months before they break down. Is she going to keep bringing trash, or things that will last?

— Why does she always go abroad (to Liberians who left the country) to fill government positions, when there are Liberians already here who are capable of holding those positions?

— Maternal mortality is astronomical, so what is she doing to alleviate mothers who are dying on a day-to-day basis?

Those are just some of their questions… perhaps President Sirleaf will offer some answers before Liberia’s election next year.

— Posted by Eyder Peralta



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