July 12, 2003 - The Telegraph: Former Peace Corps volunteer Sue Baer remembers Liberia fondly

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Liberia: Peace Corps Liberia : The Peace Corps in Liberia: July 12, 2003 - The Telegraph: Former Peace Corps volunteer Sue Baer remembers Liberia fondly

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Former Peace Corps volunteer Sue Baer remembers Liberia fondly

Former Peace Corps volunteer Sue Baer remembers Liberia fondly

Former Peace Corps volunteer remembers Liberia fondly

JEFF TOBIN, The Telegraph July 12, 2003

The Telegraph/JIM BOWLING Godfrey resident Sue Baer served with the Peace Corps in Liberia in 1988 and 1989. She is holding a photograph of a Liberian boy named Boyt, one of the many Liberian friends she made while working there.
GODFREY -- Sue Baer brought back a lifetimeís worth of photographs from her stint in Liberia 14 years ago, but the Godfrey residentís most cherished mementos are the memories of the people she met and grew close to there.

As a member of the Peace Corps, Baer served as a teacher in the war-torn country in 1988 and 1989. Although her stay there was fraught with disease and unconventional living, Baer said she would do it again if she could.

"Itís overwhelming, going to a place like that," said Baer, the daughter of former Illinois House Majority Leader Jim McPike of Alton. "Everything is so different. Itís a lot of change all at once."

After an 8-week training session, Baer finally made the trek to what would be her new home in the rural plains of eastern Liberia. Her village was about 2 miles outside of Zwedru, a major city about 180 miles southeast of the capital city of Monrovia.

Baer said she was eager to get into the classroom and do her part to help a country that has about a 38 percent literacy rate. But when she got there, the conditions were stark.

"There were no walls between the classrooms, no electricity, no running water," Baer said. "Everybody did speak English, but it was different, and if you didnít speak it their way, the way they understood it, then they would have no idea what you were saying."

The typical rules and regulations that most Americans abide on a daily basis do not apply in Liberia.

"School is a privilege for most kids (in Liberia), and most of the kids who go to school never had any books," Baer said. "The teacher had a book to work from, but thatís it."

Baer was not the only one to experience the culture shock. She said many people, especially young children, had never seen Caucasian people before.

"(There was one child) who cried and screamed immediately when he saw me for the first time, almost as if I were a white devil," Baer said. "But he ended up being as close to me as everybody else was."

The people in her village, which had about 25 inhabitants and was unnamed, took her in as one of their own.

Baer said that was because most of them knew she was there to help. The villagers were very protective of her, Baer said, always watching out for her and seeing that she received as many things that she needed as they could provide.

Despite all her work for the people of Liberia, Baer became a victim of one of Africaís harsh realities -- disease.

While serving there, she had contracted dysentery, a strange fungus that even local doctors could not identify and malaria three times. The latter got the best of her. In 1989, just months before a bloody 1990 coup would overthrow the government, Baer was flown back home.

"I had a mosquito net around my bed, but you could always hear one when it flew into the room," Baer said. "It was dark, so youíre just slapping yourself to make sure it doesnít land on you. Iím on the equator, and I canít get enough blankets on me, because my fever was so high."

That was 14 years ago, and Liberia is in the news again. But the story is the same. Its dictator leader, Charles Taylor, is on the verge of being overthrown, and U.S. troops might enter the fray.

Lars Hoffman, coordinator of the History Department at Lewis and Clark Community College, said Liberia has a sordid past that might open up a can of worms the U.S. government should avoid.

"Liberia is an American project that was half-hearted and failed," Hoffman said. "I hope we donít send troops. Weíre spread so thin around the world as it is. This country has had a lot of turmoil, in terms of governance; I think our allies should step up to the plate and help us out."

Liberia is about the size of Tennessee and was formed by former American slaves in 1847.

As the world waits for President George W. Bush to make a decision whether to send in the troops, Baer is convinced the people of Liberia want order in their lives.

"I was there, and I got a taste of what the people are like," Baer said. "They want us there, and they want to have peace. I pray that they can have a good life and peace in their country."


©The Telegraph 2003

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Story Source: The Telegraph

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Liberia



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