Background/ History of Liberia
Liberia is a country located on the shores of the North Atlantic Ocean in West Africa. Covering an area of 43,000 sq. miles, it is slightly larger than Tennessee and shares borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. Liberia has a population of around 4.8 million people, and children 14 years old and younger make up 47 percent of the nation’s population. Much of Liberia’s legacy in the West is related to the brutal string of civil wars that occurred between 1989 and 2003. The two civil wars left more than 200,000 dead, created 15,000 child soldiers, and forced hundreds of thousands of Liberians to become refugees in surrounding countries.
Liberia is still trying to recover from the ravages of war. Sixteen years after the war, pipe-borne water and electricity are still unavailable throughout most of the country. The unemployment rate is 85%. The literacy rate is around 55%.
More than 2 million children under the age of 18 live in Liberia. Similar to other post-conflict countries, the after-effects of the years of civil war are still being felt to this day. During the conflict, schools were destroyed, families relocated, teachers became refugees in other countries or were killed in the war. As a result, only 41% of school age children attend school. Additionally, the 2015 Ebola crisis, which closed schools for an entire school year, has also contributed to many students being behind in their education. A 2015 study showed that 82% of twelfth graders drop out of school. We want to do our part to change this reality for the youth of Liberia.
The Liberian Youth Orchestra (LYO) launched on November 12, 2018. In January 2018, the first presentation of the LYO project was given to Shar Music in Ann Arbor. Believing in the power of "music changing the world one child at a time," and seeing the opportunity to impact children across the globe, Shar generously donated 20 violins and 5 cellos, as well as helping to promote the LYO project at the American String Teacher Association Conference. Within the next several months, LYO received another major donation of carbon fiber violins from Glasser Bows New York, as well as donations of music, music stands, instruments, and financial donations from music teachers, string students, and generous people from all across the United States. It is said, "It takes a village," and the village surrounding the Liberian Youth Orchestra is an amazing one!
By May 2018, we loaded up a 40 ft. shipping container headed to Liberia filled with educational supplies and everything we needed to start a strings music program in Liberia. We were able to send 74 instruments, 26 music stands, 6 boxes of music, extra strings, bows, and accessories, as well as the large flat screen television for distance learning. We then shipped the precious cargo across the Atlantic Ocean.
The shipping container arrived in Monrovia, Liberia the end of July. However, it stayed in the port for the next 3 months, because the Revenue authority had never encountered these items being shipped to their country for education. Letters were sent, and meetings took place with the Ministry of Education to prove this was indeed an educational project.
November 1, 2018, the trip to Liberia to officially launch the Liberian Youth Orchestra began from Detroit, Michigan.
Julie McGhee spent 6 weeks in Liberia getting the program up and running. The LYO officially launched at a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held on November 12, 2018 at the Heart of Grace School, where Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor was the guest of honor. Over the course of the following months, students learned how to play their instruments, how to read music, how to play as an ensemble, how to engage in a Distance Learning teaching platform, and they have an unparalleled work ethic. The journey has been filled with unbelievable experiences, extraordinary people, unimaginable surprises, unexpected opportunities, and, unwavering dedication.