Pursuant with Rotary’s “Service Above Self” motto and my ambassadorial duty of helping spread global goodwill and understanding, I have signed up to volunteer at three different venues this semester: a Liberian refugee camp, an orphanage, and a school.
So, in the months to come, expect anecdotes coming from these various volunteer stints. Hopefully, they will be as entertaining as what took place on Monday in Buduburam, the Liberian refugee camp.
After a stuffy 3-hour long trotro ride in 90-degree heat and nearly 100 percent humidity, I arrived at Buduburam early in the morning.
Trotros, if you recall, are rundown minibuses used as public transportation vehicles. A typical trotro packs more than 20 people into tightly knit rows, a nightmare for anyone claustrophobic or keen on personal spaces.
27 miles west of Accra, Buduburam is home to more than 35,000 Liberian refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened the camp in 1990 after civil war broke out in Liberia between 1989 and 1996. Another wave of violence culminated in a second civil war from 1999 – 2003.
Although the political climate in Liberia is in far more stable conditions, most refugees at Buduburam have been reluctant to return to their home country. Many still fear persecution, whereas the rest are uneasy about leaving their belongings to start from anew in a country left devastated by chronic war between tribal factions.
As I stepped onto the campgrounds, one of my colleagues from the Center of Youth Empowerment (CYE), a grassroots non-profit organization, came to greet me.
From the various Non-governmental institutions (NGOs) active in Buduburam, CYE is unique in that it is one of the few founded by Liberian refugees. This indigenous factor weighed heavily in my decision to join the organization.
As we made our way through the camp, Bartuah, my Liberian counterpart, informed me that CYE was playing a soccer match in the evening against another NGO.
Unfortunately, I had not brought my sneakers and would be unable to participate. Bartuah, however, assured me that he would find a pair of shoes for me in time for the match.
Sure enough, after I had completed my various tasks at the camp, Bartuah returned with a pair of soccer shoes.
At Buduburam “my” is not really part of the vocabulary. Everyone shares with community members. In the case of soccer shoes, people take turns purchasing shoes for all to wear.
The match was set for 3:00 PM so we quickly changed into the team jersey, huddled for a picture, and made our way to the field.
Walking to the field we passed through a bridge that was literally made out of garbage. Nestled among the rubbish, chickens had made this a prime hangout spot. It was also a prime spot for human feces one Belgian CYE volunteer, found out the hard way.
Indeed, there is not much of a plumbing or sewage system set in place at Buduburam. When nature calls, most people go to the surrounding bush area, making for very unsanitary conditions and a breeding ground for diseases such as cholera.
The soccer pitch was made up of dirt and a few scattered patches of grass, with a surrounding bamboo fence and lonely wooden scoreboard.
Soccer, as in most parts of the world, is huge in Africa, especially in the west.
As the game progressed, it was made obvious that the foreign players were no match for the amazingly talented Liberians, who dribbled around us with ease.
I have to admit; I can’t remember a time when I was so badly schooled in soccer!
For now, I am going to blame it on the shoes and call for a rematch.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.