Liberia’s government has teamed up with UNICEF to build the first of what it calls “child friendly schools” in Liberia, in the border town of Ganta. The high tech school is part of a multi-million dollar initiative by the agency to help foster peace and prevent a recurrence of war in impoverished border communities. Organizers say the process of building the school has already changed peoples’ lives.
Six-year-old Salome Gaye is a prime example. In a few months time Salome and 270 other children will be the first pupils at the Charles Boyu Elementary and Junior High School.
“This school is being constructed around the border community and Ganta has been ideally selected, and it should be serving as a means to be able to prevent conflict and try to cement the peace that exists," says Mathew Flomo UNICEF Education Officer in Ganta.
"There will be a resource center that will have internet facilities in there. There will be a playground. It will be a public school owned and run by the Ministry of Education.”
Finley Pitt an Australian architect hired by UNICEF to supervise the building of the school says, “Ganta was chosen because it is close to Guinea. Like other border towns in Liberia, the flames of war were fanned in Ganta by cross border disputes between local communities. The new school is meant to prevent conflict from happening again by providing a community center to foster peace.”
UNICEF official talking to students in Ganta, Liberia
Finn’s description of the community center suggests a building that is designed to bring communities together. She says the three buildings are contained under a very large roof.
“You can see the holes in the ground ready to take the columns," says Finn. It’s a parasol roof that sits above the structures of each of the individual buildings. So it provides a focal point for the campus."
Finn points out that inside the community center there’s also resource center as well as a radio station.
The deadline for completion of the new school has been delayed because the local workforce had to learn international standards of construction.
Patrick Dolo, the principal of the St. Lawrence Catholic School.says, says like most schools in Liberia his pupils are older than they should be.
“I think it’s because of the war... and during the war we never had many schools …but right now we see UNICEF coming in and this is a very good idea. And we are very much happy,” Dolo says.
Experts say over-age students are more likely to drop out, or become teenage mothers. Mathew Flomo the UNICEF Education Officer for Ganta says it's one of the harmful consequences of poverty and war that the school would like to change.
According to Flomo the main goal is to make sure that children of the right school age are in the classes so grade one should be starting with six seven years olds. For this year he says they are concentrating on grades one to four.
Flomo says UNICEF plans to build 14 child friendly schools in Liberia’s border communities and 80 throughout West Africa.
The multimillion dollar projects are identified as the LABLAB, or Learning Along Borders for Living Across Bounderies.
According to Flomo, the LABLAB initiative aims to bring together the four West African countries [Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire] countries engaged in conflict.
Though the process of building the school has been challenging, UNICEF architect Finley Pitt believes in the core vision, which is to nurture a bright new generation of Africans.
“I think the best achievement for me," says Pitt, "will be having classrooms full of Liberian children learning in a nice environment that will go on to become future leaders of Liberia. That for me will be fantastic."