By Rev. Levi C. Williams
Carroll, G., Shwedel, A., Buttner, J., Mercer, D., Weagba, G. (2023). Resilience in Liberia: An initial study. In Sofia Leitão & Yvonne Vissing (Eds.), Community Structures and Processes on Lives of Refugee Children. (pp. 159-178). Vernon Press.
The Italian philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, was quoted as saying, “In times of peace, prepare for war” (Philosiblog, 2021, para. 1). Nations have spent so much time living out this aphorism that we forget the opposite is equally true, “In times of war, prepare for peace.” When wars end, social institutions like governments, economies, families, religions, and education have a responsibility to create a healthy environment for the total development of all, especially children. In a broad sense, the article under review offers valuable insights to Liberia as the country navigates the way forward after more than fourteen years of civil war by helping the nation understand the general level of national trauma that was inflicted on the population from the social turbulence of the 1979 “rice riots” culminating in the civil war which erupted in 1989 and ended in 2003. In a narrow sense, the article evaluates the “impact of the conflict on a segment of the community as represented by a subset of sophomore students enrolled at UMU” (p. 159) while suggesting areas the country can focus on for policy-making and socioeconomic investment to enhance resilience among children. When children are resilient, they will be able to cope with violent events and respond to them in ways that help them flourish and thrive. To help children flourish and thrive, it is important to understand and support their level of resilience. This is where higher education institutions come in.
As a pillar of the society, colleges and universities have an indispensable role to play in helping Liberia move forward after the complications of a civil conflict that disrupted the lives of Liberians from 1979 to 2003 and was compounded by Ebola (March 2014 to June 2016) and Covid-19 in 2021 (p. 160). Higher education institutions should equip persons with knowledge, skills, and abilities for personal and professional development in the interest of “employment, morality, and citizenship” (Kromydas, 2017, para. 12) for economic advancement and social progress. Higher education institutions should also be centers of innovation for social transformation for persons to understand themselves in their societies as they strive to reach their fullest potential. As a post-conflict country, Liberia can benefit from these overarching goals of higher education centers of learning. One way the United Methodist University (UMU) of Liberia is doing this is through research to understand and address social issues affecting Liberia.
The article, “Resilience in Liberia: An initial study” is part of a broader sociological study of how the lives of children are affected by disruptive events that lead to “massive emotional, physical, social, cultural, and geographic shifts,” (Leitão and Vessing, 2023, p. xv) and how to help them cope. In this mixed methods study undertaken in a collaborative venture between the United Methodist University of Liberia, represented by the able and erudite Rev. Dr. George Weagba, and Salem State University in Massachusetts, U.S.A.. The researchers began by offering a broad and balanced depiction of Liberia’s historical and sociocultural background; this background was followed by an explanation of the conceptual framework of how the effects of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” or ACEs can be countered and alleviated by “Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences” or HOPEs. After describing the sample population, the article identified “negative life indicators” associated with ACEs that include disruptive events and listed positive life indicators followed by a comparison of the two (pp. 166-167). Two positive life indicators that appeared to reduce the intensity of traumatic events were the stability students experienced from having a place to live and either attending church or having a family member who “attends the same church” (p. 166). Other “quality of life indicators” that pointed to the presence of resilience were a positive view of their personal health, “economic security” and “hopes for Liberia’s future” (pp. 168-169). Despite the respondents’ admission of “risk-taking behaviors” such as “alcohol use,” “sexual activity,” and “gang participation” (pp. 170-172), the authors found resilience present among the students with the caveat that “the effectiveness of resiliency at any one point in time is reflected in one’s concurrent quality of life and risk-taking behaviour” (p. 172). This is an initial study, but this reviewer is of the opinion that this resilience is also connected to the strong community connections and the popular belief in Liberia that says, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” It would be interesting to see in future studies how overseas remittances from family and friends in the Liberian Diaspora help fuel economic security and how nonprofit, charitable organizations in Liberia address risky behaviours.
It is a cliché that children are the future of any country, Liberia being no exception. Refugee and Internally Displaced children are more vulnerable than other children because they were forcibly uprooted from their homes and forced to undergo “massive physical, emotional, social, cultural, and geographic shifts” (Leitão and Vissing, 2023, p. xv) as a result of war. When wars end, it is essential to increase resilience in children.
In the case of Liberia, a country attempting to recover from more than forty years of social unrest and upheaval, the article being reviewed offers valuable nuggets of wisdom for academics, politicians, policymakers, business leaders, and anyone interested in facilitating an environment where Liberia’s young people can succeed and prosper for a stable Liberian society. The authors specified how “organizations like sporting, artistic and cultural clubs can and should be developed and utilized to build resilience” (p. 174). This implies value in introducing sporting activities like football, volleyball, and basketball as well as making artistic programs like painting, music/drumming, poetry/creative writing, and theater in the curriculum or extra-curricular activities of schools.
Resilience is a person’s ability to bounce back after adversity by adjusting and overcoming. Walsh (2015) posits that “every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed rela¬tionship with a supportive adult” (para. 1). Heshmat (2020) identified eight elements that produce resilience, among which were “pursuing a meaningful goal,” “growth through suffering,” and “social support” (paras. 1-8).
Resilience is so important that it has become an integral part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustaining Peace of the United Nations (United Nations, 2020). If resilience levels are low, it is likely that residents of communities that experienced adverse and traumatic events could witness increased risky behaviours such as alcohol consumption, which leads to mental, social, emotional, and medical problems. Other risky behaviours from a low level of resilience are unhealthy sexual involvement and gang association (pp. 170-172) which can include intake of drugs and other unwholesome behaviours with criminal and other unhealthy social consequences. The reality of at-risk youth commonly called zogos, a derogatory moniker as well as other negative social phenomena among the young people in Liberia is evidenced of the need to increase resilience among the youth.
By implication and practical terms, it is vital to support and sustain whatever level of resilience the authors discovered among students in Monrovia. It is fair to suggest that plans to boost resilience include lodging for young people in terms of efficiency apartments and other forms of housing for college students. There should also be consideration of sports, artistic, and cultural programs in primary, secondary, and tertiary schools.
As Liberia strives toward greater stability of peace after a period of conflict and war, social institutions have a responsibility to support children and young people who have been subjected to unspeakable adversity. Housing and sporting/artistic/cultural programs will provide positive quality of life in fostering “supportive relationships,” where children can learn “social and emotional competencies” in “safe, stable, protective, and equitable environments” (p. 162). The authors concluded that nations like Liberia in a post-conflict status ought to focus on “things that can bring people together and give them HOPE” because those “are the things that are most responsible for overcoming negative experiences;” these positive events and activities make children more resilient by “providing possibilities for a positive way forward” (p. 174). Peace has come to Liberia. It’s vital to sustain that peace. Resilience in children is the key to a peaceful and stable Liberia; the ingredients to increase resilience are already present.