Liberia Update: A Day in the Life of a Relief Worker
- Friday, October 03, 2003
It's shortly after 9:30 a.m. in the administration office on the ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) compound in Monrovia, Liberia. The temperature outside is rapidly heating up and the room is beginning to feel like a kiln. The AEL's (Association of Evangelicals) head of food distribution, Steve Kai, is overseeing the measurements for emergency relief rations that will be distributed to internally displaced people (IDPs) in three separate IDP centers around Monrovia.
The ration packages each contain four and one half kilograms of white rice-a staple in the Liberian diet-, one liter of vegetable oil in a tied off plastic bag and a small can of fish.
Kai and the AEL expect to feed roughly 80 families today, each family averaging seven members. Families will receive one ration package that will last them about two days.
The AEL is able to conduct these emergency food distributions around Monrovia through funding from World Relief, the humanitarian organization of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
Many of the IDPs receiving food today previously occupied displacement shelters outside of Monrovia, but were forced to flee them when rebel skirmishes erupted. As they entered Monrovia, these IDPs had their names recorded during disaster relief assessments conducted by AEL.
In order to receive rations today, the IDPs must have had their names recorded. No name, no food. This helps to prevent non-IDPs and community locals from taking advantage of the distributions.
Because they are emergency rations, once the food is gone, that's it. These IDPs will not have anything to eat until another distribution takes place, which could be weeks from now.
Kai and his helpers hustle to finish measuring the ration packages and quickly load them into an SUV. The first distribution is at the Livap camp, approximately 8kms from the ELWA compound.
The road to Livap is rough. Gravel crunches under the truck's knobby tires as the driver carefully navigates around ditches, mud holes and small craters. High grass lines either side of the narrow drive, and a group of half-naked children wade in a nearby marsh.
We reach the IDP shelter-an old abandoned school of sorts, cold looking and dilapidated. Heads pop out of the building's glassless windows, and within seconds hundreds of people surround the truck.
Kai takes command and instructs them to form a line behind the vehicle. The line quickly deteriorates into a cluster. Tensions mount as hungry people jockey for better positions to receive food.
Though he would like feed them all, Kai must stand firm and feed only those IDPs who have been identified as such. This causes outcries of frustration and confusion among some. The swindlers, however, know that they've been had and leave.
A small level of order comes over the crowd and the distribution begins.
People step forward and give their name. Kai scrolls down and list, marks their names with their thumb print and gives a guy on the truck a nod.
Relief then elation washes over the faces of the first IDPs to receive their emergency rations; an elderly woman, barely strong enough to carry her bag of rice, dances around in circles.
"She [the elderly woman] is happy because she can't remember when she had this much food," says Musu, the appointed "leader" of the center.
Happy too, perhaps, because the food will also take her mind off of her poor living situation. It's the rainy season in Liberia and the center has virtually no roof. Nor do the people have blankets.
"We've been at this center for three months and the conditions are deplorable," said Musu. "People are sick, it isn't safe to sleep, the water isn't safe to drink and these are the first rations that we have ever received."
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