An American, who came to Liberia 42 years ago as a language translator with the then Institute of Liberian Languages, says she is leaving the country with “fond memories.”
Madam Alvina Federwitz, affectionately known among her Liberian students and workmates as “Ma Wata,” remarked that her heart will always be in Liberia, during an exclusively interview with the Daily Observer when she walked into the McDonald Street offices of the paper to bid farewell to the management.
“Even though I am taking up a new assignment with the Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT) in the U.S. as Mission
Participation Coordinator, I am returning to the States as my two oldest among 14 grandchildren begin university in the fall of 2016. Since all of my children serve as missionaries, it is only right that I should be the
one that returns to my passport country to provide a home base for my grandchildren as they begin their lives in the USA.”
Madam Federwitz was accompanied by former Deputy Education Minister, Hawah Gol Kotchi, LIBTRALO Executive Director, David K. Setiyee and Tim Laesch, Regional Director for Lutheran Bible Translators Liberia and Sierra Leone’s programs respectively.
Madam Federwitz and her husband Dale, worked with LIBTRALO translating Liberia’s 16 languages as well as encouraging the citizens to learn and know the local languages through which, she said, one can learn better before understanding English and other languages.
I have a passion for the people who want to hear God’s words through their own language,” Madam Federwitz said.
Although she has been in Liberia for more than four decades, she left for a period and returned after the civil war. LIBTRALO which was established in 1995, appealed to the couple to join the organization as consultants. She and Dale joined the staff to help them achieve their objective of translating all Liberian languages. Dale Federwitz died in 2002 but she continued with the work.
“The organization is now on its own, and should therefore be able to solicit funds to sustain itself since it is now developing content materials in line with the Liberian curriculum. The organization has completed a two-week training with instructors who will teach the Dan, Lorma, Mandingo and other local languages,” she challenged LIBTRALO staffers headed by its executive director, David K. Setiyee.
Madam Federwitz began work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2004 and helped organize a stakeholder’s meeting which concluded that Liberian languages should be accepted and taught in the schools. LIBTRALO was charged with the responsibility of developing the materials for this endeavor.
She said former Education Minister, Dr. Evelyn Kandakai welcomed the idea, but when Federwitz left to work with LIBTRALO, the project experienced hitches and delays. Subsequently Dr. Kandakai was relieved of her post.
Madam Federwitz or Ma-Wata observed that in other countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, the citizens appreciate their local languages so much and speak them from infancy. As a result, they are “very clever” in other subject areas.
Unlike Liberia where the people do not speak their mother tongues, “because Ghanaians and Nigerians learn in both English and their local languages they are more proficient in English.
She therefore wants Liberians to learn and speak their local languages, adding, “Children learning in their local languages will be able to do well in their lessons in school than those who start learning in a foreign language such as English.”
“Texts including Social Studies, English, Mathematics and Social Science and Reading are based on curriculum set by the MOE, but the children cannot quickly understand that lesson in English as they would in their local language,” she noted.
According to Madam Federwitz, when an object is named in both a local language and English, it is easily understood in the local language than English. “This is an indication that learning with the local Language is advantageous to the English.”
She called on Liberians to work with LIBTRALO to help the children learn their languages to aid their learning process.
Liberians, she admonished, should help make education the “best out of the mess” as is already the common saying around the country.
Madam Federwitz however, laid blame on the settlers for Liberia’s education woes, “because they failed to prioritize the local languages.” They felt if (indigenous) Liberians became more educated they would overthrow the regime of the settlers.
“The settlers would refer to the indigenous Liberians as ‘country people’, making the natives to feel low or inferior. They also would refer to the local languages as ‘that thing’, she recalled.
Nevertheless, Madam Federwitz recommended that beginners in school should start learning in their mother tongues when they enter at least the first grade and above, rather than starting lessons in English.
“Speaking your local language allows you to narrate stories and separating culture from language is like limping on one foot,” Madam Federwitz added.
She expressed the hope that Liberians will see the importance of their language, appreciate it and begin lessons in the languages at every level of their learning.
LIBTRALO, like the Lutheran Bible Translator (LBT) in the country, is an independent organization that makes God’s Word accessible to those who do not yet have it in the language of their hearts.
The vision is for God to transform the lives of people around the world as they read and use His Word in their local languages.