Creating Another West Point at VOA?

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The sleepy town community of VOA, outside Monrovia now sits nervously awaiting a sizeable influx of destitute residents being relocated there from the slum community of West Point where serious flooding has ruined most of their belongings and made life there impossible.

But while the community that has hosted a mixture of displaced Liberians and Sierra Leoneans is excited to receive their compatriots, there is some worry that the newcomers might be dumped there with unfulfilled promises. Such promises, according to the chairman of the community, Soko D. Wiles, include proper town planning with alleys and proper drainage to avoid congestion that is reminiscent of the hurriedly built communities of West Point and New Kru Town in the past.

“We want a community where an ambulance and a fire truck are close by to do their work in the case of incidents of any kind,” Chairman Wiles said.

Another worry is the lack of adequate sanitation and security which Mr. R. A. Morgan, Baevderville City chairman, insists also deserve urgent attention. “A 48 year old man allegedly raped a 16 year old girl recently, and is on the run,” Morgan said. He also mentioned another reported rape incident that was recently concluded by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, with the rapist sent to jail.

But the concerns of the VOA population numbering 18,536, including all of Brewerville according to statistics released by chairman Wiles’ office, also comprises 6,616 men who are languishing there, most of them unskilled and unable to contribute to the growth of the community.

Those engaged in motorbike transportation do not seem to have a better future because the business has lost its attraction.

What about the 5,296 women and 4,232 adolescent girls in the community? asked our reporter. “The only way is for them to be provided with skills through vocational education, which is not the case,” chairman Wiles told a group from an international non-governmental organization (NGO), Spark, which was holding a meeting with the community yesterday afternoon.

There are a number of women who had benefited from vocational skills training several years ago, but are unable to put their skills to good use. For example, a caterer could not afford to buy catering tools and supplies to start her business. A man who learned tailoring has no sewing machine to start making garments.

Spark says its mission is to ignite ambition and develop higher education and entrepreneurship to empower young, ambitious people to lead their conflict affected societies into prosperity. Spark’s Project Manager Melany Oey sought the views of residents about what could be done to empower the community.

The community residents hope Spark’s presence could make a difference. “Thank you for this meeting and the things your community needs to be empowered. We will take your concerns and return at the appropriate time,” Ms. Oey told those who attended the packed meeting.

After the meeting, a resident told the Daily Observer, “We appreciate the coming of Spark representatives to get our views about what we need in this community, but the entity is not the first NGO to attempt to seek help for us.” This was an indication that several local and international NGOs had visited the community, but did not return to fulfill the promises made.

So far 17 zinc shacks constructed by the Liberian government are occupied by one and sometimes two families each, a resident told the Daily Observer. “It depends on the size of the family. The single family units share a zinc apartment with another family,” said Sheriff, a student of the University of Liberia. Sheriff is from Grand Cape Mount County. He was displaced during the Liberian civil war. “I have lived here all my life,” he said.

An additional cluster of 14 zinc shacks has recently been completed and distressed families from West Point should be occupying the units in the coming week. The community has a high school (VOA Academy with both morning and afternoon sessions) and a public school.

The worry of many residents is that although the newly relocated former West Point residents are supposed to be housed in the temporary zinc houses, and resettled in about six months, they fear that what they have, though they appreciate the zinc structures, could be permanent for them. “It is like building another West Point,” a female resident said.

“It could be how West Point and other slum communities got their beginning,” another female resident said. Though they are expected to be there for six months, two months are gone already, and a new location that should contain permanent structures is yet to be developed.

“The Ministry of Public Works recently sent a yellow machine to clear a spot, but with the construction of additional zinc shacks, it is anybody’s guess what could happen in six months,” a male resident pointed out.

Additionally, there are 2,492 boys, according to chairman Wiles’ office in the whole Brewerville and many are not in school. “Many parents cannot afford their children’s upkeep, and therefore, their kids don’t respect what they tell them,” he said.

The huge community does not have a clinic, which remains their serious concern. “We are always desperate in emergency situations when a very sick person needs help, and I think the government and partners need to look into it. Bringing our people here is fine, but we need a clinic and other facilities,” Wiles said.

Chairman Wiles wants a health post or a clinic for the community, especially so now that many others from West Point are being resettled there. “We want to avoid a situation where what could be prevented becomes a disaster,” he said.

To ensure the community’s safety, though there is a police depot nearby (Zone 6 Depot 3), there is a need to organize community Watch Teams, according to Baevderville City Chairman Morgan, who said he is responsible for safety, but unable to succeed because he lacks, among other things, at least a motorbike to move around.

“To help organize our various community Watch Teams, I will need a bike and I am appealing for one,” he told Spark’s representatives, who asked several questions about the management of Community Watch Teams.

The VOA Community was built 20 years ago, with large Liberian and Sierra Leonean communities, remnants of civil-wars in the two countries.

Recently, to ensure effective sanitation control, nearly 200 men and women were put to work to keep their community clean.

“It has cooled off, because we don’t have cleaning materials like gloves, rain boots, rain-coats, shovels, and other tools,” a volunteer said.

Nearby communities include Yellow Flower, G4 (Parker Corner), Maryland Center, (Morton Corner), Chinese Community, and Baby Ma Junction, that derived its name from the uncontrolled number of teenage pregnancies when the community was established.

There are six toilets, five in use and one serves the VOA community of more than 2,000 inhabitants. There are also 10 hand pumps, and seven are in use and one serves VOA Community; 16 mosques, 9 churches, two private schools and two government schools.

The VOA community is served by a dilapidated market building that is crying for reconstruction.

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