From Peacekeeping to Peace-building: UNRC Tells South-Easterners the UN will remain after UNMIL

DSRSG/UNRC Yacoub Ell Hillo and entourage chat with youth CSOs in Fish Town, RiverGee CountyDSRSG/UNRC Yacoub Ell Hillo and entourage chat with youth CSOs in Fish Town, RiverGee County

Maryland - River Gee, May 2-5, 2017:  The road to south-eastern Liberia has always been a major challenge during the rainy season for citizens and non-residents of that part of the country. On 2-5 May, UN Resident Coordinator and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General Mr. Yacoub El Hillo and delegation defied all odds including bad roads and very heavy rains to travel to the South East of Liberia; precisely Maryland and River Gee Counties.

The UN Delegation met with local government, civil society and youth groups. The three-day field mission was intended to discuss opportunities and challenges in the region, advocate for peaceful and credible elections and inform south-easterners of UN continuous presence even after UNMIL Draws down.

The delegation comprised FAO County Representative Mr. Marc Abdala, UNDP Country Director Mr. Pa Lamin Beyai, UNCHR Country Representative Madam Ndeye Ndour, WFP Côte D’Ivoire County Representative Ms.  Adeyinka Abosede Badejo, UNFPA Deputy Representative Mr Philderald Pratt and WFP Deputy Representative Ms. Rokya Yacoub as well as other staff from UNMIL, UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and other agencies.

During the mission, Mr. El Hillo and entourage met with county authorities, youth and Women Groups, refugees from Cote D’Ivoire, marketers, and also inspected some ongoing  projects.

Meetings in Maryland County

In a joint meeting with Superintendent Betty Kuo-Toe along with women groups and marketers, the women of Maryland expressed dissatisfactions over the bad road condition during the rainy season, closure of the Maryland High school, lack of business opportunities and Village Saving Loan to empower them.

“The road is a serious challenge during the rainy season making it difficult to buy and sell goods. We most often travel to Cote d’Ivoire which is shorter instead of Monrovia” Elizabeth Nyumah explained.

She pleaded with the UN to empower them through the Village Savings Loan Scheme (VSLS) to improve their businesses and keep their children in school.

Another resident of Harper City Maryland County pointed to the increase in rape cases due to the closure of the court.

She indicated that the county high school is closed and job creation is another issue that needs urgent attention.

Superintendent Betty Kuo-Toe emphasized the impact of UNMIL’s absence in the county and called on the UN to support the county through its waste management and sanitation projects and latrines for public use.

UNDP Country Director Pa Lamin Beyai and FAO Country Representative Marc Abdala, expressed interest in supporting the women through VSLA and agriculture initiatives. “We will help through VSLA project to support you but initially on a small skill. You could use that as a startup to improve your livelihood”, Pa Lamin Beyai, UNDP Country Director told the women.

Youth and Motorcyclists in Maryland

Like Liberia, youth in Maryland constitutes the majority of the population. A conglomeration of three Youth Associations in Maryland County… Federation of Liberian youth, Mano River Union Youth Parliament and Civil Society Organization and youth from universities, high schools, motorcyclists union and petty-trader came together at a meeting with the UN delegation from Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. Drug use, mob violence, the lack of employment and educational opportunities were flagged by the young people as problems affecting them.

“The youth in Maryland have great potential but the lack of employment and educational opportunities (scholarships) is causing most youth to dropout and engage in other activities. Drug use is on the increase in the county particular among youth. We don’t know how they get the drugs or where it comes from but it is a very serious matter to address.

Mob violence is on the rise because the court has been closed for months and perpetrators walk unpunished. Moreover, peace-building cannot be achieved in a context of economic injustice inequality and prevalence of hunger”, Mr. Adam Gyude Moore, President Maryland Youth Association lamented.

River Gee Youth Organizations and CSOs

Youth in River Gee also highlighted their challenges as the lack of vocational opportunities, qualified teachers, high unemployment, corruption, increase in female school dropouts, SGBV and rape, weak law enforcement capacity, harmful traditional practices and lack of women’s participation in decision making processes.

In a uniform message, DSRSG/RC El Hillo told the youth and CSOs form both counties that UNMIL is leaving but the UN will remain. “UN is moving from peacekeeping to peace building and UN agencies will continue their work in bringing good education, health, agriculture and development to Liberia. The youth have crucial role to play by being agents of change and should not be seen as drivers of conflict. You (the youth) need to support the elections because it is the future of the country. Young people should stand up against violence by working together in building the country,” Mr. El Hillo stressed.

In addition, he highlighted the importance of community working together against rape and SGBV and the importance of reporting, to ensure that perpetrators are charged and prosecuted.

Little Webbo Refugee Camp:

The mission also visited Little Webbo Refugee Camp in Maryland County which host over 4,600 Ivorian refugees. The Head of UNHCR Liberia Madam Ndeye Ndour led the tour of the camp and interacted with the refugees. The refugees expressed the willingness to return home but listed some difficulties including: the need to ensure that the population can reach their villages beyond the designated “repatriation point”. They said the money provided to repatriates is insufficient, especially for the most vulnerable. The refugees also mentioned that increment for baggage allowance is needed and cards for most of the Refugee have expired causing challenges for them whenever they travel.

Madam Ndour assured the refugees that some of their concerns will be addressed. She further thanked the host governments for opening their borders to the refugees during troubling times.

DSRSG/RC Hillo urged refuges to return home under the general terms of local integration. He said UNHCR and the Government of Liberia are working hard to ensure that transition is smooth, especially in terms of health and education.

Gwabaken Rural Women RWEE Project

Inspection of the Rural Women Economic Empowerment Joint Programme project site was headed by FAO Country Representative Mr. Marc Abdala. RJWEE representative in Maryland informed the delegation that the women were involved in the production of cassava, flour, vegetables, farina and rice to be sold at the market as part of efforts to sustain themselves.

Currently, they are working with 46 women and 12 men.  Mrs. Evelyn Karpee said the project has impacted their lives greatly especially through the VSLA. “Without this project we couldn’t have survived easily. The Village Savings and Loan Association, Agriculture and training programs are very helpful in making us produce for ourselves and sell to others. Although there are challenges, we are grateful to the UN Family especially FAO and UNWOMEN,” Mrs. Karpee explained.

The group said they are in need of a generator to operate the food processing machines, a compressor tool and trolley jack. She also voiced their desire to expand to poultry and animal husbandry.

“FAO and other implementing agencies wiill work together and provide these equipment. We will also look at the loan schemeand other agriculture activities,” FAO Country Representative assured the women.

The delegation also visited the Voice of Pleebo Radio station, River Gee County Service Center construction project, Karloken Clinic and Grand Gedeh County Service Center before traveling back to Monrovia.