72-Yr-Old Swedish Woman Finds Peace, Solace in Liberia Since Arriving at Age 13
Monrovia – Growing up as a 13-year-old Swedish girl in prewar Liberia was always fun for Ann Huber. Since the Swede came along with her family on January 19, 1963, she has never looked back, never forgotten and never turned her back on the African nation that brought much joy to her childhood.
“The year 1963 was very special, and different, exotic, Ann recalls. “I will always carry many beautiful memories from my childhood,” says Ann now 72.
To many of her peers and friends in Sweden, Ann will always be remembered as a Liberian living in Sweden, mainly because of what her childhood experiences meant and brought to her life. “My childhood years and all my friends from the good old days know how much I love Liberia. Today, my friends are spread all over the world including Liberia.
For nearly five decades since she first arrived, Ann has not only mastered the country’s culture and language but has become fond of the food. From Pepper Kala to Fufu, Palm Butter, and her favorite pepper soup, Ann has an affinity for anything Liberian. So much so that she often gets into trouble whenever she tries to sneak the popular Club Beer in her suitcase when traveling back to Sweden after vacationing. “I bring as many bottles of Club Beer as I can. Nostalgia perhaps but I also love the taste.”
For most of Ann’s peers and friends, who prefer other travel destinations for leisure, Ann’s time in Liberia is beyond that.
Today Ann is part of the Liberia Dujar Association-Sweden(http://www.liberiadujar.org) which works to rebuild schools, including E-School in Yekepa, Nimba County. “I strongly recommend everyone to support this non-profit organization to help rebuild Liberia. “We are changing the lives of hundreds of Liberian kids.
The school has been an important part for many Liberians in Yekepa. For Ann, it was important for a part of Liberia where many young children had to leave school for various reasons, civil wars, ebola, no jobs etc. “As I know only 34% of Liberias children are able to go to school. What future does this country have then.”
Ann has also been involved in in projects for women who want to start their own small businesses. “Many things need to be taken in consideration when you want to start your own business and we give young women and chance, show them the ropes.”
Additionally, Ann is also involved in helping children go to school, specifically up in Yekepa where most schools are private and therefore comes with a cost. “We try to find sponsors for this. At the moment I have 67 children in school and 2 at university. The reason I mostly work up in Yekepa is because they’re so far away from everything. One of these days, when everything is working up there, I will start in other places as well.”
This was critically important in a part of Liberia where the school fee is $100 per school year. “The school year is 2 semesters with 5 months per semester. So only $10 per month. For us that is not a lot but for Liberian parents it is. The first school year I had 8 donors. Eight children that could attend school. What a joy for these children.”
As the results improved, Ann decided to double that for the school year 2017/2018, increasing enrollment to 37 children in the programme.
For the next school year 2019/2020, Ann hoped to reach 50 students but surpassed that number by reaching 57. “I am really proud of everyone’s eager to help a child to education.
The children are all very various ages. We have at the moment one girl who’s 22 and in grade 5. She is not the only one. This is because many children had to drop out of school due to the civil wars or their parents lost their jobs.”
For Ann, getting and keeping children in school is a very worthy cause. “It is important to sponsor a childs school fee. Who knows, you might have sponsored one of Liberias future leaders. Since 2018, we have a retreat day for the children. This to emphasize how important school is. The importance of studying hard, to get an education, to get a job. On this day of retreat we serve everyone breakfast and lunch. I have personally attended one, 2019 and it was amazing. The children love it and are so grateful to their donors for giving them the possibility to go to school.”
Ann started out on a small scale and the project eventually grew before becoming an organization. The project has also been instrumental in arranging charity lunches for the older generation of former LAMCO employees.
Through this Ann says she got an opportunity to connect with people who shared her love for Liberia. “I showed them photos and videos from my most recent trip and served them the traditional Liberian dish peppersoup. Eventually I decided to turn it in to an official non-profit organization so I could do even more.”
Ann is also part of COPDA Sweden, a non-profit organization that aims to aid women and children in the West African country Liberia. Throughout the years COPDA Sweden has been sponsoring children’s school costs, supplying local villages with sanitary products and informing the population during the Ebola crisis. “At COPDA Sweden, we aim to help where the help is mostly needed. Generally this means helping children go to school and sponsoring villages with tools for survival – water filters, sanitary products, and information about disease prevention.”
Ann sees COPDA Sweden as a sister organization to COPDA Inc. which is a local organization in Liberia. We work very closely together in every project we manage.
Today, there are eight Communities in Nimba County where the interests are high in
accountability in Mining Communities and COPDA aims to increase the voices of women and youth in addressing human rights issues affecting their lives. This is also intended to promote accountability in the governance of natural resources extraction within mining communities.
We train the leadership of 5 women led community based organisations under a network called Nimba Resources Rights and Advocacy Network (NIRRAN).
Additionally, COPDA organizes and conduct workshops designed to build the networks capacity to understand the Mining Resettlement Framework within the context of Human Rights. The group also host Community Interactive Forums. Town Hall Meetings with duty bearers and the mining company to adress human rights issues surrounding the mining operations and the rights of communities.
In 2007 the Liberian Government and Arcelor Mittal, a multinational mining cooperation, entered into a Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) for the mining of high grade iron ore in Nimba County. Under this MDA, the company is obligated to provide an annual payment of 1,5 million dollars to Nimba County through the Government of Liberia. This is an annual social contribution to help adress the needs of the county and it’s people through development projects and identifying social development priorities.
Based on these developments, COPDA Sweden and COPDA Inc collaborate in the implementation of projects designed to give local citizens more voices to help them adress their human rights needs and engage their leaders. This involves awareness raising, sensitisation and advocacy which will empower local leaders, including women leaders, to claim their rights and provide them their tools for constructive engagement with their duty bearers and other local authorities. This will empower networks to engage their leaders on their rights and accountability issues affecting them. Help empower indigenous women to advocate for their rights within the communities. Protect the rights of marginalised women and girls who mainly constitute the youthful population to advocate for improved livelihoods.
Besides her involvement in community projects through COPDA, Ann is always on the lookout to lure more tourists to Liberia. “The country is so beautiful and has the makings of being a great tourist attraction,” she says.
The solution she says is for authorities to invest heavily in making the beaches cleaner. “The cleaner the beaches are the more tourists will be entice to come, the streets also need to be clean and efforts should be made to bring the travel and lodging prices down.”
For example, Ann says, a traveler from Sweden can fly to Gambia and return including hotel, for two weeks for around $US650. In contrast, from Sweden to Liberia only the flight is more then double. “For Liberia to ever get a steady flow of tourists, prices have to come down somehow.
Liberia has got so much to offer tourists. For example: Hiking on Mt Nimba, Cycling around the country, Surfing. One could do excursions: cooking Liberian style, stilt dancing etc.
The nature and possibilities are endless but far to expensive. Arrange something like charter flights, 1, 2 or 3 weeks, flight and hotel. Excursions and food extra cost.”
For Ann, this is her way of giving back to the nation that give her a beautiful childhood. Whether it’s finding ways to make Liberia a tourist haven, helping to contribute to education young Liberians or creating community awareness in the mining sector, Ann believes her connection to Liberia was part of her destiny, part of her meaning to live. “Many who grew up or worked in Liberia have a longing to come back and see their old places. However many don’t dare to come on their own and therefore prefer travelling with me.There’s a lot to be organized for a trip here, hire of cars and drivers. Accommodation. Where to eat etc. To eat up in Yekepa for example, for a European is not easy. So it will have to be at the AM cantin. Buchanan and Monrovia has more to offer in both accommodation and food wise.”
Ann loves Liberia, no doubt about it. It’s always her home away from home. While it is far removed from the Liberia she grew up in, Liberia is still her home, literally.
For Ann, the good old days are far gone but the memories still linger. “The people, the culture, the food. It’s my home. I think that spending almost 16 years as a child here, that’s what it does to most. In the 60’s Monrovia was a lot cleaner, a lot richer. There was electricity, street lights, criminality was a lot lower. There was no problem walking down the streets.
Tubmans open door policy was good.”