Ghana’s Refugee Camp-Born Cultural Dance Group Helps on Coronavirus

SLAD’s Founder/CEO Emmanuel B. Lavela (in African attire)and some SLAD’s members at the program

BUSHROD ISLAND – Twenty-nine years ago, 1991, Emmanuel B. Lavela was one of many kid-members of the Liberia Culture Dance Troupe (LCDT) founded and based on Ghana’s refugee camp popularly called Buduburam. Like his seniors, in age, Emmanuel, born in 1977, was regularly performing (dancing)—throwing his tiny head, legs and hands in different direction in accompaniment of the rhythmic sounds of drums (being-hand-beaten by adults with children) made of woods and hide of meat as entertainment during an occasion on camp.

Report by  Samuel G. Dweh, [email protected], Contributor

“The Society of Liberian Arts and Dance, or SLAD as an acronym, which is with you here today, is an offshoot of the Liberia Culture Dance Troupe on Buduburam camp, in which I later became a Director or Trainer in cultural dance,” Mr. said to participants at SLAD’s program of relief items donation held in Funday Community in the Borough of New Kru Town, Bushrod Island, Republic of Liberia.

The program was held on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 in a small compound of a house in Point-4.

As early as 7am members of SLAD, founded on Ghana’s refugee camp in 2007, had formed a line of 30 25-kilogram bags of “Indian Parboiled”, “Horse Brand” rice; 15 15-liter brown sanitizer buckets (each with faucet connected at the bottom), and dozens of smallest-bottle “Clora” (Liberia-made bleach) from a 96-bottle carton in the line of things to be shared with residents of Funday Community. Three members of Mobilization Team had been Mr. Lavela’s protégés (dance trainees) 23 years ago (2007) when SLAD was born. They are: Samuel Hutchins (joined in 2006), Francis Kontor (joined in 2007), and David Zor (been with Emmanuel B. Lavela in Liberia Culture Dance Troupe in 1990)

“Our adding rice to our list of the Coronavirus-prevention things is on SLAD’s humanitarian policy that says: ‘the people should not be hungry while you are carrying out epidemic-prevention measures,” added Chief Executive Officer Lavela, married to a top female official of the Liberia National Coast Guard, and lives in the Borough of New Kru Town.

For the items-sharing-formula, SLAD gave one bag to every two kids in a home, and one bucket and three bottle of Clora per a house.

SLAD has a Canadian Partner, Matthew McKinzie, who has been advising the not-for-profit dance-based Liberian culture promotion NGO to build a National Culture Center, and he has promised to help with funding, disclosed Mr. Lavela, a teacher of Cultural Dance at the AME University on Camp Johnson Road in Monrovia.

“Our Canadian partner, who has been my personal friend at the Ghana’s refugee camp, Buduburam, told SLAD’s leadership that the Culture Center he wants us build will make for National Culture Center of Liberia that was destroyed during Country’s civil which started in 1989,” said Mr. Lavela.

Kids—between ages four and 10—form part of SLAD’s membership. Two of them—Queen Morris (age 9) and Patrick Weah (age 14)—spoke to this writer at the ‘Humanitarian program’ and demonstrated the kind of dancing each specializes in.

“This is called Bassa Woman Dance,” Queen Morris said to this writer, after she threw her little hands, legs, and face in various directions.

Patrick Weah called his “Ballet”, which he had demonstrated with a ‘slow motion’ to this writer demanding a ‘free style’.

“The current number of kid-cultural dancers in SLAD is fifty-two,” CEO Emmanuel B. Lavela announced to the crowd of participants at the donation program.

Responding to this writer’s question during an exclusive interview on the rationale of allowing children into the fold, Mr. Lavela declared: “Absorbing children into SLAD’s dance-related program is on the Organization’s belief that when children are trained with a nation-building skill, they easily take over the mantle of leadership from trainers who are now inactive due to old age or who are dead.”  

Each of the kid-members of SLAD interviewed by this writer is a current student of an academic institution, located in the Borough of New Kru Town, besides being with a choreographic SLAD. Examples: Queen Morris is a student of Nimely Brothers Elementary School, and is in the 2nd Grade class; Patrick Weah is in the 6th Grade of the First Baptist School; and Choice Tapson is a student of D.M Mabee Elementary School, and is in Kindergarten-1.

A group of kid-members—socially distanced by SLAD’s leadership in respect of Government’s anti-Coronavirus transmission decree—entertained guests with one cultural song (of the Vai ethnic group of Liberia) and one national patriotism song (sung in English) which advises Liberians to reject war and welcome peace.

Some of the items donated by SLAD came from Ms. Abbie Kamara, a 28-year-old Senior Year student of the University of Liberia, studying Management and Public Administration.

“My humanitarian organization supported SLAD on its coronavirus-related gestures, but I don’t want the name of my organization disclosed now, because we haven’t registered it with the Government yet,” Ms. Kamara responded to this writer’s question on the name of her humanitarian organization.

The oldest recipient at the program, Madam Esther Johnson, age 78, went ecstatically wide seconds after she collected two bags of rice, one bucket and six bottles of Clora for her household. “I’m set for coronavirus!” she screamed and started dancing, roaming about.

During Remarks, before the presentation of donations, officials of the Borough of New Kru Town praised the Founder and leadership of SLAD for their ‘cultural services’ to the Liberian society, and the Organization’s humanitarian gestures.

“With these items, SLAD has buttressed the Liberian government’s effort to prevent transmission of this global health epidemic called coronaviurs,” said Mr. Slewion Konto, representing the Governor of the Borough of New Kru Town, Mr. Moses Doe Weah.

In spite of its nation-building activities, SLAD is being faced with several challenges. “The main challenge is lack of funding to implement many of our culture teaching-related teaching projects. For now, we are a self-sponsored NGO. The second challenge is lack of permanent rehearsal space or venue. We had been driven off from many other places including where we are now using as gifts-presentation venue,” SLAD’s Founder/CEO said in a plaintive tone to this writer in an exclusive interview. “We are appealing to Liberian and foreign culture and arts lovers to help us.”