Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Liberians love Jamaica

Published:Sunday | October 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A team in protective gear buries a person suspected to have died of Ebola in Monrovia, Liberia. Even as Liberians get sick and die of Ebola, many beds in treatment centres are empty because of the government's order that the bodies of all suspected Ebola victims be cremated. The edict violates Liberians' cultural practices.-AP

Oberlene Smith-Whyte, Guest Columnist

Liberians' love and respect for Jamaica is extraordinary. An average Liberian knows more about Jamaica than many Jamaicans know about Jamaica. An average Liberian will engage you in conversation and will tell you where Bob Marley was born, and where he grew up, when and where he started his musical career. They will tell you about Bob's mother and father, his siblings, his children, his worth; and the same goes for Peter Tosh and Marcus Garvey.

On Valentine's Day when Jamaicans listen to North American love songs, Liberians are listening to Jamaica's reggae love songs. Liberians see Jamaicans as great people who can do no wrong. America is their first love, but Jamaica is running close to that first place.

Between 2004 and 2006, Jamaica sent 10 police officers - eight women and two men - to Liberia as part of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to assist with the peace-building process. The UN had, by that time, begun its reform and restructuring of the Liberian Police Force, aided by several nations, including the Jamaicans, two of whom were assigned to the Recruitment Unit.

The UN was experiencing difficulties recruiting young people to join the police force. After many years of war, the young had grown to know a police force that was corrupt, brutal and had no regard for the rule of law.

A town hall meeting was arranged as part of the recruitment process to which the young generation was invited. Speakers from different countries across the world serving the UN, including little Jamaica, were scheduled to speak at the meeting. Two Jamaican women police, Corporal Marve Wilson and Detective Sergeant Ava Lindo, then detective corporal, stood before the crowd in the town hall in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, neatly clad in their crisply ironed Jamaican No. 1 uniforms, and announced they were from Jamaica. The town hall erupted in wild cheers and shouts, and the young people could not be contained: "JAMAICA WAS IN THE HOUSE".

JAMAICAN ATTRACTION

The UN, thereafter, had no difficulty getting an influx of Liberian young people to join the new Liberian Police Service. Detective Corporal Ava Lindo, who was promoted to sergeant while in Liberia, was later reassigned to the National Police Academy and ended her mission as a coordinator of the Mentors' Department, catering to more than 250 trainees who encompass the police and correctional services. To date, she remains in contact with the Liberians. They keep her updated on happenings in Liberia, ranging from their personal achievements to the recent outbreak of Ebola.

As a person who had been there, I quite understand the spread of Ebola in Liberia. Ebola has been around from at least 1976 and has surfaced in different countries in Africa. The first record of Ebola was in Sudan and the Congo, but this

recent outbreak, which started in Guinea, has killed 2,458 people in Liberia to date.

The Liberians I know are very loving, giving and sharing people. I can remember on our arrival in Liberia shortly after the civil war; the expression of much love and togetherness by the natives to each other was infectious. So, too, are Jamaicans. We love to embrace and show our affection deeply for each other.

Apart from seeing the devastation, I could not believe Liberia was just coming out of a war. When I enquired as to what accounted for the mood, I was astonished by the response: "The war is over." There was no grudgefulness, bitterness or reprisal. The people were tired of fighting with each other. They also said it was their sharing and caring that helped them to survive the war. The love was genuine.

I am sure you can understand and appreciate what I am getting at. It is the Liberians' sincerity that caused the spread of this debilitating disease. They just cannot see each other suffer and not help, and they don't have a lot to work with, as the country is still trying to recover from a long civil war. If you give a Liberian $10, he is going to share that with another Liberian. He will not hide it or keep it for himself. Although they have very little, they don't hide food but will invite you to eat from their plate. This is embedded in their culture.

They need help from all who can give it. Let us help, like we always do, whenever another poor nation is in need. Let us open our hearts and give them our support. Liberia and others have Ebola now, and Jamaica has chikungunya, but we don't know what will hit us next. Like any civilised country, we understand as Jamaicans we have to protect our borders and people. Hence I am not saying that we are to allow free access, but let us not be judgmental or cold towards them.

Can we say with certainty that we will never find ourselves in a similar position? Let us help the Liberians.

Jamaicans, pray for Liberia. Liberians love us. Prayer is powerful.

Oberlene Smith-Whyte is a superintendent of police who was seconded to work in Liberia. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.