A plea to rebuild

In a speech at Portland State yesterday the First Lady of Liberia, Rosie-Lee Antoinette Bryant, highlighted the importance of education and called on Oregonians to aid in the rebuilding of her war-torn country.

Liberia has been in turmoil since the 1980 coup led by Samuel K. Doe that resulted in a despotic government.

The country’s continued civil unrest ended in 2003 when President Charles Taylor was ousted and three months of peace talks in Accra, Ghana resulted in the establishment of a transitional government with the formulation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Bryant’s husband, Charles Gyude Bryant, was chosen chairman of the National Transitional Government.

In her talk at the Multicultural Center, Bryant characterized the lack of education as the largest obstacle Liberia faces in the aftermath of 30 years of violence and poverty, saying, “We have a generation of ex-combatants that haven’t gone to school. All they know is how to pick up a gun.”

According to the United Nations, Liberia has an adult illiteracy rate of 46.5 percent.

Bryant urged Oregonians to volunteer, stressing the need for educators and healthcare workers in her war-ravaged country. “Whatever and wherever you can help, please do what you can.”

The first lady also used her position to emphasize the importance of developing an international awareness. “Learn about other cultures. There is life outside the borders of the U.S., these are things you need to talk about in class.”

Bryant came to Oregon at the invitation of Tim and Christine Gilman, who were in Liberia volunteering at an orphanage through PLAN adoption agency of McMinnville. The Gilmans met Bryant through former Portland Police Chief, Mark Kroeker, who is currently serving as the police commissioner for the United Nations Mission in Liberia.

The Gilmans suggested that Bryant visit the Northwest to network with local humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps, Northwest Medical Teams and PLAN.

More than 150 Liberian children have been adopted by Northwest families such as the Gilmans. “I am quite pleased with the love and care that is taken with these children,” Bryant said.

Chairman Bryant is prohibited by the CPA from running in the upcoming October election, but his wife is committed to remaining involved in rebuilding her country. “I plan to continue to do whatever I can to help my people. There is so much to be done. I want to better the lives and alleviate the suffering of our people.”