Dorothy is a 20-year-old woman who was born and grew up in Gbarnga, Bong County, in the north of Liberia – the place where we have spent the last week. She is the only person in her family with any sort of education; both her sisters went straight into work. She has graduated from high school and currently attends Cuttington University, a private college located just outside the city of Gbarnga, studying as a trainee nurse. She is determined to reach her dreams so that she can serve her fellow people of Liberia.
The only Catholic in her family, Dorothy is part of the choir at St. Martin’s Cathedral, and it was there where we met her after Mass last Sunday morning. Later on Dorothy took us for a walk round the dusty red streets of Gbarnga and joined us for a Club Beer in a local café. She was relaxed and friendly and confident, and it was only as her story unfolded that we realised how the weight of her family’s expectations lies on her young shoulders.
We met Dorothy after Mass, when we were invited to join about forty young people who are part of the parish’s Catholic Youth Association – a pretty good turn out compared with our churches back home! The Youth Group welcomed us to the parish and their meeting, but also apologised that they wouldn’t be around for a long meeting as the choir leader had died of typhoid the day before, one day after we arrived in Gbarnga, and the group had to leave as they were meeting the bereaved family.
The preparations for the funeral showed us how involved Dorothy and the rest of the young people are in the parish’s activities. The young men of the youth group committed to digging the grave, and the others were involved in organising the wake and other activities relating to the funeral.
It has been refreshing to see how involved the youth are here and how much of a chance they are given by the adults of the community; there is a lot of trust placed in them. Here, youth are defined as anybody between the ages of 15 and 35 and it’s estimated that 60% of the population are in that category. However, it is still sometimes difficult for the youth to have their say partly because young people are often blamed for the recent civil war. But we have heard there are plans that young people will be able to send three representatives to Government to champion the causes of under-35s. For the time being, though, the youth are getting involved with all sorts of activities – from Church groups such as these, to community football teams, to volunteering cleaning the streets.