Buffalo Soldier Sentinel welcomes the opportunity to reprint a recent article by humanitarian William E. Martin of South Carolina and Liberia. Bill Martin retired 15 years ago from the corporate world and started doing humanitarian work around the world. Currently, he is on a four month leave from his assignment as the Senior Advisor to the Minister of Health & Social Welfare, Republic of Liberia. Bill’s article first appeared in the South Carolina Lutheran.
By William E. Martin
December 1999-after three days of flying and waiting for unpunctual airlines, I finally reach my destination: Monrovia. The capital of Liberia, a small country on the African Atlantic coast lodged between Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire. Upon my arrival I am welcomed by long-time missionaries Doris and Jerry Freeze. During the 3-hour drive to Phebe Hospital & School of Nursing, I have plenty of time for a “windshield” view and survey of the destruction caused by a 14-year civil war. For hours my hosts describe the chaos and the misery that the war engenders. During the discussion, I frequently ask my hosts, “After witnessing all of this why do you guys keep returning here?” After a wonderful meal and a long drive, Jerry says: “Bill, it’s getting late. We’ll talk about that in the morning.”
Twelve years later, I am the one who is often being asked, “Why do you keep returning to Liberia?” Ironically, last December I received an e-mail from Doris Freeze, who is now retired, asking: “Bill why do you keep returning to Liberia?”
The simple answer is that I love being there.
A more detailed answer to this question is: Because I discovered that the more you share the more you learn. In Liberia after 14 years of war, young people (who represent 50% of the population), need mentors, teachers, and people willing to share their skill sets and knowledge. In fact, in any public_htmling country, there is a great need to build or re-build the economy, the political and institutional systems, the infrastructures, etc. All this is in order to establish social stability, to permit to a nation to public_html and flourish. Managerial and leadership skills can be taught. If one is willing to share, to mentor and transfer knowledge and skills everything becomes possible.
Like the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe, the role of missionaries and other outsiders should consist of providing aid in drafting programs, supporting projects, and allowing the citizens of the public_htmling country to implement actions against hunger, poverty, and improve their lives. Liberia, like many other public_htmling countries, was devastated by civil war. Now they need people with sound judgment and a desire to public_html creative solutions to assist in the country’s recovery. The loss of moral values and ethic is a collateral casualty of war, so it may take outsiders to initially provide guidance in restoring those.
Why should an American living in beautiful Charleston, SC get involved in the rebuilding of a country like Liberia?
Ego may play a role, because it is not often one gets to help build or rebuild a whole nation: healthcare facilities and systems, church organizations, and individuals. The simple task of training young people is extremely difficult in a culture where information retention is a tradition since sharing it would mean reducing your power. Mentoring young educated Liberians means to show them that sharing knowledge, information and skills makes them more valuable and influential.
In 2006, I was asked by the newly appointed Minister of Health and Social Welfare to help him rebuild the destroyed Liberian healthcare delivery system. I formed a small support unit for the Minister known as the OPS Center (Office of Protocol and Support). After working in the OPS Center with eight recent college graduates for three years, I started a new assignment on the big hospital ship Africa Mercy in Togo and Benin. When I returned to Liberia in October 2010, I was extremely pleased to learn that seven of “my people” had received promotions and substantial salary increases because of the skills they had acquired working in the OPS Center. The lessons they learned were as simple as being on time, dressing for success or providing excellent customer service. They learned the importance of not only understanding the goals but also the underlying reasons of their mission.
Today there is a fantastic opportunity for skilled Americans to contribute. You need to expand your definition of “community” to include the public_htmling world. Because of this broader definition one can go build, share knowledge, provide guidance and support, listen actively and respond effectively. Helping is rewarding and probably one of the most fulfilling accomplishments you can think about. As everyone knows, the teacher always learns more than the students.
ELCA is offering new short-term opportunities for lay volunteers to share their skills in public_htmling countries throughout Africa. If service abroad is not your avocation, you can still participate vicariously in supporting volunteers serving in Africa.
I am optimistic for humanity, I know you are too.
About the author:
William E. Martin Isle of Palms SC USA
Bill retired 15 years ago from the corporate world and started doing humanitarian work around the world. Currently he is on a four month leave from his assignment as the Senior Advisor to the Minister of Health & Social Welfare, Republic of Liberia.
Bill’s international interest began with hosting high school or college exchange students and foreign guests in his home. After graduating in 1969 from Ferris State University with a degree in business administration he worked for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC. Bill served in Vietnam, in 1970 and 1971, as a Specialist IV in the Infantry with the 101st Airborne where he earned a Bronze Star. For the next 22 years, Bill was the CEO and president of five “turn-around” health and insurance corporations. In 1999, Bill became a Lutheran missionary. He served for four years, running the largest hospital in Liberia. The country was then in the middle of a 14-year civil war. Over this period the hospital was evacuated three times because of rebels’ attacks. The hospital medical director was an American-trained Liberian physician named Walter T. Gwenigale, M.D.
In 2006, Bill worked in Baton Rouge with the American Red Cross in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Later that year he became the Director of Hospital Operations on the M/V Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity hospital ship, berthed in Cotonou, Benin and Lomé, Togo.
In the relative stability afforded by the end of the war, Liberia held a historic election in 2005. Liberian voters elected Africa’s first female head of state – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. President Sirleaf appointed Dr. Gwenigale as Liberia’s Minister of Health & Social Welfare. The newly appointed minister asked Bill to become his senior advisor and help set up the ministry.