Late 1989 saw the beginning of a brutal civil war in Liberia when rebel forces made their way through the borders of neighboring Ivory Coast to enter the country. The inception of the war forced the collapse of social structures within the country and had devastating effects on the population. According to the UN, children made up more than 50 percent of combatants and over 600,000 Liberians were forced to flee their homes, becoming internally displaced or refugees in neighboring countries. For many Liberians, forced displacement meant loss of relatives, culture and property.The youth, who took refuge in Ghana in the 90s, had among them Liberian traditional musicians and dancers. As the war waged on, leaving everyone uncertain of the future, Liberian refugees came together to sing and dance away their frustrations and painful past. To the refugees living in the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in those days, the performances put up by the Liberian Dance Troupe (LDT) were not only entertainment, but also consolation and therapy under difficult circumstances. Over the years, Buduburam grew to 42,000 refugees and the LDT developed from providing entertainment alone to creating awareness on HIV-AIDS, Teenage Pregnancy and Drug Abuse and providing computer training and scholarship for its young members.
WHO WE ARE
The tens of thousands of Liberians who fled to neighboring countries as refugees as a result of the violent conflict that started in 1989 and spanned over a decade lived under difficult conditions. In addition to the physical and psychological traumas associated with war, numerous young people living in the Buduburam refugee camp where the LDT was formed, were faced with many challenges including a profound detachment from their traditional Liberian culture, low self-esteem, and high risk of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse. Many children did not have the opportunity to go to school, or get to see, and learn how to use the computer. Even today, these are challenges left behind by years of war that none gain from.
The Liberian Dance Troupe (LDT), a non-profit, non-sectarian and non-tribal community-based group,was formed as a means to help address some of the challenges experienced by children and youth. The LDT develops projects whereby young Liberians gain knowledge and skills pertaining to their traditional culture. Professional trainers share their expertise with the youth participants who then deliver performances entrenched with social messages about HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and drug abuse for youth and community members. The LDT helps to instill a sense of national pride and self-esteem within its young participants, while also increasing awareness about Liberia`s rich cultural heritage. The LDT also encourages the development of “hard skills” among its participants, and provides payment of school fees and computer training for numerous youth participants. These are important because government alone cannot solve the insurmountable problems of post-war Liberia.
Now that the situation in Liberia is becoming increasingly stable and the LDT is in Liberia, there is a real need to continue the program in Liberia. Although there may be some challenges to the project such as funding and building/renting a “culture center” for rehearsals and performances, the program focus remains the same. The project would target many more children who are returning home from refugee and internally displaced camps. Children coming from these backgrounds have also suffered disconnection caused by nearly 14 years of civil conflict. Since returning to Liberia, we have found that there is a need to involve many of the children who remain in Liberia throughout the war as they too suffered the same effects of the gruesome civil conflict.