The Story of Balama Elementary School
Nothing like this has happened in Balama in a very long time. - Benedict Keleme, School Principal
As volunteers pass bricks one by one to their companions, a primary school emerges from the dust of a deserted field in rural central Liberia. Most of the workers are former refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who recently returned to Balama, in Liberia’s Bong County. With a little help from American Refugee Committee and a lot of community spirit, they are building a better life for their children, brick by brick.
Over the course of Liberia’s 14-year civil war, most of the residents of Balama fled the region.
“We returned at the end of 2004 to find our whole town destroyed,” said John Goloka, the town chief. “Our houses, the school, community meeting spaces - everything had been demolished or burned by the rebels.” Most people returned to Balama as they left it - with little more than the clothes on their backs. With so few resources, people wondered if the town could ever be rebuilt. This was common story across Liberia, resettlement meant much more than just returning home. It meant rebuilding communities.
“We held a meeting with a group of elders, women and other residents to decide which project to start with. Everyone agreed. We should first build a clinic. But the children complained,” the town chief recalled.
The children in Balama were tired of getting up at 5 a.m. in the morning and walking for miles to reach the nearest school. Balama had a school before the war, but the rebels burnt it. The kids insisted on a school and constantly complained to their parents and the planning committee. After three more meetings, the community gave in. A school would be built in Balama.
With planning set, all of Balama came together to begin building. Women started making bricks, while young men volunteered to build. The community organized a rotational work schedule so that everyone would still have enough time to tend to their own farms and families. Everyone was enthusiastic to pitch in and move on with their lives.
Over 1000 children from Balama and nearby villages were eagerly awaiting the day the school opened. Many of them watched as the school grew from the very first brick.
“The needs of Liberian communities can seem endless,” says Justin Biragane, ARC’s Community Development Program Manager. “War and displacement can have an extremely negative impact on community cohesion and social structure. Working together, these people are not just rebuilding a school. They’re rebuilding their lives and their community.”
Balama Development Alliance (BDA) became a part of the Balama story in 2006 after the school’s eleven classrooms facility was completed but could not open due to the lack of instructional staff and resources. At that time, the principal was the only core staff on government payroll.
To get the school fully functioning, Balama Development Alliance partnered with village leaders to identify, hire, and train the school’s core instructional staff of 15 teachers as well as provide monthly stipends. In addition to making the school functional, BDA provided scholarships.
From its humble beginnings, Balama Elementary School opened its doors with a few boxes of chalk, and an assortment of children books stacked on a 4’X8’ wooden table as its library. But the community had spirit and was determined to overcome a painful past. Balama Elementary School started with 98 students and has grown to serve over 300 students with a staff of 15 teachers.
Jerry T. Greeby Memorial Library
In 2008, Jerry and Lisa Callaway Greeby went to Liberia on a mission trip for their honey moon under the auspices of BDA. They could have chosen other destinations for such an important occasion; rather, they decided to go to rural Liberia and work with orphans and war affected youths.
Shortly after their return to the States, Jerry had a tragic accident which led to his sudden death. In their lost and grief, Lisa and the Greeby family generously donated more than 2,000 text books and gave a memorial gift for the construction of a library.
The J. T. Greeby Library is made out of a shipping container, welded with metal shelves for holding books, windows for lighting and ventilation, and double panel doors for access and enhanced lighting. The container sits on a concrete base which protects the structure from soil erosion during the rainy season. A roof was added to protect the container from rain, heat from the direct sunlight and to provide shade/ veranda for students and guests to sit and read.
The Greeby Memorial Library which houses approximately 2,500 texts covering Math (Algebra & Geometry), General Science, Language Arts, Literature, History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and more, was completed and turned over to the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of Balama School on July 24, 2010. The facility provides educational resources for students at Balama School, Children Ministry Orphanage, G.W. Gibson Elementary Junior & Senior High School, and Cuttington University. Thanks to Lisa and the Greeby family for sharing with us in memory of our friend Jerry!