It has been forty years since I lived in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. I decided to visit West Africa as a short term volunteer with LMI after reading about the mission’s work in the Mount Carmel alumni newsletter. I needed to expand my comfort zone and felt that working in Liberia would be a good way to grow.
After picking up the one hundred pounds of luggage (tools and books etc.) I staggered out of the airport just outside of Monrovia. I was warmly welcomed by Abraham (an older beneficiary) and Joe (the new director). The warm welcome continued as I met the house parents and the other Americans working at the mission, including Father Don- a man who seems to embody compassion and loving kindness.
After staying on the mission compound for one month, I am very impressed with the dedication of the staff to give the beneficiaries a stable and positive environment. The house parents are the hardest working folks that I have seen as they seem to be on duty twenty-four hours per day six days per week. There are wrinkles in some of the operation of the school and the mission, but everybody seems to pull together for the greater good of the “kids”.
Meeting my wife’s and my sponsored child (Willimena) has been a huge plus for my experience. She is a sweet-heart of a young lady. She fits in perfectly with the female members of the Smithwick family who are also blessed with real beauty, intelligence, and a good work ethic.
I have also enjoyed playing basketball with the students on the new basketball court. The students seem to handle the heat and humidity better than I do. I believe that my heavy-duty sweating is doing a good job of cleaning out my pores. You really don’t need a sauna here in Liberia. The students are competitive people and several of them are picking up the game quickly.
There are many dedicated students and teachers at St. Anthony of Padua School, which is part of the mission. I have observed most of the classes and even taught a few classes as a substitute for sick teachers — another sweat producing experience. As we share the books from our compound library with the school, I can envision the quality of the school only getting better.
Lastly, I am slowly adjusting to the slower paced West African life style, as well as to the heat and humidity. Life is good on this end as I look forward to my next month of being greeted by energetic students calling me “uncle Bob”.
– Bob Smithwick, LMI volunteer, February-March 2012