Put yourself in the shoes of a student living in Liberia, a country still recuperating from a Civil War that took place in the late 20th Century. There are no luxuries, not even the small things that those of us in the first world take for granted every second. No controlled air temperature, a thin supply of most resources to build the foundation of your knowledge, and absolutely no technology. Although the developing country attempts to offer students as much as it can, gaining a first person point of view into the every day life of people on the other side of the world serves to teach us a lesson in gratitude and humility.
B.D. Colen, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, took his camera and teaching chops to the “war-ravaged West African country” and came away with a compelling story, told not just through words, but with his lens.
He spent two weeks in January teaching with two organizations, CODE and the International Book Bank (IBB), both “dedicated to the proposition that literacy, reading, and critical thinking are the keys to every other kind of improvement and success,” says Colen.
The story I gather from these photos? A classroom full of children engaged and happy to be given the opportunity to grow. It’s a refreshing site especially given the conditions they were learning in. “The temperature hovered around 90 and the “comfort index” pegged at 107,” Colen said. He spent time co-teaching Liberian writers, illustrators, and photographers in the hopes that they could teach them to produce non-fiction books.
“This required teaching the students in the workshop the difference between fiction and non-fiction – which was much more difficult than it sounds, as Liberia lacks a non-fiction tradition, and starting with the most basic principles of photography,” Colen explains of the endeavor that is teaching something that simply doesn’t exist in the Liberian curriculum.
Not only was the translation of foreign subjects a difficult task, there were eight hours of teaching involved in every day. Colen’s documentary photography course he teaches at MIT, for instance, meets for three hours, one night each week for a semester.
He spent the second week of his Liberian excursion photographing in urban and rural schools “documenting, where possible, the work of CODE, IBB, and the We-Care Foundation.” Colen’s photos are an unscathed view into the lives of young Liberians in classrooms where the sun beams reflect off the concrete walls over books with loose binding.
“The photos you see here should provide a sense, if nothing else, of how privileged we in developed nations are, for the state of Liberia’s schools is truly deplorable: most lack electricity, many lack safe drinking water, and many either do not have books, or do not have enough books for the number of students trying to learn.”
“In one school we visited in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, local residents had purchased two water tanks, but did not have enough money to pay the $40 per month per tank for the clean water to fill them. But in all of these schools, I saw students who clearly understand that education is the key to any kind of success.”
The work of these organizations and the educators in Liberia cannot go unnoticed as the world is only as good as its future generation.
To get involved with CODE or IBB, visit their websites (link provided below) and find out how you can provide an enriching and rewarding experience for children in underdeveloped nations. To view more of B.D.’s work, visit his website here. Special thanks to B.D. for allowing us to share his wonderful story and photos with you.
An Inspire52 original story.