Cotton Tree: a community of hope
Beneath a pleached canopy of mango and rubber is Cotton Tree, and high in the hills above are the gallants to which it owes its name. It is a place of such natural beauty that it’s recent history seems as unlikely as it was unwelcome. Tragically, Cotton Tree became a strategic base during the Liberian civil wars (1989-1996 & 1999-2003). It was fiercely contested and utterly devastated. Schools, hospitals, homes, infrastructure and families were destroyed. Nationally, 250,000 Liberians were killed and an entire generation unschooled. The legacy of the tragedy will take many years to rewrite. More recently, Liberia confronted an invisible killer: Ebola. Though the death toll was small in comparison (4,809), it struck at the heart of Liberian culture: generosity, hospitality and the famous handshake. Many Liberians say that the Ebola crisis left deeper scars than did the anarchy of the civil wars.
Despite the terror of recent years, the community of Cotton Tree is defined by their hope and determination. As one elder put ‘we must ensure that our children cannot make the same mistakes we made’. They are committed to building a better future.
Kathy’s story. Under the tarpaulin.
With just $25LRD (20p) to her name, Pastor Kathy Charlie began to pursue her vision of providing a school for young people in Cotton Tree. She used her ‘small smalls’ to buy a sheet of tarpaulin and, fixing one end to a tree branch, she stretched out the other. The rudimentary shelter became her first classroom. The school beneath the tarpaulin has come a long way; Kathy is now the head teacher of what is known as The Concrete Foundation School. Many of the 170 students are homeless or belong to very poor families but such is Kathy’s commitment to them that she often forfeits her own salary to provide scholarships. Her vision has long since outgrown its hoardings and we are proud to be working with Kathy and her team to build a new school that will serve many more young people and create new opportunities for the entire community.
A joint response
A vision for Cotton Tree
We’re passionate about empowering people and have partnered with the Cotton Tree community to help identify and respond to opportunities for development. A new school is just the tip of the iceberg. We know that there is a lack of clean drinking water and inadequate sanitation, we also know that there are very few jobs in the local community. If we’re serious about empowering Cotton Tree, we must find a response to these issues and others like them.
We’re excited by the vision that the Cotton Tree elders have for their community and are proud to have joined with them to ensure it becomes a reality.
A school for Cotton Tree
Great schools go far beyond the measure of exams and grades. Great schools don’t just teach core subjects; they inspire confidence and intrigue. They encourage students to explore their imagination, to ask questions and to aim higher than they would otherwise dare to dream. Great schools work with parents, carers and adults. They offer adult literacy classes, vocational training, parenting and nutrition courses.
A great school empower the whole community; young and old.
We think Cotton Tree deserves a great school.
Sustainability through empowerment
Sustainability is central to the success of this project. To that end we are working with our team in Liberia to develop a business model that ensures the school can operate without external funding. We are exploring opportunities to use the new school facilities to establish a number of social enterprises that will generate income for the school and enrich the local community. The social enterprises will also create much needed jobs.
We are currently considering hiring out the auditorium for events, selling chilled water and establishing an internet café.
Striving for excellence
The wars and lack of funding has left the Liberian education system trailing many years behind our own. UNICEF recently reported that Liberian access to education was the lowest in the world with as much as 62% of young people never attending school. Education in Liberia lacks funding, staff and training.
We want to work with the the people of Cotton Tree to find a solution to these challenges and model excellence that other schools can learn from and replicate. One way in which we will do this is through our partnership with Coventry University who will be sharing resources and pedagogical techniques.