West African Children Support Network
WACSN is a 501(c) 3 non-profit charity organization registered in the State of Minnesota USA, and the Republic of Liberia. It is the cumulative and ongoing result of the tireless efforts of Maria Luyken, a native Liberian. Obeying her Christian beliefs and her passion for her homeland, Maria has ceaselessly advocated for the people of Liberia, especially the children. She has fed them, clothed them, taught them, provided medical care for them, and offered loving homes through the blessing of adoption. Her goal is to see God’s love enacted in Liberia through the provision of physical needs, education, job training, medical care, and entrepreneurship.
At WACSN, we believe that too many children in Liberia die each day from preventable causes such as diarrhea, pneumonia, childbirth complications and malaria. Safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, nutritious food and stable families would save most of them.
WACSN is a Christian organization dedicated to ministering to children, poor families and rural communities’ incorporation with the Liberian Church. We strive to improve the well-being of children, widows, single mothers, families and communities, while sharing the Gospel and strengthening the church.
The West African Children Support Network (WACSN) was established by Maria Luyken in 1995 as a Christian, non-governmental humanitarian relief organization to serve destitute children in Liberia afflicted by disease, poverty, and orphaned and abandoned by war. Our formation honors the heartbreakingly short life of Maria’s young son John, who succumbed to an irreparable heart defect before his second birthday. Maria’s sorrow was softened by the grateful recognition that her small son had received the finest medical care available in the United States where they were living at the time. Still, she reflected with deep anguish upon the children in her homeland of Liberia, who were dying unnecessarily every day from lack of medical attention, nourishment, sanitation, safe drinking water, hygiene and a senseless civil war. WACSN is the powerful unfolding of Maria’s vision for the children of Liberia. The foundation of WACSN was developed over two intense years of tireless probing, researching, planning and reaching out to her established network of family and friends..
WACSN began its work in Liberia in 1997 with Maria’s initial efforts in Liberia beginning in Montserrado, Bomi, Bong and Nimba Counties. WACSN has since reached children in River Cess, Sinoe, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount Counties. Over the past 15 years, WACSN has impacted the lives of Liberian children and their families in many ways. In 1989, a civil war broke out with such ferocity and brutality that many innocent children were violently displaced, abandoned and orphaned. Many children became parentless overnight. Some found themselves internally displaced without any kin. Still others found themselves helplessly trapped in cross-border refugee camps surviving only with help of the Liberian church, international aid agencies, and foreign missionaries.
During the war, WACSN became the instrument and vehicle used by both the government and international aid agencies, including the American Embassy to deliver food, medicine, and clothing to children in the war zone. The organization created numerous feeding centers, water wells and pit latrines throughout the countryside to combat malnutrition, diarrhea, and other waterborne diseases. WACSN became the most neutral and trusted entity during the war sharing and distributing relief items to the children equally, freely and without judgment. Maria also became the face most combatants on both sides of the war could trust.
In 2003, the American Embassy in Liberia made a request to Maria and her staff to accommodate some adopted Liberian children who were traumatized in the process. Being the true humanitarian that she is, Maria did not hesitate to say yes. This gesture led to WACSN opening its first orphanage. Accepting the challenge from the American Embassy to find loving families for orphaned Liberian children, Maria embarked upon the honorable and noble task of opening the WACSN Adoption Ministry.
Since its founding WACSN came to understand that the ravages of the civil war brought deprivation of safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, poor garbage collection, scarce hygiene promotion, and squalor living conditions that affected the well being of Liberians, especially children. Realizing that the social dynamics of the Liberian population had changed, Maria began to focus on widows, orphans and single moms. In 2008, Maria came to the realization that local pastors were most familiar with local communities. This realization made WACSN take a more holistic approach toward these challenges giving pastors the responsibility of implementing this approach. Consequently, in June of 2008, the WACSN Pastoral Network came into existence to bring change. Maria then restructured WACSN so that the Pastoral Network became the platform from which the organization would minister.
Liberia: Country’s Profile
By Francis Nyepon
Liberia is located on the west coast of Africa. It borders Guinea to the North, Sierra Leone to the west, Ivory Coast to the east and the Atlantic ocean to the south.
Founding & Establishment
Liberia is the oldest African republic. The Country was founded in 1822 and colonized by freed American slaves with the help of a private American benevolent organization called the American Colonization Society. The Liberian flag resembles the American Stars and Stripes. Its capital city is named after America’s 5th president, James Monroe. Its constitution is modeled and styled after the U.S. constitution, and its official language is English. It is the size of Ohio. There is even a Maryland County, Philadelphia, Virginia, Mississippi, Greenville all named in honor of early 19th-century freed American slaves who settle from those areas in the United States.
Geography & Climate
The country has a land mass of 43,000 square miles and 99,067 square kilometers, slightly larger than the state of Ohio. The country’s equatorial climate is hot year-round. The raining season begins in May and ends in October, while the dry season begins in November and ends in April. The country’s coast is composed mostly of mangrove forests and swamp while the inland is sparsely populated with a rolling forested plateau with drier grasslands and low mountains in the northeast. Liberia has the largest virgin rainforest in the West African sub-region. Monrovia is overwhelmingly inundated with informal settlements, which are vulnerable to disaster and disease outbreak because they lack access to basic services, health facilities, toilets, water, and garbage collection.
Language & People
English is the official languages of Liberia with 29 other traditional African languages belonging to indigenous Africans that include the Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, Dei, Bella, Mandingo, and Mende peoples. These indigenous African peoples comprise 95 percent of the country’s population. Americo-Liberians comprise 2.5% (descendants of freed American slaves), Congo People make up 2.5% (descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean). Over 250,000 Liberians were killed during the war, and over a million were forced into exile in neighboring countries, Europe or the United States. Two million people were internally displaced in IDP camps. Today, 62 percent of the population is 20 years old and under.
The major religions are Christianity, Islam, and indigenous religious beliefs. The Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs estimates that 40 percent of Liberians practice Christianity. Another 40 percent exclusively practice indigenous religion, and 20 percent practice Islam.
According to the World Health Organization, the life expectancy of Liberians at birth is 58 years old, with males averaging 55 years old and females averaging 62 years old (2009 est.). The total fertility rate (TFR) of women in Liberia is 5.24 births per woman. Infant mortality rate totals 16 percent. It is estimated that 80 percent of women who die in childbirth die due to the lack of adequate birthing care. The World Health Organization states that Liberia is one of the ten riskiest countries in the world for giving birth. Additionally, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over 2,000 Liberian children die each year due to lack of breastfeeding.
The HIV/AIDS prevalence is at 1.7 percent of the adult population. According to the World Bank, 64 percent, of Liberians lack access to safe water sources. Accordingly, 75 percent of children and 64 percent of adults lack access to adequate toilets. Eighty five percent of Liberians have no access to proper waste management and appropriate hygiene. Consequently, these inadequacies cause 24 percent of children to die before their fifth birth day. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reports that 22 percent of children who die because of these shortfall do so from diarrhea and infectious conditions caused by the lack of safe drinking water and waterborne diseases.
In addition, 37 percent of children under 5 years old die from malnutrition while 7 percent of that number suffers from acute malnutrition, causing stunting in nearly one-third of those children; thereby, leaving one in five of those children underweight. It is also estimated that 36 percent of children who die in Liberia, die from malaria caused by mosquitoes feeding on rotten garbage or incubating in disgustingly filthy water.
According to the Ministry of Planning and Economic affairs, the national expenditure on health for 2009 was US $30 (PPP). Liberia has 122 doctors of whom 51 are Liberians, with 668 nurses serving all 3.9 million Liberians.
National literacy rate of Liberia is 38 percent of the total population, with 54 percent being male and 22.4 percent being female. Education is needed to undo years of neglect that have crippled and destroyed the fabric of Liberian society for decades. Only half the country’s children attend school even though there is free primary public education for all. The additional expenses for children to attend school make it impossible for the majority of Liberian families.
Since 2005 there has been a considerable increase in the number of children going to school. Many children have returned to school although some have past school age. This has compounded overcrowding in schools and has caused severe shortage in resources; thereby, forcing children in many cases to bring their own chairs or attend classes outdoors. On average, children attain 10 years of education, 11 years for boys and 8 years for girls. The World Bank estimates that 65% of primary school age children are enrolled in school with a completion rate of 55 percent. Also, 24 percent of secondary-school age children are enrolled in school with a completion rate of 80 percent.
The University of Liberia opened in Monrovia in 1862. It is the country's largest university and one of Africa's oldest institutes of higher learning. In 1889 Cuttington University was established in Suakoko, Bong County by the Espicopal Church of America, and is the oldest private college in Liberia. In 2009, Tubman University in Harper City, Maryland County became the second largest public university in the country.The African Methodist Episcopal University is another fast growing university in the capital of Monrovia.
Civil war, government mismanagement and corruption have destroyed Liberia's economy. The economy is agriculturally based, and is being revived since a democratic government was elected in 2005 led by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The country is yet to reach the zenith of its growth, infrastructure and manpower potential. The World Bank estimates the country’s unemployment rate is at 85 percent with employment in the formal sector estimated to be approximately 15 percent. The country’s domestic trade, commerce and retail business are controlled and dominated by Lebanese and Indian merchants with the Chinese steadily advancing their market share of the economy. Neighborhood retailing and outdoor marketing are performed by Liberian and other West African traders, which brings in huge cross-border trade.
According to the United Nations, 64 percent of Liberians live below the poverty line; thereby, accounting for 3 out of every 4 Liberians living on less than one dollar a day; with a real GDP growth rate of 6.3 percent; US$227.00 per capita GDP (2010 est). The country’s GDP composition per sector rates agriculture at 76.9 percent, industry at 5.4 percent and service sector at 17.7 percent. Liberia has the distinction of having the highest ratio of direct foreign investment to GDP in the world. The country is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture. Its main exports are diamonds, gold, iron ore, rubber, and timber.
Since 2005, the country has signed several multi-billion dollar concession agreements totaling some 17 billion with numerous multinational corporations. The Liberia dollar currently trades against the US dollar at a ratio of 65:1. Liberia used the US dollar as its currency from 1943 until 1982 when the military leader of the 1980 coup decided that they needed to print and spend more money. The Liberian government formally withdrew from under the US monetary and financial regime system to allow the military junta to have their way.
Politics & Government
Liberia is divided into 15 political subdivisions called counties, which are subdivided into districts and further subdivided into clans, cities, towns and villages. The capital of Liberia is Monrovia, named after the 5th President of the United States of America, James Monroe.
Liberia has a dual system of statutory law based on Anglo - American common law for the modern sector and customary unwritten law for the traditional indigenous sector practice exclusively in rural and ethnic communities. The country has three equal branches of government: Legislature, which is bicameral with an upper and lower house, Supreme Court, headed by a Chief Justice and the Executive headed by the President, which is the strongest of the three. The President is both the head of state and the head of the government, and is elected for six year term with two term limit.
Until 1980, the country was relatively calm when President William R. Tolbert was overthrown by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe after a rice riot in 1979. The coup marked the end of dominance by the minority Americo-Liberians who ruled the country since its independence in 1847. Arbitrary rule and economic collapse during the late 1980s culminated in a brutal civil war when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel Movement headed by Charles Taylor, overran much of the countryside, entering the capital in 1990 and executing President Doe. Over 250,000 Liberians were killed during the civil war and more than a third of the population fled Liberia. Under international pressure, the civil war came to an end in 2003, and President Taylor stepped down from the presidency and was forced into exile in Nigeria. Today, Taylor is on trial in The Hague, Netherlands at the International Criminal Court on trial charged with war crimes and 17 counts of crimes against humanity. The United Nations maintains the largest peacekeeping operations in the world with some 15,000 peacekeepers and 10 international civil servants stationed there.
A transitional government headed by Charles Gyude Bryant steered the country towards elections in 2005 when multiparty elections were held under international administration and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female President of the country and Africa. The conflict left the country in economic ruin with infrastructure destroyed. Today, the country remains without a power grid, municipal water, an effective sewer system and basic services. The country is one of the world's ten poorest countries, with a formal employment rate of only fifteen percent. The country is rife with corruption and unemployment and the economy are endemic.