It might be too personal to ask a friend if they had a decent childhood, but I am often curious to hear about the childhood experience of my peers and how their society impacted their upbringing. Unfortunately, for some societies, including my country, upbringings and childhood are complicated subjects and exceedingly difficult to explain.
I was born in the West African nation of Liberia, and I lived there for the first 11 years of my life. I grew up in an incredibly happy Christian family of seven: My Dad and Mom, my three brothers, my sister and me. My Dad worked at a faith-based school while he pastored a local Baptist church. My Mom also pastored at a local Baptist Church and worked as a Social Worker with UNICEF. My Mom, being a passionate child advocate, and my Dad a pastor and outstanding man, strived to give us a deserving life, though it was not all roses. Our parents were responsible for the education and wellbeing of extended family members and other children who lived with us. But for me, our home was my little fortress, a well-protected place where I felt safe and loved until everything changed one dreadful morning when I jumped out of sleep at the sound of my Mom’s screaming. Everyone ran into our parents’ room, and we lined up in front of the bed and watched as Daddy breathed his last breath.
My Mom is the most powerful and courageous woman I have seen on planet earth, and the second is me. I was worried that she would break down from the anxiety of Dad’s death and that she would die too, but no, she stood tall and continues to support us even to this day, playing the role of both mother and father. In Liberia and many other African nations, when a woman’s husband dies, she is left vulnerable in the eyes of society. Just barely two months after Dad’s burial, my Mom would often receive calls from anonymous callers threatening her and requesting huge sums of money. She reported to the Police, but they did not seem to have it under control, and the calls continued. My Mom feared that the callers could one day harm us or kidnap us while at school. So she moved us from one place to another until we finally migrated to Canada in 2020 when I was 12 years old.
People often say that children are the future of a nation, yes, but I would say children are the foundation of a nation. A building is considered strong, not because of its features or the roof, but because the foundation is solid. The early years of a child’s life are critical for their development. I mean growing up in an environment that provides the social, emotional, and educational needs where children feel safe and loved, spend quality time with family, have proper nutrition, good health care, adequate sleep, and play. I believe a nation that provides such an environment facilitates a better childhood. As a result, that nation becomes great because the children grow up into responsible and patriotic citizens who contribute meaningfully to the development of their society.
My childhood experience-Liberia and Canada:
A lot of people have different definitions of childhood, but it depends on a person’s experience. My childhood experience does not in any way establish a complete comparison of these two diverse societies as it would be a total injustice to compare the two countries. However, this is my perspective based on my experience. Despite the high level of moral upbringing, which helps children to learn ethical values from home, my experience of childhood in Liberia is characterized by insecurity, fear, trauma, violence, abuse, daily news of child rape, teenage pregnancies, high rates of child mortality, kidnapping and child trafficking, poor learning environments and harmful traditional practices such as child marriages. Worst of all, the so-called politicians give children guns and put them on the run while slaughtering their parents with their high-level corruption that degenerates them and reduces their responsibility to care for their children properly.
I was privileged to have had a good life and not become a victim of any of these traumatizing situations. But my heart cried every time I saw dozens of kids within my age range selling on the streets in between the cars, every time I heard of a child being raped to death, or a child dying because of the flawed healthcare system, or a lack of electricity. I was being tortured every day of my young life, and that is how I would describe childhood in Liberia.
My short time in Canada has given me a new definition of childhood. I see that society places so much value on children; they are almost “untouchable”. The drivers are cautious when passing by a school environment or a school bus for fear that they would be in big trouble if they were to drive too close by a child. Children’s rights are respected and protected. There are adequate health facilities, safe and proper learning environments, and many attractions for kids. Unfortunately, I also often hear of child abduction, drug abuse, and racial discrimination. There are lapses in childhood experiences everywhere in the world, but the difference is building a system that provides an enabling environment to nurture childhood into responsible adulthood.
The Chosen Path:
Having had such an incredible childhood experience in Canada, returning home comes with many questions and many mixed emotions. But life is not all about good times; it’s not all about comfort zones, sometimes it is about sacrifice for the greater good. When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer. I have chosen the path of return because I want to take back what I would have gained in Canada to benefit the young children whose foundation must be strengthened to be the change they want to see. So yes, Jesus Christ died so that we may live. My Mom sacrificed to leave her homeland to save my life. I, too, will sacrifice my comfort zone to lead that change that I so desire.
Liberia was a colony founded by Black Americans with the support of the American Colonization Society in 1821. On July 26, 1847, the Republic of Liberia declared its independence and became the first democratic republic in African history. Liberia has a rich history, fertile soil, diamond, gold, timber, iron ore, rubber, virgin forests, many bodies of water and different species of fish, as well as the recent discovery of oil. Yet, the country still struggles and is listed amongst the poorest; what an irony? It is like a person standing in the middle of a river and yet thirsty and begging for water. But indeed, I am confident that Liberia will rise again. Long live Liberia, happy land! A home of glorious liberty, by God’s command!