Liberia: Caritas report from displaced persons camp

 As the situation in and around Monrovia begins to stabilise somewhat with the arrival of peacekeeping troops, more and more people are gradually returning home. As encouragement, Caritas Liberia is working with Confederation member Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to distribute tarpaulins, jerrycans, and soap to displaced persons living in Wilson Camp, about 16 kilometres outside Monrovia. Even in this poverty-stricken area, LURD rebels had taken everything they could find. Caritas is also assessing other food and non-food needs. Wilson Camp normally houses around 30,000 people, mostly from Bomi and Grand Cape Mount, two provinces in western Liberia. In 2001, people fled their regions en masse as violence erupted and LURD rebels began plundering villages, and many sought safe haven in Wilson Camp. The recent violence, however, forced about 90 percent of the residents to flee again to various locations in Monrovia. Now people are slowly returning. The heads of households are often the first to arrive to set about reconstructing their ruined houses. The tarpaulins, distributed by Caritas, are used to protect thatched roofs from the torrential downpours that plague the country during the rainy season. A fire is burning in one of the loam houses in Wilson Camp. "We are trying to dry our house out," explained Jackson Cassell who has just collected a tarpaulin from Caritas to spread over the roof of his house. "At least we now have a dry place to sleep." He and his wife Frances, returned to Wilson Camp a couple of days ago. His seven children, ages three to sixteen, are still with their grandmother in Banjor, a neighbourhood in Monrovia. "I first want to sort my house out before they return," he said. In Wilson Camp, people are surviving on vegetable oil, cassava, and palm nuts. "It is still better here than in Banjor," said Jackson. "There, things were just too overcrowded." Jackson used to teach at the local school in Bomi Hills. He also owned a farm. He said: "The children attended school. We had everything we needed and led a good life." He is left to wonder what remains of the coffee and cacao crops he had planted: "The ground will be overgrown with weeds." He hopes to return to his birthplace as soon as possible. Massa Gallah, walked for an hour carrying on her head items she had gathered before fleeing from LURD rebels. In her hands she carries a bowl of fish, which will probably be her evening meal. She is accompanied by her son, Joseph. Her other two children are still in Banjor, Monrovia. Her husband died during the recent violence. Her house, she finds out, is reasonably intact. Iballey Sando's house, however, has not faired as well. He recently returned from a school in Bushrod Island where he lived with his wife and seven children for about four months only to discover that his house had been largely destroyed. Nevertheless, he is happy to be back. "The conditions in the school were awful. The building only had two storeys and we had to share the space with 36,000 people. Some children were suffering from measles and were undernourished, while a lot of the adults had cholera. Here, in any case, we have more space and we eat whatever the bush has to offer us."

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