The Ambassador of the United States of America, Michael A. McCarthy, along with USAID Country Director Jim Wright, visited Bomi and Gbarpolu counties from April 3-4, 2022. As U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, and not just to Monrovia, it is vitally important to travel and see a country firsthand, getting out of the capital to understand what the reality is like on the ground.
Speaking about his trip, Ambassador McCarthy stated, “This was my second visit to Bomi and Tubmanburg, but my first to Gbarpolu and Bopolu. I have wanted to visit for the last two years, and I’m pleased to have finally made the journey. During my trip I had the opportunity to meet with an extraordinary mix of people doing amazing work for their communities – often with support from the American people whether directly through USAID, or in partnership with our Mission and other international partners. These meetings included local traditional and political leaders, health workers striving diligently to improve the lives of those around them, as well as observing the vitally important voter registration process in both counties. I’ve now driven the road from Tubmanburg to Bopolu, and I can tell you how much communities would benefit from improved local infrastructure, which would not only facilitate transportation and trade, but also improve local economic conditions.”
In both Tubmanburg and in Bopolu, Ambassador McCarthy and Director Wright directly observed the voter registration process at two registration sites. Both sites proved that overall, the biometric voter registration process is effective, despite some initial challenges with the new technology, and that registration is being completed efficiently, fairly, and peacefully. The Ambassador emphasized the importance of local poll workers having signed contracts and being paid during meetings with the NEC magistrate in both counties. Both magistrates confirmed that the contracts would be signed before the end of the week and that the NEC Headquarters was on track to provide funding for the payments, which would be made after the registration process was complete and the poll workers had satisfactorily completed their assignments.
In an interview with Radio Bomi, one of 30 radio stations in Liberia that is part of a USAID-funded media project, Ambassador McCarthy called on Liberian citizens to register to vote so that they can help shape the future of their country and participate in the democratic process during the upcoming elections.
In Tubmanburg, Ambassador McCarthy and Director Wright were warmly welcomed by the Bomi County Superintendent, traditional leaders, and other county and city officials. They toured the Bomi County Service center, meeting with staff, and learning how delays in implementing the excellent decentralization law have negatively affected the services that citizens can receive in Bomi.
Visiting the Forestry Training Institute (FTI), the Ambassador and USAID Director directly saw the benefits of USAID and U.S. Forest Service support during a conversation held with current FTI students held in a conference hall constructed with USAID funding. Liberia has incredible forestry resources, but illegal logging and unregulated use of the forest is rapidly degrading the forests of Liberia. Students trained at FTI will have a significant role to play in securing this important resource.
The Ambassador and Director Wright were introduced to the Riders for Health specimen transport team, by Dr. Rachel Idowu, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Country Director in Liberia. Riders has exclusive responsibility for collecting communicable disease specimens from health facilities in all 15 counties, then quickly and safely transporting health specimens to Margibi County for testing. These riders, under extreme conditions, are at the front lines of rapidly detecting and controlling future outbreaks and are an incredible resource for Liberia and the international community.
In Tubmanburg, the Ambassador and Director Wright visited the USAID- and WHO-funded oxygen plant that has been a game changer for Bomi County and neighboring health clinics. This plant produces life-saving oxygen that can be provided throughout the county, and across counties in the future, to help reduce costs and save time.
It is so important to never forget the atrocities committed during Liberia’s civil wars. In an act of remembrance and respect, the Ambassador visited the Maher Bridge War Memorial outside of Tubmanburg to hear firsthand from the community and a survivor about the incident that inspired the memorial.
In Bopolu, the Ambassador and Director Wright were again warmly welcomed by the County Superintendent, local officials, and traditional leaders. Touring the Gbarpolu County Service Center, again the Ambassador had the opportunity to see how beneficial decentralization will be, and how important it is for counties to receive their full budget. Officials informed the Ambassador that neither the city nor the county had received the funding promised to them in the budget passed by the Liberian legislature.
USAID directly funds Mary’s Meals, a school feeding program that supports thousands of students every day, including in Bopolu City, with healthy and nutritious lunches. This type of support helps keep kids in school, keeps kids healthy, and improves educational outcomes. Ambassador McCarthy and Director Wright met with school officials, county and district education officers, as well as students who benefit from this impactful program.
Ambassador McCarthy and Director Wright visited Chief Jallah Lone Hospital to meet with the County Health Officer and other health officials and learn about local challenges to providing care in rural counties such as Gbarpolu. Incredibly, Chief Jallah Lone Hospital has not received its last quarter of allotment of medicine, negatively affecting treatment and access for citizens in the county. In addition, the Ambassador learned that the hospital has not received its full funding as guaranteed in the budget. The Ambassador promised to take back these observations to Monrovia, and encouraged local journalists to ask questions and discover what is happening to the budgeted funds. After all, it is impossible to expect institutions to function when they are resource-starved. Finally, the Ambassador and Director Wright made a brief visit to the new Emirates Hospital Liberia, an impressive building, but one which will require adequate funding and maintenance to ensure sustainability in the future.