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A village comes back to life

Chief of Nyewolihun Blama Saysay returned to the village in 2004. All the villagers had fled in 2001 when the village was attacked. Now 75% have returned and they are still rebuilding their village
(Elizabeth Blunt/IRIN)

The inhabitants of Nyewolihun village in northern Liberia almost escaped the civil war unscathed, but as the conflict entered its final phase, their village was attacked.



Terrified, they fled into the bush. When they returned days later they found 16 bodies among the ruins of their village. They fled again.



It was in 2001 that the remote village in Lofa County, near the Sierra Leone and Guinea borders, was abandoned.



But today Nyewolihun is gradually coming back to life. Many of the villagers have returned and they have told IRIN how they worked to rebuild their homes, their village school, their town hall, and farms - all without outside help.



After the attack by soldiers, some, including the town chief, hid deep in the forest. Others fled to the capital Monrovia 233 km away, where international peacekeepers could protect them, or to refugee camps in Sierra Leone or Guinea.



When the war ended in 2003 the villagers gradually filtered back - village chief, Blama Saysay, the village midwife and health worker were among the early arrivals. They lived off wild fruit and vegetables. Bananas grew in abundance and bush meat was plentiful as the forest was full of game since no one had hunted in the area for three years.



Villagers started to build small shelters out of mud and thatch, though they had once had substantial houses. By 2007 the new Nyewolihun was starting to take shape. Altogether, about 1,220 of around 2,120 residents returned, according to Chief Saysay. The rest remain in refugee camps in Kouankan and Kountaya in Guinea, waiting for a hoped-for resettlement package.



Returning villagers started to grow rice and vegetables. They fished in the river, hunted bush meat from the forest and made palm wine.












School children in Nyewolihun, in Lofa County, northern Liberia. Villagers fled during conflict and returned in 2004-2007, rebuilding the village themselves, without outside help

Eleanor Nettleship/IRIN
School children in Nyewolihun, in Lofa County, northern Liberia. Villagers fled during conflict and returned in 2004-2007, rebuilding the village themselves, without outside help
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Monday, May 24, 2010
A village comes back to life
School children in Nyewolihun, in Lofa County, northern Liberia. Villagers fled during conflict and returned in 2004-2007, rebuilding the village themselves, without outside help


Photo: Elizabeth Blunt/IRIN
Pupils at the village school

The main road through Lofa County is lined with signboards, advertising the work of government agencies and NGOs, and smart, blue-painted schools, which were rehabilitated by UN peacekeepers or the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). But little of that help has reached this village in the forest.



The only aid Nyewolihun residents receive is the bulgur wheat, beans and oil that the World Food Programme provides students through school lunches. But the take-home rice rations girls used to receive to encourage them to attend school have been discontinued.



The school’s headmaster, Matthew Ndorleh, returned and rehabilitated the ramshackle primary school with the help of fellow villagers. It now has four neat classrooms, with a tin roof, concrete floors, classroom furniture and a shady veranda. A private donor paid for cement and roofing sheets, but the parents made the mud bricks and cut wood from the forest.



Ndorleh has nearly 200 students, but his original teachers still haven’t come home and he is the only teacher to receive a salary as the others have been recruited by the community and are not on the government payroll. A recent exercise to eliminate ghost workers  stopped the pay of fradulent "teachers" but did nothing to help those who were working but not getting paid.



Parents compensate teachers by working on their farms, or pay them “in bitter ball (a local vegetable) and pepper,” Ndorleh told IRIN.












Matthew Ndorleh, headmaster of the school in Nyewolihun village, which was attacked in 2001 causing inhabitants to flee. Many are now back and are rebuilding the village. Matthew uses his government salary to pay villagers to farm his land and they are us

Elizabeth Blunt/IRIN
Matthew Ndorleh, headmaster of the school in Nyewolihun village, which was attacked in 2001 causing inhabitants to flee. Many are now back and are rebuilding the village. Matthew uses his government salary to pay villagers to farm his land and they are us
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Monday, May 24, 2010
Un village revient à la vie
Matthew Ndorleh, headmaster of the school in Nyewolihun village, which was attacked in 2001 causing inhabitants to flee. Many are now back and are rebuilding the village. Matthew uses his government salary to pay villagers to farm his land and they are us


Photo: Elizabeth Blunt/IRIN
Headmaster Matthew Ndorleh shows IRIN his farm. Villagers pay to cultivate on it, and the proceeds go to rebuilding the village

Residents are now turning their attention to the village hall, which they want to rebuild in mud bricks and timber. The problem is raising the over US$1,000 needed to buy zinc roofing sheets. The solution they have found is that Ndorleh – the only resident with a significant cash income – has given a ‘contract’ to clear land and extend his farm and the money he pays the workers goes into the building fund.



Despite the traumatic past, Nyewolihun’s community is still strong. Villagers grow enough rice to last 10 months of the year and enough cassava and other root crops to cover the gap.



Farmers are finally able to turn their attention to cash crops – coffee, oil palm and rubber. The old coffee bushes have grown into a dense tangle, rubber plantations are reverting to forest, and the palm trees are reaching for the sky.



Clearing and replanting is an act of faith that conflict is over. It will take three years to grow palms mature enough to produce palm oil and seven to tap rubber. “Fear still exists” says Saysay, “But we are planting. Faith is there. By God’s power, nothing like that will ever happen again.”



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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