What I Learned in Liberia

By Ann Harris on February 17, 2017

When I received an email offering a potential opportunity to film and document a journey in Liberia for a group of coaches and leaders, I didn’t know what to think.

Apprehensive at first, I took the weekend to ponder what the outcomes of this trip would be for me. I realised that this was just too good an opportunity to pass up. This was a chance to test and develop my filmmaking ability, as well as develop myself in areas such as confidence and communication. And to do this whilst satisfying my sense of adventure by going to a country I never would’ve thought I’d visit in my entire lifetime, how could I say no?!

I have to say that this experience was truly wonderful. Some days were fascinating and fun, whilst others were tough, both emotionally and physically.

After travelling around the country, filming in a number of communities and schools, as well as filming workshop sessions, it was time to come home after 10 days.

The question I asked myself once I arrived home was ‘what have I learned on this trip?’ As great of an experience as it was, if I had left Liberia feeling that I hadn’t developed or learned anything, I would’ve been disappointed.

Here are some key lessons and understanding I took away from Liberia.

Permission. A common theme when the team out in Liberia convened in the evenings for the daily debrief was ‘permission’. Some of the group, including myself, expressed the feeling of hesitation when taking part in activities, or wanting to have a conversation with someone.

In life, we sometimes stop ourselves from doing something that we want to do, as we’d either like to be given certainty that it’s okay to do so, or we have to get clarification from specific people that it’s okay to do so.

Discussing this in the debrief, we came to the conclusion that we should throw ourselves into uncertain situations if we want to, instead of waiting for permission. Our team mantra for this trip was “f**k permission”!!

The team learned a lot from this and it allowed us to connect with more people, especially the children of the schools and communities, and it made the trip much more special.

So, if you ever feel uncertain about doing something that you think would be great to do, just do it! If someone doesn’t like it then they can always so ‘no’ or tell you to stop!

Community. Liberia is rife with poverty. Some of the population scrape by and manage to give themselves or their children an education, however much of the population have no idea when their next meal is coming, and will live their lives without a structured education.

The communities within the country however are close knit, and friendly. Whenever we visited a community or school, we were always given a grand welcome, and people were always polite. For me, the underlying reason to this closeness is loving each other helps them to forget their struggles, but there are still lessons to learn from this.

This is completely different to the UK. I often walk my dog around my neighbourhood, strolling passed numerous people, and the most I can get out of people is short “hello” or a “morning”.

Because of this, I have decided to try my best to be polite and learn more about the people I meet, as I loved the sense of community when in Liberia, so a stronger sense of community back home would feel me with real joy.

Confidence. This was a biggy for me. I’ve never been the sort of person to jump at the opportunity to do karaoke. I’ve never been a keen public speaker. And don’t get me started on dancing in nightclubs.

This trip however taught me one huge lesson. GET OVER YOURSELF. Why should I care what people think? If putting myself in an uncomfortable situation will benefit me in some way then I should just do it and not worry about being embarrassed.

I was out of my comfort zone a lot during this trip. I danced solo in front of around 50 people, I did some public speaking in front of a large audience at a community meeting and I had to interview a group of people as well. By the end of the trip my confidence had sky rocketed and I was happy to throw myself into situations that would’ve been awkward for me before the trip, but are now comfortable.

So, if you’re feeling nervous about pushing your edge and being placed out of your comfort zone, get over yourself! Nobody cares! Grab the mic at the karaoke bar, dance over to that person you find attractive in the night club. This is your life and there’s no need to be embarrassed!

This trip was just wonderful. I’m so glad I took part and I developed more than I ever thought I would. I’ll remember this trip to Liberia forever.