Liberia—Building Toward Peace and Prosperity

A deepening partnership between UMass and Liberia is proving to be a model of effective global engagement.

Photo: Liberian President Dr. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf meeting a delegation of UMass-led American workforce development experts.

After 14 years (1989—2003) of civil war, the scale of need in Liberia is almost limitless. Commonly listed among the poorest nations in the world, Liberia is struggling to rebuild its basic infrastructure, public institutions, economy, healthcare system, civic culture, and more. In the midst of such deprivation, a deepening partnership between UMass and Liberia is proving to be a model of effective global engagement.

The University’s broad, multi-strategy engagement with Liberia was formalized with a Memorandum of Understanding signed by UMass and the University of Liberia in 2007. Priorities to date are public health, journalism, and job development—critical needs as Liberia develops the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous future.

In the area of public health, UMass Medical School (UMMS) faculty are collaborating with colleagues to open a clinical and HIV/AIDS laboratory at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Hospital, the major teaching hospital of the University of Liberia. The lab will provide much needed laboratory services to enhance patient care and will serve as a teaching and training center.

UMass Medical School faculty travel to Liberia regularly, offering peer-to-peer professional development and direct service to those in need. Dr. John Sullivan, professor of Molecular Medicine and Pediatrics and Vice Provost for Research, pioneered the development of nevirapine —a revolutionary drug for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV—and introduced Liberian physicians and healthcare workers to this concept. Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, professor of Molecular Medicine and Pediatrics and Associate Provost for Global Health, and Donna Gallagher, R.N., Co-Director, Global Health, are working with a non-governmental organization (NGO), HEARTT (, to develop pediatric and nurse training programs at JFK, which are desperately needed.

Photo: U.S. journalist and UMass participant Vanessa Gezari works with Liberian journalist Mae Azango at an interview session in Buchanan city.

Truth is often called the first casualty of war, and many have asserted that war has robbed Liberia of independent news organizations capable of meaningful reporting. The Center for Democracy and Development at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, UMass Boston, is working with Liberia media outlets and organizations to provide a range of professional experiences and contacts with U.S.-based and international organizations.

This U.S. State Department-funded initiative, conceived by its citizen exchange program, hopes to broaden the perspectives of the Liberian media with respect to covering stories dealing with anti-corruption efforts, culture/gender/ethnic identity issues, and general issues related to economic development, in addition to strengthening the financial situation of the Liberian media itself.

Exchange programs offer opportunities for Liberians to participate in workshops, site visits, and internships with U.S. media organizations and to meet with potential funders like the World Bank. In a media environment with so little retail advertising available, outside financial assistance is critical. Lawrence Randall, Executive Director of the Liberia Media Center, credited the exchange with helping him “understand the workings of the donor sector as well as international agencies working to support media.”

Future objectives include preparing journalists for the 2011 presidential election, “the most important in Liberian history,” says Michael Keating, McCormack associate director and senior fellow.

The third, and newest, component is a workforce development partnership between Massachusetts and Liberia. In June 2008, a delegation of educators, national and regional government officials, and NGOs visited Massachusetts, meeting with counterparts who were interested in helping revive the Liberian economy. They toured job training, workforce development, and business development initiatives that could serve as models or potential partners for efforts in Liberia.

Photo: Left to right, Sonia Trzmielina, Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D., Mohan Somasundaran, Ph.D. with Dr. Khalipha Bility, Director of the Liberian National AIDS Control Program on a visit to Dr. Luzuriaga’s laboratory.