My family fled civil war in Liberia to a refugee camp in Guinea in West Africa. I learned the power of resilience and the value of diversity.
The author, in white next to the woman on the right, at the Kouankan refugee camp in Guinea
I grew up with my parents in the Kouankan refugee camp in the West African country of Guinea.
We went to Kouankan to evade the civil war in our home country, Liberia, which borders Guinea. I went from living in a relatively homogenous community to one where people spoke different languages and practiced different cultures.
It was difficult at first because I had trouble understanding and relating to the people around me. As someone who values having conversations and spending time with others, it was tough for me to have my social interactions limited by language and cultural barriers.
But I embraced my new, diverse community and used my love of football to help me connect with the other refugees.
The refugee camp protected me from violence.
Each year, our camp celebrated the anniversaries of the African Union and the United Nations. These festivals brought different zones of the camp together to appreciate our diversity and to remember our commonalities as Africans.
On these days, I joined other children my age to represent the zone seven football team. Our shared love for the game united us and alleviated our worries and struggles. I enjoyed having the opportunity to have fun with the other refugees and to get to know one another.
The refugee camp protected me from the violence of the seemingly endless war in Liberia, but life inside the camp was not easy.
I often went to sleep on an empty stomach and had to work a number of backbreaking jobs to make ends meet. I gathered wood from the forest to sell, and I plowed farmlands for my neighbors.
My parents’ advanced ages prevented them from assisting with this physical work, so much of the responsibility fell on me. I was forced to mature fast to provide food and clothing for myself and my family.
I learned to be self-sufficient and resilient.
When I encountered challenges in my post-refugee life, I had flashbacks to my struggles at Kouankan. Still, I was grateful for my experience in the refugee camp.
For one, through it, I learned to be self-sufficient and resilient amidst challenges. When my family returned home to Liberia — after seven years in exile — our hardship followed us. Rather than being discouraged by that situation, I continued supporting my family by selling kerosene, rice-bread, candles and boiled eggs in the streets for hours each day.
Second, I learned how to live with people from a variety of cultures. This enabled me to cope with the varied ethnic groups in post-war Liberia, despite the prejudice against my ethnic group, Mandingo, for being predominantly Muslim.
Third, I became more empathetic to the struggles of others and decided that I wanted to help create a more exciting and sustainable future for Liberian youth.
My experiences in West Africa have taught me the value of diversity.
For four consecutive years, I have worked with the Liberia Educational and Sustainable Development Goals Initiative to organize quiz bowls, debates and local spelling bees, through which high school students in five different counties can explore their academic talents and interests.
Through my service work, I have learned more about the challenges affecting Liberia, including poor education and youth disempowerment. In the future, I aspire to develop more ground-breaking solutions to improve education in Liberia and to empower Liberian youth.
I hope to establish free schools around the country with modern learning facilities, to help the thousands of out-of-school Liberian children discover and pursue their scholastic passions.
My experiences in Guinea as a refugee, and in Liberia after the civil war, not only taught me the power of resilience and the value of diversity but also inspired me to help others and to work to ameliorate my community.
I hope to thrive at the African Leadership Academy to use this vision to shift the narrative of Liberia and Liberian youth.
Three questions to consider:
- Why did the author spend his youth in a refugee camp?
- What is the difference between a refugee and a migrant?
- Have you faced hardships that have taught you lessons?
Varlee S. Fofana is a student at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. He is a Liberian who lived in Kouankan, Guinea, as a refugee during the Liberian Civil War (1989-97). From this experience, he became inspired to write stories. He is one of 10 scholars in the SMART Liberia Educational Advancement College Readiness Program and an alumnus ambassador of the Yale Young African Scholars.
It’s crazy how she went through all that and came out a better person to help other People not go through what she went through her past help her impact her future for success.
The camp helped build her character to be who she was in the book and ask as she did with such success tht she is trying to get
I am incredibly amaze about how you used you personal experience as a mean to build a better community and dream of a better world, it is simply wonderful and I really hope we will achieve together the Africa we aim.
Varlee has been one Liberian kid who is always striving to make a better Liberia for all youth. He will become more useful to every corner in Africa.
Congratulations, it is a really meaningful story about how our efforts can have an impact on our personality and our environment. I hope Varlee will have the opportunity to make the world better for his generation.
Congratulations brother varlee, I really appreciate you for giving this wonderful story and he is also trying to empower the youth in future.
We ask the Allah to give him the opportunity to worth his mission.
Incredible person, like to be his friend.
Hello Ann. Thanks for your kind words. Can we connect on Facebook? I go by the name Varlee S. Fofana
Congratulations Varlee, I appreciate you for giving this pathetic story, and with certainty, you going to rejuvenate Liberia and Africa as a whole.