Monrovia is grabbing the headlines this week because we are hosting the High Level Panel that is working on what should come after the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs. President Sirleaf is one of three co-chairs of the panel and so one of the three panels meetings is also being held here.
And we sure do feel it! All hands have been on deck to make the city look more beautiful and to welcome the international guests, including the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, who arrived yesterday. With Liberians virtually excluded from the city centre and the place full of our biggest SUVs instead, let’s not forget what life is really about here, for most of us at least.
In fact it’s a shame that – one way or another – the visitors couldn’t see and get to hear about the lives of young people; young women and particularly young people living in one of Africa’s biggest slums – right here at West Point.
West Point is home to about 75,000 people all cramped into a tiny space, on an area that juts out towards the sea. For the majority, the main means of survival comes from the little fishing, plus petty trading.
Any urban community has issues, but for this one they are more intense and more neglected at the same time. We’re talking extreme poverty: very low access to water and basically no toilets; just one health clinic and no secondary schools (just one public primary school catering for about 500 children); and essentially no accessible justice even though there are very high levels of criminality.
Oh, and West Point is also suffering from sea erosion caused by rising sea levels…
What does that mean though? It means people living in congested houses on top of one another, in a place that does not smell so good, where the beach is the latrine and cholera ever present. It means sexual exploitation and violence against women is standard, teenage pregnancy rates are high, and girls' bodies are sometimes used as the family’s source of income. It means avoidable illnesses and deaths. It means young people with no prospects becoming ghettoised and lost.
As ActionAid’s Youth and Urban Poverty Manager, I’ve been working with young people from West Point, helping them to identify their issues and what they need to address some of them. The same issues come up when you talk to young people form Monrovia’s other slums : Claratown, Doe community and Newkrutown.
As someone who grew up in the slum of Clara Town, with limited access to basic social services, I call on the post 2015 High Level Panel to keep the issues of youth empowerment and employment, especially for young people in urban slums, on the agenda.