PAYNESVILLE, Montserrado – When the US$9 million Monrovia Vocational Training Center was being dedicated by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2015, the president urged Liberians to ensure that the facility was well managed.
She warned that in Liberia, it is often the case that nice facilities are allowed to deteriorate in condition.
“Let us please not let this happen to this well-constructed facility,” she was quoted as saying. “No matter how supportive China will be for its operation and maintenance, the primary responsibility will rest with Liberians.”
It appears that MVTC has now fallen to the level the president warned about, as its students – especially the female ones – have been complaining that none of the institution’s bathroom facilities work as designed.
“The toilets are very untidy and I feel uncomfortable using them,” says 24-year-old Roseline N. Beyan, who is studying to be a heavy duty mechanic.
When Beyan graduated from Noah’s Ark High School in 2011, she dreamed of becoming one of Liberia’s few female heavy-duty mechanics and competing on equal footing with her male counterparts.
Due to the financial difficulties, she had to wait for several years, helping her mother sell cold water before she was able to enroll at the Monrovia Vocational Training Center in 2016.
Now, she says her studies are being impeded by conditions in the institution’s bathrooms she finds unsanitary and unsafe.
She said the dysfunctional bathrooms have led the school’s administration to lock most of the bathrooms. The few that are open are shared by both males and females.
Beyan said she often feels embarrassed using the same toilets as male students.
“Can you imagine that in this modern era, female and male students will be using the same toilet? Any one of the females could get raped in one of the toilets while attending to nature,” she added.
Beyan’s comments are particularly concerning, given that Liberian government agencies and NGOs are in the midst of a 16-day campaign to raise awareness about violence against women. Moreover, Liberia’s high number of rapes – there were 803 reported rapes in 2015 – would suggest the school would consider this issue more seriously.
Across the campus, there are five bathrooms, none of which has a sign indicating whether it is for males or females. Students of both sexes enter the bathrooms at various times of the day.
Two large empty blue barrels at the entrances of each bathroom stay empty most of the time. The interior of the bathrooms themselves are unbearable to enter as they ooze a strong odor and are heavily littered with garbage. However, except for the stench, the lack of cleanliness and dysfunctional equipment, the bathrooms themselves look quite modern and well furnished.
David Payedoe, assistant director for administration, attributed the lack of running water on the campus to a faulty pump.
“Repair work on the damaged machine is delayed because the right technicians cannot be found,” he added, seemingly unaware of the irony that the primary institution in Montserrado responsible for training technicians cannot find a trained technician to fix its machine.
The administration has asked students to fetch water in buckets for use in the various toilets, he said, adding that MVTC was too overcrowded and only had 18 janitors.
“The students have damaged most of the faucets, taken away light bulbs, and refused to help keep the toilets clean,” Payedoe added.
For Beyan and other female students at the institution, the unsanitary conditions are just adding more barriers to a program that already needs to attract more women.
“The filthiness of the toilets is having a serious impact on my dream of becoming a heavy-duty mechanic,” she said.|
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah