For the sixth consecutive year, a District-based church congregation raised thousands of dollars to fund an ongoing education project in Liberia during an annual holiday show that attracted a standing-room-only audience last month.
Proceeds from Faith United Church of Christ’s annual Christmas Jazz Concert will finance the daily operations of the Alpha & Omega Childcare Center, a daycare that serves the people of Caldwell, Liberia, a small town just minutes outside of the capital city of Monrovia.
“The money will pay for student tuition, educators’ salaries, and material benefits, like pens and pencils,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, designated pastor at Faith UCC, based in Northeast off of South Dakota Avenue, as he explained how the nearly $3,000 collected on Sunday will most likely be used.
The Dec. 16 concert at Faith UCC attracted more than 80 people, some of whom wore traditional Liberian lappa suits and headwraps. Guests enjoyed the musical stylings of jazz musician Natti for nearly two hours before eating a hearty meal.
Natti, accompanied by a pianist, drummers, and a man strumming a bass, belted renditions of songs celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. At times, spoken word artist Seth Washington accompanied Natti by reciting Bible scriptures and performing original pieces.
Teryce Danielle Simms served as mistress of ceremonies and Sia Barbara Ferguson Kamara, a congregant involved in fundraising efforts and Peace Corps alumna who served in Liberia during the 1960s, kept the audience’s focus on the children of Alpha & Omega Childcare Center and their families in her opening remarks.
“The 19 of us who traveled to Liberia saw a school system that was so far below the standard of the poorest schools in the United States,” said Felicia Simms, member of Faith UCC’s West African ministry, as she recounted Faith UCC’s 2013 visit that compelled the restructuring the then-newly opened Alpha & Omega Childcare Center.
The facility serves as an extension of Alpha & Omega Endtime Ministries, Inc. which Alexine Howard, a longtime UCC member, founded more than 20 years ago. Faith UCC members have also supported children and staff at Waterside Market in Monrovia since 2010.
“These Liberian students were eager to learn in circumstances that would deter a child living here,” Simms added. “They don’t have the type of programs we have to help children in Liberia. We’re putting our energy into providing decent education.”
Young people attending government-funded school in Liberia, a republic founded by Black American repatriates in the 19th century on the road to recovery from a decades-long civil war and Ebola outbreak, often have to learn in dismal conditions.
A dearth of qualified teachers and rampant corruption further complicates efforts to adequately educate more than 2.5 million children and teenagers, more than half of the Liberian population.
In recent years, an educational partnership between the Liberian government and a for-profit education company has sparked fears about what opponents call the increasing privatization of education.
Royster, however, applauded the potential of Faith UCC’s work, saying its arrangement with the Alpha & Omega Childcare Center speaks to a bond that bridges a gap caused by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
“Folks at Faith United Church of Christ are familiar with the history between the United States and Liberia and the back-to-Africa movement given our connection with the school in Caldwell, Liberia,” Royster said. “Our work in Liberia is a daily conversation so we’re dealing with the historical ramifications of that relationship.”