THE WRONG THING TO DO: NOTHING « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Down the Road in Liberia

It’s the pro bono work that brings the greatest compensation: The light in the eyes, hope rekindled, the dream of creating a future worth living. From last week’s Letter from Liberia, the journey leads to Saturday, March 25, 2023.


Sometime this past December I think it was, Jay asked me what I was doing on March 25.  Nothing in particular, I believe I said. Save the date, be in Liberia then, he said. OK, I said.

Into January, he kept insisting on March 25 (a Saturday) but wouldn’t say why.  Finally, I had to know.  Global Cares is going to name the school after you, he said.  What?, said I.


From my journal, on my first morning in Liberia, June 5, 2006 (less than three years after the shooting stopped):

“We load up the big red rolling bag with the audio-visual and head out south on the main road with Jay driving, myself riding shotgun, Mike, Teewon and Tom in the back. About three miles down, in Congo Town, we pass the abandoned, hulking mildewed concrete post-Apocalypse Defense Ministry from Samuel Doe’s presidency. When Charles Taylor rolled to work in his armed-to-the-teeth Humvee convoy, he would have to pass this monument to Doe’s ignominious 1990 defeat. Jay heads off to the right, in towards the nearby shoreline. He explains that this  was the narrow road bypass that all traffic had to take when Taylor lived along the main road just up the way.

“We pass a three story apartment building with the outside walls and stairways blown away; yet still families are living on upper floor rooms, kids clinging, laundry hanging, exposed to the weather. We pass a woman holding a baby chimpanzee in diapers. Then there’s a lagoon, concrete and barb wire enclaves of some wealthy, the poor living over embankments in thatch-walled and pole hovels, dirt yards, children naked in the blue, bright day.

“As the heat presses in, here are families – old down to very young – huddled on low benches and stools, hammering brown and grey rocks into small pieces, piled in short pyramids, then into white-fiberglass throw pillow-sized bags in rows on the shoulder of the road. They are selling these at $30 Liberian apiece, about 60 cents.

“We turn right at Paynesville, onto the airport road, through the first UN checkpoint and past the national “SKD” stadium (Samuel K Doe …). We turn right again, onto a sandy, dirt track around 10:00, towards the surf. We come shortly to a spare, war-scarred house at our left, the Global CARES Mission Academy.

“From the stir as we approach, the whole student body is packed in there. Hard to see into the unlit space, but they’re singing and clapping in full throated unison. A few of the younger ones are peeking and placing their fingers through the worn screens on the front walk. A handwritten poster board sign over the front door says:


“Mother Florence, the 4’10” headmistress – looking in her early 60s (but likely much younger), glowing face, tooth-gaped, hair pulled back tight, right side still black, left side grey – comes out, grabs my hands gently and will not let go. She is outpouring continual thanks that I have come, come to speak with the kids. I smile back.

“Florence guides me into the main room. It’s 200 or so children on benches and at school desks, shoulder-to-shoulder, knee-to-knee, in this 20′ x 12′ space, all uniformed in blue shirt/blouse and darker blue shorts, the very little ones over here front left, the middle and then still older high school kids right and toward the back. All eyes are on the tall white guy in the Youth for Human Rights International “UNITED” t-shirt. Florence welcomes us.

“The air is still and very warm. As I am talking, sweat starts pouring. We have joked that the reason the UNITED t-shirts are black is because any other color would give away the profuse perspiration that goes on day after day during this work.

“Mother Florence gets the whole group to sing three or so Christian hymns in unison. It is full out and moving. I meet the senior head, Reverend Jerry. He is similarly short and spare, perhaps a little younger than Mother F.

“We are getting good answers on what human rights are, as well as examples of particular human rights and human rights abuses. There is a 12-year-old boy, one eye askew and sightless, and a 13 or 14-year-old girl that regularly volunteer to stand up and answer. Bright. I learn later that a large number of these young boys and girls are orphaned, taken in by Mother Florence and other nearby families. The ones with parents pay tuition. The parentless kids receive their education without charge.

“With our audio-visual ready to go (courtesy the generator we brought, now humming outside), Jay comes in and takes charge. He directs any volunteering kid to come up and stand in front of the class and explain loudly a human right to the others. The same half-sighted boy and the bright girl come up front with him. Jay expands on their answers and explains rights and responsibilities to the rest. He is terrific.

“The little kids are getting restless, but still pretty enthralled with the white man. A few students decide to take a nap on their arms. As we get ready to show the UNITED video, two little ones come forward, one leading the other who is apparently sick and walking home. Malaria?

“The music video is a big hit, projected on the bright white reverse side of the YHRI Liberia banner.

“Tom is thanking everyone for their attention and we are closing it up. Rev. Jerry wants to say a few words. No problem. He pulls out a handwritten speech that looks like it’s going to be several pages long. He thanks us for coming. They have decided that Global CARES is YHRI’s school, their official partner in educating their children.

“I sense what’s coming and sure enough here it comes. Jerry envisions a fully funded school, with renovations of this modest building, or construction of their new one, followed by a nationwide expansion of the Global CARES vision, with schools throughout the counties.

“The students are now dispersing. Jerry, Florence and the staff would like to meet with me. I retire with the four or five school elders into a much smaller room, all squeezing into third grader school desks, chair with wooden writing surface jutting out.

“More introductions. Mother Florence walks over to me and reaches for my collar.  With my rear stuck in that tiny desk, I am not going anywhere soon. Tugging, Florence puts the situation plainly: They need money, I have resources, and I am going to help them!

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but was more like stunned. I tell them no guarantee but I would do what I could.”


And for the ensuing 17 years and counting, this is what I’ve done, with Jay’s giant assistance and a lot of help from our generous friends back-in-the-States.  All through these years, Florence and her principal Reuben Boe have held the fort.  (Pretty sure Rev. Jerry was her husband; he passed about a decade ago.)

Florence shortly moved the school and orphanage to her sister’s nearby property. One has to know where it is to find it, around a neighbor’s wall on a non-descript side alley. The two  structures are spare to place the best spin on it. Cinderblock construction, no glass windows, a few doors, dirt floors and wide open to mosquitos. The roof blew off the main building a few years back. (We helped with funds to put on a new one.)

Sleeping with and caring for the youngest ones – including Prince, Titus and others from infancy – Florence has weathered Ebola, COVID and every other existential crisis.  Prince is now 15 or so, Titus around 12.

Still, with only our modest help, to put me in the school’s name?  Jay explained:  We show up.  Lots of visitors have blown in, promised stuff, and blown out without follow-up.  Yet, we have come back on every Liberia trip and with some assistance: Sometimes cash, other times rice, supplies, books.

Truth be, Florence’s and Reuben’s names should be up there, but they were firm: TIMOTHY BOWLES GLOBAL CARES FOUNDATION SCHOOL, last and final demand, non-negotiable.

While diplomacy must prevail, it is ironic that I have spent the past 15-years of fundraising pronouncing that none of us contributing are in this to have buildings named after us.  Be very careful what you resist.

Thus, March 25, 2023 has come. With our finance help, Jay has helped Florence and Reuben upgrade the buildings, ceilings, painting, electrical.  They have set up the new crew of 200-ish uniformed charges, nursery – 12th grade, under the huge tree in the yard, “dignitary” chairs off to the side. All are assembled. Several of our local team attend, Calvin, Mohammed, Esi.  A big fuss is made.  Music and two student speakers.  Dep. Minister of Education Charles Vonleh presents certs to Jay and me. Mother Florence beats out my praises. The microphone is placed in my hands.

I reenact the Day One Mother Florence incident, calling her over to demonstrate. Laughter.  I explain that I have felt welcome here and in Liberia ever since and, truth is, never really went home.  You students are assigned the future.  Like the huge tree that spreads over us all, if we older people have helped provide you shade under which you can build that future, we have done our job.

Pictures taken. Food and drink for the kids.  We take our leave, to return before I leave the country next week. Florence, Reuben, kids don’t yet know that I have also brought two packed suitcases of donated clothing and school supplies.  More surprises in store.

Don’t only dead people and really old farts get stuff dedicated to them?  I am not dead yet but have I suddenly arrived at least on the edge of the latter?

Tim Bowles
Paynesville, Liberia
Saturday, March 25, 2023

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