The purpose of Boxing Is Love – Liberia is to use boxing to empower and enrich the lives of the children of this nation as they overcome unique circumstances. The children of Liberia, whether directly or indirectly, were victims of a war for which the impact can span a lifetime. The large majority of young adults, in their late 20s/early 30s, likely served as soldiers around the time they were 10-12 years old. If not, they certainly witnessed unspeakable violence at the hands of peers or even former classmates. Further, the cost of that violence has left a younger generation of Liberian children without parents, guidance, or encouragement. The adults that remain have been tasked with providing positive leadership despite fighting their own demons within. Intertwined in the struggle is the global perception of Liberia, and the narrative dictated by the media and various search engines. Due to this distinction, the scariest byproduct of this war is this perpetual battle to overcome the past. The country has gone through immeasurable change, but the world refuses to let go of the historical carnage that precludes it. However, there is hope. There is hope within the children, and there is definite hope within the natural landscape of Liberia. As the team travelled from village to village, our guides told us stories of what used to be - buildings before they were destroyed, thriving trade markets, and glorious traditions. When we took the time to listen (and look), it was clear that Liberia was still breathtaking, but it needed our help to show the world.
The first example of such beauty came from a quaint little fishing town outside of Monrovia.
Just South of Roberts International Airport is a tiny little peninsula village called Marshall. Located where the powerful Atlantic Ocean meets the mouth of the Farmington River, the land was mainly undeveloped, with the exception of a small, yet vibrant, fishing community of fewer than 1000 people (just 25 adults). Along a tranquil lagoon lined countless fishing boats decorated with bright colours, and bible verses. The exhibition in Marshal was the only “pop-up” planned, where we had a group of people waiting for us to arrive, and the reception was outstanding.
The van went as far as it could go, we gathered all our gear, and walked toward the group. What we saw was a landscape of desolate beauty, and none of us could believe it would serve as the backdrop of a boxing exhibition. This is the Liberia that no one mentions. Barefoot and happy, the team broke out the equipment to the eager crowd. These children lived here in poverty, yet surrounded by breathtaking beauty. We were in awe. The sounds of the gloves hitting the pads were drowned out by the crashing waves of the ocean just a few meters from where we stood. The sunset dictated the end of our time as the pink sky slowly dimmed our path back to the van. Cell phone lights were the only tools that remained, and it almost seemed insulting to use them among such natural beauty. Marshal, Liberia was a true example of how the world should see Liberia, but it certainly did not end there.
A few days later, the team relocated inland to a town called Gbarnga, about three hours Northeast of Monrovia. The highway took us through the hills and surrounded us with views of luscious green valleys for miles. While in Gbarnga, we planned to work exclusively with the children at Christ’s Children Home, but when the village got word of our arrival, we needed to relocate to a more open area to service the crowd. A field was identified a “short” walk away from the home, where we all decided to head for the boxing exhibition. The walk began with about 100 people, but as we walked through the village, more and more people took notice. At the top of the final hill laid an open field with yet another breathtaking back drop – rolling hills of green, stunning palm trees, and intermittent streams. The exhibition took place in its standard manner but evolved into something special. As we closed out with some mitt work from the coaches, the crowd erupted in song. This time, it was the chorus of young voices that drowned the sound of the gloves hitting the mitts out, and the team could not help but to stop to take it all in. No one could believe it was happening. We were seeing the culmination of all our work, right before our eyes, summed up by the spectacle of a crowd of happy singing children amidst miles of stunning countryside. Now, we knew going into this trip, that we had the potential to impact many people, but up until that moment, I do not think any us knew to what extent the people and the country would truly affect us.
The beauty of this country can serve as a natural bandage to place over the wounds of the past. Landscapes like Marshall and Gbarnga are seen throughout the world in conjunction with vacation destinations; however, when one researches Liberia, those photos are buried in the antiquated headlines of war. But let me tell you… no matter how much war, or how many killed, nothing can destroy the beauty and the spirit of that land and its people.