UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2007 / 0410 - Liberian Nursing

Liberian Nursing School Struggles to Recover

Adapted from a UMNS article by Linda Bloom* dated April 3, 2007

For many years, United Methodist-trained nurses staffed Liberia's clinics, hospitals and even the Ministry of Health.

But the long-running civil war in that West African nation destroyed the nursing school's facilities and crippled its program.

Now returned to its original location in Ganta, the school is struggling to recover, along with the rest of Liberia, according to Cherian Thomas, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

"It is a priority for us to strengthen that school of nursing," he said. "The number of nurses in Liberia is so small. Investing in nursing education is one of the best things our church can do."

United Methodist missionary Sue Porter, a full-time instructor at the school, says it is a pivotal time for the 56-year-old institution. "Right now, the Winifred J. Harley School of Nursing is going through some difficult challenges, but it has a wonderful history that makes those involved want to see it back to its former grandeur and reputation," she said.

A Legacy of Mission Work

The school, begun in 1951 with students who had an eighth-grade education, is named after Winifred Harley, who with her husband, George, served as Methodist missionaries for 35 years at the denomination's Ganta mission. They built the hospital, church, school and several other facilities.

 In 1963, the school was recognized by the Liberian Nursing School Accrediting Board and graduated its first class of diploma-certified nurses. In 2001, the Winifred J. Harley College of Health Science was incorporated into United Methodist University as its second college. The college now offers a three-year associate of arts degree in nursing.

The prolonged civil war led the school of nursing to move in 2001 to Monrovia, Liberia's capital. But by the end of 2009, United Methodist University is expected to relocate to Ganta from its current location at the College of West Africa in Monrovia.

That relocation process began when the nursing school opened its current academic year at its original home in Ganta. Located in Nimba County, the town is 167 miles northeast of Monrovia, on the border of Guinea and near the border of Cote d'Ivoire.

Many of the faculty, however, did not want to move back to the "bush," Porter reported. Currently, she and the acting dean are the only full-time instructors, although a third instructor was expected to arrive this spring to become the clinical supervisor. The United Methodist Church in Norway has provided a grant to allow the acting dean to obtain a master's degree in nursing.

"Our other faculty are some of the doctors and nurses of the Ganta United Methodist Hospital who are graciously teaching in addition to their already heavy workloads," she added.

Rebuilding After Wars

Porter, whose previous missionary assignment was in Central Asia, has had experience with reconstruction after long periods of war, which usually means relying on aid from the international community.

"The poor are very much on the periphery of everything with a large disparity between the rich and the poor," she said. "Some people have cell phones and other electronics, but then there are extended families jammed together in burned or bombed-out houses."

In rural areas with no electricity or water systems, life is even more difficult. Liberian houses are made of mud bricks or palm leafs with tin or palm leaf roofs. To generate income, people do subsistence farming or manual labor or operate simple shops.

At the nursing school, Porter's goal is to place more Liberian nurses on the full-time faculty. But she's also interested in nurses from other countries volunteering to teach for a few weeks or even a semester.

Other immediate needs include materials, especially anatomy models for the demonstration lab; office supplies including filing cabinets; and renovation of the student dorms.

Although Operation Classroom has provided a well-stocked library, the ideal setup would be to have 25 copies of each book so students can "rent" a book for a particular class, according to Porter.

How You Can Help

Donations for the nursing school can be made to the Hospital Revitalization UMCOR Advance #982168.Online Giving

Checks, payable to the local church, should include the Advance code number on the check and can be dropped in church offering plates. Checks payable to UMCOR also can be mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.