Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Reality set in when I saw the gun. After nearly 30 hours of travel and layovers, my flight landed at 3:30 am on Monday in Robertson Int’l Airport. I was being escorted from the airport to my apartment by a driver, a colleague from the Ministry of Health, and one of the President’s armed security guards. We made our way through the countryside along the 35 km long road leading to Monrovia in the dead of night. An armed escort was a precaution against gang violence at night, a rare yet horrifying vestige if this country’s war-torn past.

I have been shielded from further exposure to that aspect of Liberia since my arrival. I am living with 15 other interns from Harvard’s various schools who are placed in various ministries in Liberia. The Liberian government has been incredibly generous to us: we live in spacious apartments with fully furnished rooms, running water, regular electricity, a cook, domestic aid, and even a balcony, within a walled, guarded compound. We even have a minibus that transports us to and from work each day.

I will be working in the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare this summer. It is one of the more functional ministries in the Liberian government. The government has recently passed a landmark National Health Policy and begun to implement its resultant National Health Plan to provide a basic package of health services (BHPS) to all citizens. While progress on traditional health indicators may be decades away, the Liberian government has finally begun the remarkable rebuilding of the health infrastructure, which was utterly destroyed during the civil wars.

My first couple days at work have been fairly slow. The senior staff is in Berlin this week, so there is very little motivation for most people to do anything. There is a fair number of American expats here. The Clinton Foundation has its own office within the MoHSW building with about 8 employees, and there are 3 other summer interns: 1 student from the Kennedy School and 2 students from Yale Law. I will most likely be working on a project dealing with HIV/TB co-infection once the senior staff gets back next week. In the meantime, I am reading through health policies, doing some random tasks, and getting used to how things work (or don’t) in the ministry.

In other news, some other interns and I ended up meeting with President Bush's brother, Neil, yesterday. He was visiting Liberia brokering some business deal, and we caught him coming out of his meeting in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He sat down and talked with us a little while. All I can say is that he was very much a Bush.