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Federal Way woman lending a hand in war-torn Liberia

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Federal Way resident Amy Turner can credit her love of writing with landing her in Liberia last week.

In 2001, Turner, a former high school English teacher, turned an interest in writing into a public relations job at World Vision, a Christian humanitarian aid organization headquartered in Federal Way.

Once there, she learned about the poverty and suffering experienced by people in different parts of the world and decided she wanted to help.

Last week, she caught international flights from Washington to Hanover, Germany and Monrovia, Liberia to join the relief effort for displaced Liberians whose homes and jobs were destroyed during the civil uprising earlier this year.

World Vision officials intended her to be on a DC-8 Aug. 23 that was scheduled to fly supplies into the war-torn country after a World Vision supply ship sunk off the coast of Sierra Leone.

But she didn’t fly in on the DC-8, after all. Lines got crossed and Turner hitched a ride on another aid agency’s flight out of Hanover Aug. 26.

Turner described the city by telephone from a rooftop in Monrovia, where she ran up flights of stairs to get away from construction noise. World Vision’s former base was destroyed by a mortar shell during urban fighting last month.

Turner is spending her time there gathering photos and stories of World Vision employees and beneficiaries and coordinating media interviews of World Vision staff. She’s expected to return to Federal Way Sept. 12.

From the rooftop in Monrovia, Turner described the terrestrial beauty she saw as her flight descended into Liberia.

“It’s like a tropical paradise,” she said.

The city is situated near the Atlantic Ocean, with palm trees and lush, green surroundings.

The cities, on the other hand, are a mess. “This place has just been beat up,” she said.

There are 100,000 people living on the streets, 68,000 of them living in Liberia’s largest sports field, where World Vision volunteers are providing basic medical care and distributing hygiene kits and water purification tablets.

Running water hasn’t been restored to the city yet. Electricity has returned, Turner said, but it’s shut off from 5 to 7 p.m. and from 2 to 7 a.m.

“It’s definitely something to get used to,” she said.

Turner said she hasn’t heard if former president Charles Taylor is spending his exile in Nigeria regrouping — there have been rumors his militia has been fighting in the outskirts of the country — but Monrovia has been peaceful and she feels safe. “The civilians themselves want peace more than anything else,” she said.

Volunteers are doing what they can, but Turner said Liberians need stability.

Despite the poverty and lack of services, people continue to work toward recovery, she said. The potholed roads, which don’t have sidewalks, are filled every day with people going out in search of food, water or work.

“The city has been devastated, but these people are eager to change it, to find peace,” she said. “They’ve been at war for so long, but not so long they don’t remember what it was like before the war.”

This is Turner’s second international humanitarian aid trip. Earlier this year, she spent two months in Amman, Jordan setting up communications prior to the United States’ war in Iraq.

From the rooftop in Monrovia, she compared Federal Way to the rusted tin roofs and piles of trash in Monrovia.

“Compared to here, Pacific Highway South looks like a picnic,” she said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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