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Campaign Launched To Help Liberians

The American Jewish World Service, a nonprofit group providing support to developing countries, is hoping that the media spotlight on Liberia will help it launch a successful emergency campaign to assist the war- and poverty-stricken West African country.

“As Jews, we have a duty to respond to those emergency situations,” Ruth Messinger, president and executive director of the organization, said at a press conference announcing the fundraising drive on Tuesday. “And as Americans, we have a special relationship with Liberia,” a country founded by former slaves in 1822.

While she did not set a goal for the fundraising effort, the World Service has pledged to set aside $5,000 of its emergency budget in any case, according to spokeswoman Ronni Strongin.

Messinger, a former Democratic New York City mayoral candidate, said that the funds will be geared toward grassroots organizations involved in peace-building.

One of the groups the World Service is seeking to work with is a Liberian nongovernmental organization called the Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy. At the press conference, Committee chairman Jappah Nah gave an emotional and dignified account of his country’s ordeal under the dictatorships of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. He expressed cautious optimism about the agreement signed this week between the ruling party and the two main rebel groups envisioning a transitional government that will take power in October.

Nah stressed that Liberia needs to be comprehensively disarmed, the warmongers must be kept away from power and brought to justice and an accountable government put in place.

Nah has been personally affected by the civil war. He left his homeland two years ago for a six-month fellowship at the Carter Center in Atlanta. But he was forced to stay in the United States because his human rights activism had upset the Taylor government. As a result, his wife and three children were held at gunpoint and his home was looted.

Armed thugs also ransacked the office of his organization, and one of its members was charged with treason when an e-mail from a rebel group was allegedly found on his computer.

Nah applied for asylum over a year ago and still has not received a response. He said he wants to see how the situation develops in Liberia before making a decision to go back.

But, he added, his priority now is to generate interest and funnel money to his homeland. And he believes that the historical bond between Liberia and the United States, as well as the images of Liberians welcoming U.S. Marines, is creating a lot of goodwill.

Gerry Martone, the emergency director of the International Rescue Committee that recently went to Liberia, said the heightened media interest and the political changes on the ground were already having a positive impact on donations.

He told the Forward in a separate interview that his group’s budget for Liberia, which stood at $6 million last year, was likely to reach $10 million this year, largely because of an increase in American government funds.

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