Desert encounters and a special yellow card

Life is never boring for Gerry, our communications officer in Liberia.

Gerry Naughton
Gerry Naughton
Communications officer, Liberia

Back to all stories | Posted on 07 Sep 2018 in Life in Liberia

This has been a good year for me at Mary’s Meals. I visited a new country, I was interviewed by BBC radio, and I continued to have the privilege of meeting inspirational children who benefit from the Mary’s Meals programme.

In December 2017, women’s magazine My Weekly ran its annual Christmas fundraising campaign for Mary’s Meals. The focus was on Kenya and I was asked to go for two weeks to identify good stories and children to be interviewed and photographed.

I’d never been to Kenya before, but it was one of the first African countries I ever heard of because my uncle Gerry – also a journalist – spent a lot of his career working there.

I’ve been based in Liberia for the last two years and on first arrival Kenya looked a lot more developed, but while Nairobi is a big modern city, some of the areas where we are serving school meals were more like what I am used to.

The children I met in Eldoret were great fun and I enjoyed laughing and joking with them. The most memorable student for me was gentle giant Simon Lual, a 6ft 11in 18-year-old refugee who talked to me about education, basketball and his hopes for peace for his family back in Sudan.

In Turkana, things were far from familiar. It’s a bone-dry desert region with tall, slim people in traditional garb. As I was thinking how strange they looked to me, I realised how outlandish my appearance was to them! At that moment, I think we began to understand each other.

Back in Liberia, I was considering how every boy I interview says his favourite footballer is Messi or Ronaldo, and then I met Isaac Gborlee. Isaac’s idol is not a football player, but a football referee – Howard Webb – and the 14-year-old told me has his sights set on being the best referee in Liberia, if not the world.

I managed to get a message through to Mr Webb, who was bowled over by the story and sent me some gifts for Isaac. So, in January I found myself in Gbarnga, presenting Isaac with a referee kit, a copy of Howard Webb’s autobiography, and the yellow card he showed to 14 players in the South Africa World Cup Final in 2010.

And then I was on Adrian Chiles’ Friday morning show on BBC Radio Five Live, talking about Isaac and Mary’s Meals for more than 20 minutes. It was great to spread the news about Mary’s Meals and loads of family and friends heard the interview too, including three people who don’t even live in the UK!

Things may not quite as exciting as that daily, but I always have an amazing time with the children I interview in Liberia. And as you can tell from this final photo taken at Minne Memorial School, they are always amazed to meet me too!