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Educational resurrection
Liberian university rises from debris of war to expand its programs and rebuild a country


2/1/2006

MUCH-NEEDED RESOURCE
Cuttington's president, Henrique Tokpa, gladly recieves containers with books, computers and other equipment for the University, sent through the efforts of several Episcopal Church parishes and seminaries.  
Cuttington University in Liberia has many reasons to celebrate: new students, new programs and new life following civil unrest and severe destruction that forced it to close for more than a decade.

The university recently started a new academic year with more than 1,500 students enrolled on two campuses – almost triple the number of students since it reopened in 2002. New initiatives include opening a graduate program and offering high-speed Internet service as an educational and research resource.

“Cuttington is a shining example of how faith in a better future can help people overcome every adversity to do something for the common good,” says Margaret Larom, director of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Anglican and Global Relations. “More than once, due to outbreaks of violence, the campus had to be evacuated … neither students nor faculty ever gave up.”

An Episcopal-run university, Cuttington University was founded by the Episcopal Church in 1889 and continues to receive financial and missionary support. Today, Cuttington is one of the few fully functional institutions of higher learning in Liberia, officials say. It has helped shape a host of Liberia’s leaders, including ministers of the government and heads of businesses and education.

During the civil war in 1990, former President Charles Taylor’s rebel troops forced their way into the campus in Suakoko, Bong County, and used it as a military station. The campus was systematically looted, the buildings de-roofed and the library destroyed. Many of the students and faculty fled; some perished.

In 1998, the university reopened under the leadership of former Cuttington President Melvin Mason with about 500 students. The Episcopal Church helped it get a new start. “Through Episcopal Relief and Development, the Association of Episcopal Colleges, and the Friends of Cuttington, many Episcopalians throughout the U.S. joined with Liberians in raising funds to make needed repairs, pay salaries and provide scholarships,” Larom says. “The USAID agency, American Schools and Hospitals Abroad, demonstrated its commitment to higher education in Liberia by making substantial grants to restore electricity and water to the campus.”

In 2002, Henrique Tokpa continued the challenge of strengthening and expanding Cuttington. Since reopening, the institution marked its first full academic year in 2004-2005 and received full-university status from the Liberian legislature in June. In October, the university enrolled graduate and undergraduate students on campuses in Monrovia and Suakoko. The following month,  Bishop Edward Neufville of Liberia, chair of Cuttington’s board of trustees, inducted Tokpa as the new university president.

A better university

Speaking on the theme “Make the Best of What You Have,” Neufville called on students to take their academic path very seriously so they could play vital roles in the nation’s reconstruction after years of brutal civil conflict.

In his induction speech, Tokpa promised to strive to make Cuttington the best university in the country. He said the institution would maintain high academic standards and that he would “effectively and efficiently manage the affairs of the university.”

Despite the problems that have confronted Cuttington, he said, “the university continues to have great academic programs, excellent learning environment and capable and honest instructional staffs, among others.”

Cuttington launched the new graduate school with a grant from Trinity Church- St. Paul in New York. It also offers a nursing program that is vital to the country’s health care; a research and development institute; service-learning programs; a farm that produces latex, swamp and upland rice, pigs and chickens, while teaching students about farming; and a retraining program to teach ex-combatants skills to help them reintegrate into a peaceful society.

“Our mission has just begun,” Topka said in his speech. “We will not make many promises … we ask you to stay tuned to development on Cuttington. We are sure that what you will hear and, or, see will please you.”

Larom describes the university’s journey as inspiring. “We salute Dr. Tokpa, the staff and administration and students of Cuttington and the board of trustees for making university education a reality – not just a dream – in war-torn Liberia.”

For more information about Cuttington University, visit http://www.cuttington.org/ or contact the nonprofit Friends of Cuttington, c/o Association of Episcopal Colleges, 815 Second Ave., New York, NY 10017; 212-716-6148; e-mail: office@cuac.org.  Friends of Cuttington contributed to this article.