Denver man’s school in Liberia on hold till Ebola threat fades

Julie Filby

Growing up in the African country of Liberia, Ebenezer Siefa Norman saw a need for change. He saw women mistreated and abused, and recognized that too many people, women in particular, were not educated.

“Women were treated so poorly,” Norman, 33, told the Denver Catholic Register. “They didn’t believe they could do anything better. My goal is to change that mentality.”

He wanted to leave Liberia, he said, get an education, then go back and “start a movement.”

That movement began in 2010, for the Christian man living in Denver, when he started A New Dimension of Hope. Norman’s nonprofit was established to address the issues of poverty and illiteracy through education. Specifically, he has been working to open a school in Troyah, one of the country’s poorest towns. However, that project was halted when Ebola broke out in western Africa. The outbreak is the largest and most complex Ebola epidemic since the virus was first discovered in 1976, according to the World Health Organization.

“God put this big dream on my heart. I’m just a vessel,” said Norman. “Now I have to trust in him and he will give me the details.”

Norman, the eighth of nine children, left Liberia in 2000 and came to the United States where he played soccer for the University of St. Mary in Bismarck, N.D. He moved to Denver six years ago, where he continued his education at Regis University, graduated in 2012 and is now studying for a master’s degree. He plans to attend law school next year.

In the four years since he launched A New Dimension of Hope, he has raised the funds needed, approximately $25,000, to open a school. The building for 350 students was built, teachers and funding were in place, and the school was set to open last August when Ebola hit.

His home country has been the hardest hit so far, recording nearly 3,000 confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola deaths since the outbreak per WHO figures.

Norman hasn’t visited Africa since the outbreak. But prior to that, he traveled to Troyah many times. Until the threat diminishes, opening the school is on indefinite hold. While it has proven to be an obstacle, he feels confident it is one that will be overcome.

“There is hope and I believe it will get better,” he said. “It will come together.”

A Nov. 24 report indicated that efforts to fight Ebola in Liberia were improving. U.S Army Brigadier Gen. Frank Tate, deputy commanding general of U.S. Operation United Assistance, told Reuters news service that daily cases had fallen to around 20 from close to 80 in September.

“It’s a dramatic improvement,” Tate said.

In the meantime, Norman continues to trust in what he believes is God’s plan for the school, and to raise money for the venture through fundraisers and speaking engagements.

“It’s what God created me for,” he said. “Someone has to stand up. Maybe I can inspire a little girl to take up the cause. Maybe she will inspire three more, and it will grow.”

For more information on A New Dimension of Hope, visit www.ndhope.org. Mailing address: 5755 Danube St., Denver CO 80249.

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic bishops remember Columbine on 20th anniversary

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Colorado’s bishops have issued a joint statement recognizing the 20th anniversary of the April 20, 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher. The full statement can be read below.

This week we remember the horrific tragedy that occurred at Columbine High School 20 years ago. In life there are days that will never be forgotten; seared in our minds and
on our hearts forever – for many of us in Colorado that day was April 20, 1999.

As we mark this solemn anniversary with prayer, remembrance and service let us not forget that there is still much work to be done. Violence in our homes, schools and cities is destroying the lives, dignity and hope of our brothers and sisters every day. Together, as people of good
will, we must confront this culture of violence with love, working to rebuild and support family life. We must commit ourselves to working together to encourage a culture of life and peace.

Nothing we do or say will bring back the lives and innocence that were lost 20 years ago. Let us take this moment to remember the gift of the lives of those we lost, and let us, as men and women of faith, take back our communities from the fear and evil that come from violence like we witnessed at Columbine. Our faith in Jesus Christ provides us with the hope and values that
can bring peace, respect and dignity to our homes, hearts and communities.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Columbine community and all those affected by violence
in our communities.