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

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 Mailing address: 5755 Danube St., Denver CO 80249.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash