Nothing commits you to a specific plan of action like buying an airline ticket to another continent. I really had no agenda either (The Lonely Planet Guide to Liberia doesn’t exist). All I know is that I lugged a decent amount of camera gear with me and I intended to make use of it. A few days after I landed, I found myself in a Toyota Land Cruiser headed to a community-based school located on a palm oil plantation in the countryside. I was going to collaborate with Rising Academy, which operates under the Partnership Schools for Liberia initiative and runs several schools in the country. Over the next month, I would accompany school administrators on their weekly onsite visits.

Once outside Monrovia, it becomes apparent rather quickly why rugged 4x4s are necessary to navigate through the various road hazards encountered. The first bumpy roads were almost “fun”, but that novelty wore off rather quickly as we roared down the road with ever increasing confidence by the driver.

The school first appeared in the distance, built on a small hill. A rusted metal sign reflected a moment of time when governments actually actively participated in humanitarian aid. The UN insignia again reminded me of how far I had wandered from home. We pulled into the schoolyard and come to a stop. Any vehicle that appears in the schoolyard, seems to be quite the spectacle. The second I got out the car, I instantly felt that I was being “watched” (no, not by the latest CIA’s latest mosquito drone), but by school children. Students who inherited the much sought after window seat watched with curiosity through the brick openings on the exterior wall. These brick openings served as the only light/cooling source for the classrooms. As I unpacked my gear, I wondered how the student reaction would be to a foreigner with a camera. This proved to be no issue at all.

While on lunch recess, the entire school assembled to watch the photography shoot. Academic superstars and teachers would serve as my portrait subjects.  I snapped away as students gained more confidence in their poses after each shutter click.  In the presence of these “professional” models, I felt like the amateur in the arena. The atmosphere was electric. Teachers and students alike strutted their best and it showed. I wasn’t just capturing photographs, I also felt that I captured the close bond of a community. This was evident by the crowd enjoyment and enthusiasm given to each new portrait subject.

Between friendly banter and ongoing laughter, I thought about the Ebola quarantine hut lurking behind me and all the darkness that was draped over these communities not so long ago.  How a community can bounce back from the most recent horrors witnessed is a true showing of strength.