JONI AVERILL

46 years later, Winterport Peace Corps volunteers reach out again

Posted March 17, 2011, at 9:59 p.m.
Last modified May 13, 2011, at 9:37 a.m.

Since early January I have been in contact with Brian Richardson of Winterport, waiting for him to give me the word that it is time to tell the beautifully compelling story of how he and his wife, Marsha, are working to make a difference in the life of a teenager from Liberia in West Africa.

Just this week, Brian informed me he is ready to tell that story and, by so doing, hopes that others will want to contribute to this life-altering experience for their courageous young friend.

The Richardsons have made extensive plans to bring her to this country for corrective foot surgery and have established an irrevocable trust to help in that effort, hoping to raise $50,000.

From 1964 to 1966, Brian was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, and it was there he met Marsha.

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In the intervening 46 years, the couple has maintained close relationships with their Liberian friends, but Brian had not returned until 2008.

“Despite the passage of years and the ravages of a 20-year civil war,” he wrote, “I found myself, once again, utterly at home in this country of warm and welcoming people.”

Traveling with a Liberian friend to his home village of Dialah in Nimba County, the men stopped at the small settlement of Doupu Village, near the Ivory Coast border.

It was there, Brian explained, that he noticed a young girl who was 13 at the time and, obviously, living with a severe handicap.

“She was very crippled and walked only with the aid of a pole that she hugged and used as a tripod for walking, sort of like poling a boat,” Brian wrote.

“The pole, a stick about 2 inches in diameter, was polished to a shine by her hands.

“Her leg muscles were atrophied. She walked on the side of her left foot and on the extreme tops of the toes of her right.”

Her name is Diaworseh ( pronounced dee-a-wor’-sah) Doupu and just the sight of her, as the men drove away with the children waving farewell, brought Brian to tears.

“Her plight touched that place in me of empathy and feelings, and I couldn’t forget her,” he wrote.

For the past three years, Brian and Marsha have stayed in contact with Diaworseh’s family and, with their permission, arranged to have the girl examined by a Massachusetts General Hospital pediatrician serving at the JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city.

Following her first-ever visit with a physician, Brian explained, Diaworseh was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“Despite this diagnosis,” Brian wrote, “we were told that surgery and physical therapy could improve Diaworseh’s ability to walk, increase her mobility and enhance her ability to lead a full life.”

With the family’s consent and encouragement, the Richardsons began the arduous task of arranging to bring Diaworseh to Mass. General in Boston for that surgery.

After arranging for visas, passports, housing in a Boston-area home and a matron to accompany Diaworseh, that journey is about to begin.

Brian explained the Liberian government has granted the Richardsons legal guardianship “to look after Diaworseh’s best interests, to make needed medical decisions during her stay and to make arrangements” for a safe return trip home.

This month, Brian will travel to Liberia to bring Diaworseh to the United States to begin her treatment.

To help with transportation and living expenses, The Diaworseh Doupu Trust has been established at TDBank in Bangor, with two independent trustees overseeing the trust.

Pledges of more than $18,000 have been made to date, and contributions can be made by completing a pledge form at www.HelpLiberianTeen.com or by making out a check to the Diaworseh Doupu Trust and mailing it to trustee Geoffrey Gordon, 22 Hamlin St., Orono 04473-3826.

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