Liberia: Emerging from the Shadows
by Wayne Schoenfeld
New Democracy Productions

"Our liaison from the Minister of Information explained to us that acid attacks on women were, in his words, 'unfortunately common.' The phrase stuck in my head."

Words are often insufficient to truly capture the scope of tragedy, which is one reason why author's work is so effective. It is impossible for a reader to experience this poignant documentary photo book without feeling moved by the suffering that Liberians have endured for so many years. Schoenfeld, a veteran filmmaker, accompanied a humanitarian medical mission comprised of volunteer healthcare providers who wished to offer a glimmer of hope to disfigured patients in war-ravaged Liberia. The volunteers were organized together under Rotaplast International, a group that has provided medical care for more than 20 years to 24 impoverished countries. Their vision was to rid the world of untreated cleft palates; however, the focus of the group has, by necessity, expanded to restoring function to patients who have suffered other calamities, such as severe burns from acid attacks.

The sorry state of healthcare in Liberia and the heartbreaking stories of the individual patients featured in Schoenfeld's work would be sufficient by themselves to convey the desperation of the nation's poverty. However, Schoenfeld also does an impressive job of expanding the focus of the documentary photo book to give a broader view of daily life in Liberia, from worship at a church to the questionable freedom of the press to foreign investments in the country, not to mention the failing school system. The statistics alone are certainly appalling: 200,000 Liberians killed and more than one million displaced by the 14-year civil war instigated by dictator Charles Taylor. However, Schoenfeld understands that quite often, readers are brought to a more complete understanding of a tragedy not by reading statistics, but by catching a glimpse of individual lives and stories. Readers who may be sensitive to graphic and disturbing images should be forewarned; however, Schoenfeld does a masterful job of melding joyous scenes of dancing villagers with heart-wrenching images of disfigurement.

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