Hidell and Associates Architects travels to Liberia
December 6, 2013

Day One - The delegation from the US upon arrival at Roberts International Airport (ROB), informally known as Robertsfield located near the town of Harbel (a single runway) is about 35 miles (56 km) outside of the nation's capital of Monrovia. The team was greeted by an overwhelming, energized, and enthusiastic group of 40(+) young teens from the local Y. Wow! What better way to start off our week long journey.

December 7, 2013

Day Two - The delegation from the US joined and participated in the Liberia YMCA 46th Membership Campaign thru the streets of Monrovia, Liberia; with loud music, cheers, laughter and smiles, the volunteers were delivering their message to all to hear that the Y can strengthen communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Ending at the outdoor stadium a warm reception of enthusiastic kids, motivational speakers, and inspirational dancers enhanced the overall experience. At the conclusion new members were able to register culminating in a successful membership drive.

Following the membership drive the delegation continued on venturing thru the streets of Monrovia via two land rovers taking in the busy sights and sounds on their way to the Youth Camp in Todee, lower Margibi County. Navigating the undulating, pothole paved and dirt road surfaces the lead land rover takes an unfortunate turn and breaks the front axle of the vehicle. The US delegation troopers that they are piled in the remaining vehicle (only 7 minutes away - we were told), continued on for another 35 minutes. Finally, arriving at Camp Todee, the competition of 'sport' was fully underway with youth activities being played (volleyball, basketball and soccer).

The Liberia YMCA Youth Camp in Todee is one of Liberia YMCA's infrastructures it is enhancing and redeveloping so that they can accommodate nearly 100 campers. With the assistance from the US YMCAs and the YMCA of Greater Toronto, the camp has undergone a major transformation, with the completion of a dormitory that can host 50 campers, a conference hall, offices and a kitchen. A new dormitory is under construction to host an additional 40 campers.

December 8, 2013

Day Three - The esteemed delegation from the US, Glen Gunderson and two of his key volunteers (Fred Friswold and Mick Johnson), two architects from Dallas (Bill Hidell and Tony Blaas) and Tom Valentine traveled today along the outskirts of the rain forest thru the 1,000,000 acres of Firestone's rubber tree plantation to visit Royesville, the community where the YMCA of Liberia is building a high school with a $243,000 estate gift that the Y received from the late Rebecca James this year.

Royesville is a settlement community comprised of displaced people from many ethnic groups around the country. It is 90 minutes from Monrovia. 30 minutes of the journey is down a degraded dirt road. There is no high school closer than 45 minutes away and several elephant sized potholes with knee deep pools of water along the way. (No broken axle today)

The primary school was completely destroyed in the civil war and re-built a decade ago. It is a humble building serving 400 kids in 7 classrooms. Only families that can afford it send their kids to high school where they live outside their homes. Most youth, as a result, end their education before the 9th grade.

The community and school leaders were unbelievably grateful when they met us. 22 villages will send youth there. They are working closely with the Y and Ministry of Education to construct the school, find teachers and open it in time for the new school year in September. The Y here is doing a great job convening everyone to execute the plan on time. Once the school is built the Y will help create a Hi-Y Club and provide reproductive health and sports programs.

It is special when so many stars align. Who would have thought that the vision of an elderly woman who immigrated to the US over 40 years ago, a kind New York lawyer, two national offices in the US and Liberia and an African Ministry of Education would come together to make such a huge difference in so many lives. Thanks to all of you who helped make this happen.

Comments credited too...

Tom Valentine

Vice President of the YMCA of USA International

December 9, 2013

Day Four - Another day of site seeing on the agenda, first the US delegation departs for the YMCA Center in Paynesville. Upon arrival the Paynesville YMCA School, GSA Road Community students were thriving with excitement from grades 3 thru 9. With each year having an increased enrollment and pinched at the seams for space, the center broke ground for a new annex on February 15, 2013. Construction was underway on the new classroom wing.

Next stop, the team travels west to the southeasterly base of the peninsula to the independent township of Congo Town the proposed location for the new Maye Howell Community YMCA Center. The two city lots on which the facility is to be built was the location of the family home of the Howells (family of the first US fraternal secretary to the Liberia YMCA, David Howell, 1946); and hosts the remains of Maye Howell, wife of David Howell. Pete Howell, son of David Howell, and wife, Luesette, graciously travelled to Monrovia from Trinidad and Tobago in October 2013 to transfer the title of the property to the Liberia YMCA for the project.

Currently a main house, a wood-working shed, retail / barber shop and other living quarters resides on the site which is bounded by a masonry wall on two sides and to the west a Muslim School. The US delegation was overtaken by (20+) neatly unformed students, each wanting to have their picture taken and of course the US delegation was eager to adhere too.

The new facility will allow the Y to grow with the youth bulge for generations to come, and keep the promise their founders made to Liberia in 1881. They intend to provide access to about 40,000 youth and residents per year with services in health and wellness programs, sports and recreation, arts, peace and cultural education and trainings at the new Maye Howell Community YMCA in Congo Town, Old Road.

Final stop - the YMCA Headquarters. The YMCA headquarter facility was dedicated in 1954 in Central Monrovia which serves over 50,000 users a year (at least 200 users per work day). It hosts the largest annual vacation children development program in Monrovia for over 800 kids; and the largest low cost youth computer training program (over 1,000 learners per 4-month cycles); and hosts the YMCA administrative offices. Its indoor gym hosts games and practice sessions of university teams, basketball and volleyball leagues. The facility's conference hall hosts seminars, workshops, and community events. This facility is non-stop buzz of activity.

Concluding the tour of the headquarters the delegation held sessions with key YMCA Staff and volunteers to discuss and review the proposed architectural concept of the new Maye Howell Community Center. The Team challenged the attendees to strategize and be innovative in their efforts and development of the capital campaign plan.

December 10, 2013

Day Five - The morning brings another day of sunshine, humidity and warm temperatures and the delegation is enthusiastic to meet with leaders of national youth organizations, government leaders and leaders of key corporations concluding with a dinner and presentation at the house of Liberia Vice President Joseph N. Boakai.

With the team poised to meet as many NGO's prior to the dinner the team divides and Tony Blaas (Hidell Architects) departs to the Vice President house to set-up for the evening presentation. Time is of the essence, (picked up at 4:00) once again traveling thru the congested streets (rush hour - all the time) the sounds of honking (this time different from the continual honking during any other travels along with finger pointing) something must be wrong - vehicle problems. As we pull to the side of the road we discover a large metal panel hanging from the underside of the car by one last nut and bolt. Time is the essence and the determination of Steve (the driver) the metal panel remains attached hanging upside down. Were set to travel again... but for only 50 yds before the sound from underneath becomes over bearing we must pull over again. Assisted by 5 young men with a single wrench the piece is off and we are on our way... however the sound is worse...what is the problem? Once again time has been of the essence and we have lost all time and we are late. Focused on our destination we continue on without stopping, sounds blaring from the car, honks blaring for us to stop, no air conditioning, smells of diesel and burning of trash on the side of the road, and we are only traveling 10 MPH. We finally make it... but the excitement does not stop there.

Upon arrival at the Vice President House 'protective operations' was clearly enforced outside with several UN military and security detail providing the utmost in protection to the residence of the Vice President. Exiting the vehicle I am informed immediately to "wait" on the other side of the road prior to proceeding to the security checkpoint. Waiting in the humid air (5) black SUV's quickly arrive at the front of the grounds apparently escorting the Vice President after a 5 hour memorial and reflective service to mark the passing of Mr. Nelson Mandela.

Time has passed and I am cleared to cross the road.

Security Checkpoint: A 5'x6' concrete block room housing a security officer and (6 guys); [(2) military personnel and (4) guests]. With zero cross ventilation the temperature within the close confines of the room begins to rise. As the military personnel are inspected, I patiently wait with the box identified as "fragile" which has traveled over 8,000 miles with no incident...yet. The military personnel are cleared and I'm next. "WHAT IS IN THE BOX?" Frantically, trying to unscrew (12) screws, dripping with perspiration, and each screw harder to get out then the previous, the model is exposed. "PLEASE TAKE IT OUT". More beads of perspiration and two more screws to be removed the security officer begins to meticulously examine the model (top, sides, and bottom)...and finally he approves. Now it appears that time is of the essence with the security officer. He insists that I must partially re-secure the model back into the box and move onto the remaining presentation materials. After unwrapping all of the boards and 30 brochures... now it is time to review the items contained within the backpack...camera -- ok, Ipad -- ok, diabetic equipment...ok. HEY! I AM CLEARED!

Behind schedule, now it is time to set-up for the evening presentation and dinner. Everyone now hustling to set tables, caterers setting up food, security detail removing vehicles, I begin to wonder where the rest of the US delegation is.

As time gets closer, guests are arriving and still no sign of the US delegation...but wait, here they are; beverages in hand, they appear well relaxed and no perspiration. Oh...Bill says they have been inside, comfortably conversing with the VP while the feature English premier soccer game is being played.

As everyone settled to their seats, prior to dinner several speakers including the Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Mr. Gboe, CEO-Liberia YMCA, Tom Valentine, Vice President of the YMCA USA International, Bill Hidell, CEO of Hidell Architects, Kenneth Y. Best, and the Honorable T. Nelson, spoke of their experiences with the Y, and how the Liberia Y continues to be a people's centered organization that will continue to provide the best services to improve their conditions and development. At the conclusion, the model of the new Maye Howell Community YMCA Center was unveiled which was followed by local Liberian dancers performing traditional music and dance. WHAT A DAY!

December 11, 2013

Day Six - (Departure Day) After an adventurous day before, the US delegation wakes up to another sunny and warm day (much different from the pass days of weather back in Dallas with 1-2 inches of ice & freezing rain and 16-22 degrees F with snow in Chicago and the Twin Cities)...Brrrgh...the warm weather has been nice!

After a final breakfast at the Mamba Point Hotel of fresh fruit, toast, pancakes, eggs, made-to-order omelets, juice and coffee we are off to the YMCA Headquarters for a final debriefing session. Team members from the Twin Cities leads a morning filled with motivational discussions with the YMCA board, staff and other NGS' regarding next steps, action items, tasks and strategies for the upcoming efforts on the Capital Campaign for the new Maye Howell Community YMCA Center.

Concluding our spirited discussions and lunch, waiting outside are (2) land rovers ready to take the US delegation to the Roberts International Airport (ROB). Leaving 4 1/2 hours prior to our flight...we all feel we have plenty of time...as long as we can get thru the congested traffic, don't have car problems and restroom breaks are limited (to the side of the road).

The airport is busy, crowds everywhere, lines are long...we are all anxious and it's time to hustle and get in-line to wait.

  • Checkpoint#1 - Stand in line...weigh bags and get luggage tag for carry-on.
  • Checkpoint#2 - Stand in line...wait to be allowed into terminal - only two people at a time. (Noah's Ark)
  • Checkpoint #3 - Stand in line...present passport/visa...verify travel plans
  • Checkpoint #4 - Stand in line...present passport/visa...check-in bags and receive boarding pass
  • Checkpoint #5 - Stand in line...present passport/visa at Customs/Immigrations
  • Checkpoint #6 - Stand in line...take-off shoes, belts, & watch; take out Ipad...transportation security officer appears that he can bench 500lbs.
    • Proceed thru security detectors.
    • Put shoes, belt, & watch on; put all other items back into carry-on.
  • Checkpoint #7 - Stand in line...present passport/visa/boarding pass (again?)
  • Checkpoint #8 - Stand in line...take-off shoes, belts, & watch; take out Ipad...security officer performs full patdown and searches all contents within carry-on (again?).
    • Put shoes, belt, & watch on
    • Put all other items back into carry-on.
  • Checkpoint #9 - Stand in line...present passport/visa/boarding pass (once again)

CLEARED thru Security...2(+) Hours later..."Note to self, remember on next trip" there are NO restrooms in the waiting area to board, must start back at Checkpoint #3 to go to the restroom. (30 minutes to board, flight is leaving 30 minutes early)

It was clear after our week long stay that the YMCA, YMCA staff, board and supporters has continued their mission in empowering young people, transforming communities, creating hope and providing care, every day. The Liberia YMCA is a life changing experience. We look forward to our return trip.


YMCA & Partners announce New Community YMCA in Monrovia


The Liberia YMCA is expected to begin the construction of a multi-purpose community youth center in Congo Town/Old road community, Monrovia if all goes well with plans and arrangements with its local and international partners.

This was made known at a news conference in Monrovia by the National General Secretary of the Liberia YMCA, E. Edward Gboe and the Vice President of the International Division of the US YMCA, Tom Valentine


Bill Hidell travels to Liberia, West Africa


December 2011

Bill Hidell travels to Liberia, West Africa to gather information and begin a feasibility study and analysis for designing a new YMCA of Monfovia, a multisport complex for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and future multipurpose YMCA community centers. These would incorporate the Four Centers of Hope. "Providing the required infrastructure needed for the various youth programs to be successful will be a challenge, but highly rewarding." said Mr. Hidell.


Hidell Architects presents the new Maye Howell Community Center


The inaugural partners of the YMCA of USA International, DonamiSport, Hidell and Associates Architects and Zoewe Construction have once again embarked to Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa (December 5 thru December 12, 2013) to meet with various NGO’s, potential corporate sponsors, staff, YMCA Board of Directors and the Vice President of Liberia regarding the potential development of a new YMCA Youth Center in Congo Town/Old Road – the Maye Howell Community YMCA, where young people will grow to reach their potential (and where communities will come together) through sports, recreation, health and wellness, education, arts, peace and cultural programs.


Conceptual Presentations
See our other exciting work in Liberia with the Four Centers of Hope