The Power of Hope

Arthur Crusoe GS’18 has lived through two civil wars, years of political corruption, and the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. But in his mission to improve rural education in Liberia, he’s never lost sight of one thing: hope.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, content specialist

September 13, 2018 | 1:45 p.m.

Arthur Crusoe Headshot

"Part of what I want to do is expose the children to the rest of what they can become," says Arthur Crusoe GS '18, who is working to improve rural education in Zondo Town, Liberia. (Photo credit: AJ Barrett '21)

Buildings are reduced to rubble and ash. All that remains are traditional huts and a jagged segment of the school Arthur Crusoe attended as a child, a brick-and-mud memorial of a simpler, safer life. It would’ve been hard to believe then, in the aftermath of Liberia’s second civil war, that the village school would one day stand again, that Crusoe would become its principal, and that he would go on to enroll in Bethel University’s M.A. in Education K–12 program.

Hard to believe, that is, for most everyone except Crusoe, who has built his life on a foundation of hope in the face of difficult circumstances. Hailing from a rural village called Zondo Town, Crusoe grew up deep in the jungle, about 150 miles southeast of the nation’s seaside capital city of Monrovia. Without electrical grids, sewers, and running water, life—and education—in the village is challenging.

“We’re not exposed to a lot of opportunities in Zondo,” says Crusoe, who has spent most of his adult life working to improve rural education. “Part of what I want to do is expose the children to the rest of what they can become.”

With seven older siblings and plenty of support in his village, Crusoe never imagined pursuing opportunities outside of Zondo—until the war came. From 1989 until 2003, Liberia was engulfed in political violence that claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people. Two of Crusoe’s siblings were killed, and another watched his home burn to the ground. Crusoe had little choice but to leave for the city, because, as he soberly puts it, “Nobody knows what happens in the woods.”

By the time the war ended, Crusoe had earned a biblical studies degree from African Bible College and begun teaching at a Methodist school. He might not have returned to Zondo if it weren’t for Family of Hope, a U.S.-based nonprofit—founded in part by Bethel’s Dean of Arts and Humanities Barrett Fisher and his wife, Amy—that asked Crusoe to help revive the spirit of education that once existed in his rural community.

Although he had established a life in the city, Crusoe felt the tug of hope. He agreed to participate in the Herculean effort put forth by the residents of Zondo, who loaded hundreds of metal beams and 50-pound bags of cement into a makeshift canoe, paddled them across the river, and carried them five miles through the jungle to rebuild the school of Crusoe’s childhood.

School Assembly with Arthur

Crusoe wants his students to have the same opportunities Bethel has afforded him, and he knows it all starts with electricity. Citing a precedent in Tanzania, Crusoe has developed and presented a proposal to harness solar energy in Zondo.

Now, 12 years later, Crusoe is still working to provide quality education for rural children as principal of Gianda Elementary and Junior High, where there are too few desks, outdated textbooks, and little more than a chalkboard to use as classroom “technology.” He recently decided it was time for a sabbatical—both to rest and recharge, and to research the best practices for rural education—and his first thought was Bethel University.

Crusoe had visited Bethel once before, to speak at the 2011 Moberg Reconciliation Conference about the trauma he experienced during Liberia’s civil war and his journey toward forgiveness. Remembering the depth of thought and kindness of the students with whom he interacted, Crusoe emailed Fisher to inquire about the possibility of enrolling in a graduate program—with neither the money to pay for tuition nor the technology and housing to facilitate his studies. 

It was a big ask, but Fisher didn’t hesitate. He and his wife invited Crusoe to share their home for the duration of the 15-month program, and after a series of meetings with Graduate School deans, Fisher arranged for Crusoe to receive a full scholarship, a personal laptop, and several face-to-face, hands-on opportunities to observe rural education in Minnesota—something that helped contextualize his fully online program.

“Sometimes, in the midst of our own struggles, we forget how affluent and privileged we are compared to many other places in the world,” Fisher says. “Education is an incredibly powerful transformer of lives and societies, and by inviting brothers and sisters like Arthur to participate in our programs, we can multiply Bethel's impact throughout the world.”

Barrett Fischer with Zondo Town Boy

Dean of Arts and Humanities Barrett Fisher and his wife, Amy, helped start Family of Hope—a U.S.-based nonprofit—after a Liberian couple from their church began looking to rebuild rural schools that had been destroyed during the civil war.

Crusoe says his communication and technology skills have markedly improved, but the most valuable part of his Bethel education has been the radical shift in his understanding of leadership. Where he once drew boundaries based on positional power, he now seeks to lead and influence through relationship—a lesson he hopes to impart to other educational leaders in Liberia.

“Not only does an advanced degree better equip Arthur for leadership in Zondo, it also creates credibility with the educational community throughout Liberia,” Fisher says. “I hope that what he is able to take back to Zondo is not only a vision for the future, but a concrete plan for translating some of the best practices he has learned here into an action plan for Zondo and its teachers.”

Because one of Crusoe’s greatest desires is to empower his students to explore the world beyond their village, he’s actively working on ways to bring modern technology to Zondo. Inspired by the success of a school in Tanzania, Crusoe has drafted and presented a plan to harness solar energy in the village, which would power laptops and allow his students to converse with people all over the world. “I’m dreaming big dreams,” he says. “If it can happen in Tanzania, why not here? I believe God is going to open doors, and wherever He leads, I will follow.”

Ten years ago, Zondo Town wasn’t accessible by road. Now, with the help of Family of Hope, it has a motored canoe, a path for vehicles, and even local healthcare. If recent progress is any indication, Crusoe may be able to swap his chalkboard for a SmartBoard before the next decade is up. Until then, he’ll do what he does best: rely on an abundant reservoir of hope.

Learn more about Zondo Town and education in Liberia

Read more about Arthur Crusoe's journey and the history of Zondo Town in the Summer 2018 issue of the Bethel Magazine.

Learn more