Phil is in Liberia documenting the work of Foundation for Women (FFW), an organization that strives to continually support and encourage impoverished women, both globally and locally, by funding and creating microcredit programs. A longtime supporter of Phil and his work, Kevin Castner is traveling with him and reporting back to us from the field.
Even though it was a national holiday, Liberian Independence Day, Emily Peal has persuaded Charles Niawah and Arthur Tamba to take us to interview two of our young women participating in the Women’s Leadership Conference at their homes as they prepare to take part in the festivities.
We drive out to the district of Bardnesville to visit Caroline Armah. It is another pothole adventure with the van bouncing around like we’re in a pinball game. Potholes here put country roads in the developed world to shame. They are really obstacle courses, broad and deep. Caroline’s house has a countryside feel to it. There is a well, and a shaded lawn. The house is very modest and dark; they have no electricity. In a small corner just inside the door Phil films her helping her aunt make a charcoal fire to cook the meal they’ll have to celebrate. Caroline sprinkles water she just got from the well outside onto the coal embers on the floor. Phil wants to interview her, and Caroline looks great, but he asks her to change into the clothes she normally wears around the house.
An aside. Liberian women dress in colors bright enough to take your breath away. You have to remind yourself that they are poor. I mention this impression to Emily and she talks about the difference in fabric quality and that most women buy at the lowest end of the spectrum. I talk about it to Deborah Lindholm and she says, “They have no beauty except what they create”. She also reminds me that when the women of Liberia marched for peace in 2003, recounted in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, they wore only white.
Phil asks Caroline why she wants to become a doctor. She says her father died because they couldn’t treat him here in Liberia and that inspired her to work hard so that, in the future, nobody in Liberia will have to die because of lack of adequate medical attention.
We get back in the vans, negotiate our way around the obstacles, and drive to Point Four to meet Asalyne Browne. She lives just off the Point Four highway, and traffic rumbles right past her front door. Asalyne’s mom is the connection to FFW. Her mom uses her loan to buy bundles of used quilts that she displays to all the foot traffic on the highway. She buys a bundle of quilts for about $175US, turns it over every two weeks or so, and clears about $20 per bundle. That’s $40US per month or about $500US a year, not a bad business here. But that’s not all. In another room fronting the main road she has also started a free school. The school meets five days a week for two sessions a day. They teach computers, but they have only one desktop. They teach sewing but two of the four machines are broken. They also teach baking, catering, decorating and hairstyling. Their students range in age from 18 to 50 and are 75% women. Lydia Browne is a dynamo. No wonder her daughter Asalyne is a leader.
Up next – the girl’s begin production on their movie!