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. They are also, along with the WTYSL team, helping young women leaders attending a “Women’s Leadership Conference” put on by FFW make a movie for their community.
All the days are big now, if we are going to pull this film together on time. We need a narrator and a narration track, and Phil needs to find time, with Alicia and Sebastian and Philippa, to order and splice the various one on one interviews we did with the girls, integrate the ‘B’ roll, ‘hero’ interviews (not to mention we still need to actually do those latter interviews), weave in the visits we made to various Foundation For Women centers…and on and on.
We jump in vans to go to Barrole Burial Ground. The meeting is held in a simple clearing surrounded by their homes. Dirt, cinder blocks, corrugated iron roofs (and windows) are the norm here as elsewhere. No electricity (unless it’s by generator) or indoor plumbing. I’ve been inside a few houses and they are dark in the middle of the day. I haven’t seen a real window; what they use to fill the spaces is tied into place. And yet, when you look at a house long enough, a beautiful woman often comes out. That pride, and their evident optimism for the future shine through the squalor. FFW gives them the resources to help themselves to reach that future faster.
Emily Peal addresses the women, reminding them, as she and Deborah Lindholm have told me many times, “We are not just here for the money; also to help you change your life.” Emily always has them clap for themselves, for what they are doing. Deborah, Ann Lovell, and Barbara Stinson all say something. The ever present noise of babies crying and an enthusiastic rooster plays in the background. Emily has another way to get attention and build affection. She’ll say, “Hello-o!?”, which is always met by “Hi-i!” from her audience. At moments like these it is easy to see a good deal of the reason that FFW works – it is the bond she has with her borrowers. Which also might explain why efforts by non-Liberian NGO’s are very often unsuccessful. Charles Naiwah, FFW’s program director, tells the women “When things get hard, you get hard!”. It’s always hard here.
Next we’re off to Wroto Town. I ask Charles what these women do. He lists pretty much everything: charcoal selling, hair braiding/plaiting, small restaurants and, generally the service industry. We get to the meeting and it’s much the same as before. Charles says, “Every time we come here we see women working hard.” Wroto Town has 45 women in the FFW program. I hear another often repeated mantra: Charles says, “Women, don’t just sit there.” and they lustily reply, “Do something positive with the men!” Their futures really do lie, heavily, on their colorful shoulders.
These speeches and homilies may sound preachy to western ears, but the women at every center love them. The encouragement FFW, and especially ‘Mommy’ Peal, gives them buoys each time. Deborah and Ann talk the talk, but they have also proven to these women, over many years, that they walk the walk as well. They have not written a check and gone back to cushy lives never to return, but rather have come back over and over to help.
Ann Lovell brings 6 or more suitcases with her to Liberia. She distributes pencils and pens here, and helps supply many other centers as well as stocking FFW HQ. She says, “I keep coming back. I see your work. I see you raise yourself up and I am so proud of you.”
Back at FFW HQ, we spend the rest of the day brainstorming on the narration track. We had several options for whom to choose as narrator, but Martha Daniels spoke up and just said, “I’ll do it.” She is the oldest of the team, has had one of the hardest roads, and is our first college graduate. Speaking up shows leadership. Now Martha is furiously taking notes.
Up next – the girls interview the women they admire most. One more movie production task to cross off the list!