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 “All Liberian Women’s Summit” put on by FFW make a movie for their community.
“The challenges are many, but the possibilities are endless.”
“Education is the way out.”
“Since the war I don’t care about material things.”
– Wisdom from Emily Peal
I have spent a lot of time with ‘Mommy’ Peal over the last two weeks. She gave up a comfortable life in Temecula, California to come back to her ripped up country and help put it back together. Since then a tiny operation with 5 borrowers has spread across most of Liberia and grown to a mid-sized organization helping 3,000 women. The ambition of the Foundation For Women (FFW) is to continue to grow and empower 10’s of thousands more through microcredit.
This is a big day for all of us, and at FFW HQ all the girls are dressed to impress. It is our last full day with them, these ten young women for whom I’ve come to have real affection. Each has her own special qualities, smiles, changing hairstyles, moods, ideas, and opinions. Each has grown in the last week. Opened up more, laughed and cried, teased each other and with the five of us herding them around, told us their life histories. Some have told us of being beaten. They have revealed goals, dreams, and fears. I think that they believe in themselves a bit more than a week ago; believe they can help shape the future of Liberia.
These beautiful young women goes, almost every night of their lives, to a quality of dwelling almost none of us can imagine calling home. This is part of what Emily Peal and the FFW are working tirelessly to change.
We head to the Chrisseta Beauty Institute first to meet Christine Tour. She began learning cosmetology in a refugee camp. She was lucky to have a sponsor, the same kind of helping hand FFW gives through their loans. Like our afternoon interviewee she says ‘I never forgot how I got here’. Like other role models we’ve talked to she never gave up, never lost track of her dreams. Wilhelmina interviews her but all the girls are here at the studio chiming in, sitting knee to knee in between the students. We find out Christine keeps her studio going by herself. She makes enough at the Institute to go out on the street, gain confidence of ‘no hope’ girls and give them the same training for free. It’s her way of giving back. She’s a great role model.
Next we interview Hawa Sesay’s hero Caroline Carada. Caroline is a sturdy woman with a no frills hair cut. She’s dressed in jeans and works for an NGO called International Alert. She describes herself as a simple person. She and Hawa have had a long relationship and early on Hawa resented Caroline correcting and reprimanding her. In the last year she came to realize that Caroline was just looking out for her and giving her good advice. Caroline says she is very happy and surprised to have had such an impact on Hawa. Caroline had to struggle through a teenage pregnancy and poverty, but she persevered with the help of her mom and sister, going to night school and never giving up. She tells Hawa there is no magic to success, to be a self-starter, and to take the initiative. She says, “You don’t learn everything by being taught.” She speaks of her poverty and says, “There is nothing I cannot eat!”. Lastly, she says she is not impressed by what people have unless she knows how they got it. Good lessons all, and I think it speaks to Hawa’s maturity that she is recently mature enough to receive it.
Tomorrow is the “All Liberian Women’s Summit” where we meet Liberia’s president, the first elected female head of state in Africa!