by Alessandra Incerti, Africa & Caribbean Programme Co-ordinator
Today 26 July 2017 is the 170th anniversary of Independence for Liberia. By coincidence, 170 weeks have passed between my first and latest visits there.
When I joined Y Care International in November 2013, the main project I had to manage was in Liberia. What did I know about Liberia? It’s in West Africa, a region I particularly like. The first independent country in Africa, it had never been colonised by a European nation – that was exciting.
Liberia was governed by a woman, the first female president in Africa – that sounded pretty civilised. After a war lasting many years, the country was on the road for recovery and our project would contribute to this!
I visited Liberia on 1 April 2014, and what did I find? A country where the memory of the war was still very present in people’s minds and hearts and in ruins scattered across the country. But the willingness to get over it was even stronger. Not a willingness to forget – but to create something positive.
Two things always strike me about Liberians – their pride and passion
They are proud because they know they can make a difference. Henrietta, a young woman I met on this visit, told me about working as a peer educator during the Ebola epidemic:
“It was difficult to go around and raise awareness on the disease. We were scared. But we had no choice. Without us, people would not have the knowledge and more people would have died”.
We’re supporting Henrietta with our slum upgrading project in West Point, Monrovia. She has been able to start a shoe & bag business and was elected ‘Miss YMCA’ in a recent contest organised by the project team. Why? Because she was the best to speak about the project and inspire community members.
Liberians are passionate about what they do – and they’re able to share this passion! Jennifer, another young woman I met on this visit, learned how to make soap:
“We want to learn but the facility is not there, the money is not there … [with the project] we can learn, and with what we learn, we can earn money for ourselves and we can empower others. I never knew how to [make soap]. People are impressed and I encourage them to also learn”.
So many Liberians have inspired me. There’s Morris, whose life has not been easy but he is grateful for the opportunities given by the YMCA. He’s determined to make the most of it – for himself, as breadwinner for twelve siblings and his child, and for the YMCA itself.