Thanks to amazing people in Texas led by philanthropist Nancy Word and filmmaker Seema Mathur, we have been able to bring the possibility of an agriculture revolution to the country of Liberia! After a screening of Seema’s award-winning film Camp 72 in Austin in October 2015, Judge Glenn Bass who was in the audience stepped up to say, “Let’s do something big for Liberia!” He contacted Nancy who brought on her accomplished daughter Emily – and the WE Group, as I affectionately term us, was birthed. We have been in constant conversation the last five months. Thanks to Glenn, we now have the leading agricultural entity on the planet joining with us, the Borlaug Institute, part of Texas A&M University. Our goal – food security and sustainability for this nation, using our grassroots FFWL community network of women, and also very importantly, the development of a cash crop for export which will bring much needed revenue into Liberia. Really fabulous!
For the fourth time, we welcomed a member of the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences to Liberia this month. Corinne trained proprietors and principals from 24 of our partner schools in the latest research-based best practices. Our partnership with Edify has made this possible – thank you my friend Chris Crane and your amazing team! We now have provided microfinance to more than 60 low fee independent schools (LFIS) and touched more than 20,000 students in the last 2 ½ years, even with the 9-month pause due to Ebola, and have many more schools joining with us every day. Amazing!
On the retail microfinance side after more than 15,000 microcredit loans given in this country, we have a new partnership with Change Agent Network, founded by Liberian friend Eric Wowoh. We are committed to providing microfinance to communities where Eric and his team have built low fee independent school, now more than 25 schools in several counties. I visited the first and flagship school this week and was truly blown away by the school, the leadership, and the students, 1000+ many of whom walk up to an hour each way to attend the school. We will provide capital for mothers and aunties and sisters and others to help them build businesses to make money to pay for school fees and transport and food at school and… Joy!
Education is growingly becoming our impact in Liberia via microfinance. The Foundation for Women Liberian’s impact is significant enough here now to be welcomed to the Ministry of Education last Friday. I presented a proposal to them from Edify and FFWL regarding a conversation on the table here to create a public-private-partnership; the government is considering welcoming an entity working in Kenya to Liberia to take over the government schools. We strongly believe we must be in this conversation, due to our decade-long service to Liberia and our now amazing impact on education in this country. We were assured by the Ministry that they would respond to our thoughts.
And then there is our energy impact – we are helping to bring solar power to Liberia, where 85% of the people have no regular access to electricity (or running water or sanitation or employment…)! After transforming one very special K-12 girls school into the first ever in the country “high technology school for girls” recently, many of our other school partners want the same solar technology to replace their expensive generator-generated power. We have found a solar company partner for this – and for the creation of “solar ladies” in rural communities, much like microfinance “cell phone ladies” brought telephone communication to rural areas decades ago.
February has been an astonishing month here in Liberia – pinch me – so much gratitude and joy, thank you God. And as I prepare to leave once again soon, my heart is full of both joy and sadness… I know my role this lifetime is to share the stories of those here, to be the voice for those whose voices are not heard… And the contrast – Liberia to La Jolla. As my dear sister here, Dr. Angela Benson says, “It is just too much…”
How can we as one human family really join hands with each other? How can we stop building bigger walls and bigger ladders? How can we realize we are all connected, that there is no “them and us”, only we?
As I am finishing this, I just received a call from my dear friend Foday Gallah, an Ebola survivor and one of 2014’s TIME Magazine Person of the Year. He was checking in on me because I have a cold, the first time ever being sick in Liberia in the last decade of being here. Maybe I attracted the cold because my heart is broken… because I want the world to know Foday and his amazing story… because I want the world to know Steven and the boys who walk the beach in front of the hotel each day trying to sell what they can for school fees… because I want the world to know of the children selling cold water or whatever in the streets every day in order to survive vs being in school… because I want the world to know we are all in this together, that when some of us are not OK, none of us are OK…
Thank you for believing in me and the Foundation for Women and the work for more than 20 years now – none of the goodness we have been able to create would have been possible without you… I am forever grateful.
With great love and appreciation from Liberia ~ Deborah