Disability and Poverty in Liberia
Not everyone with a disability is poor, but countless studies have shown that a large number of those in poverty have at least one disability, ranging from physical to mental types of disabilities. Since those with disabilities require significant access to healthcare, the cost of medical treatments can pose a challenge. Additionally, disabled people frequently find it challenging to access housing, find employment or afford food. A strong connection exists between disability and poverty in Liberia, as is the case with other countries.

Disability and Poverty in Liberia

Liberia is a country along the southern part of the west coast of Africa, which Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire surround. It has a population of approximately 4.9 million. The country is Africa’s first republic and is the only African country to never have experienced colonial rule.

From 1999-2003, Liberia endured a harsh civil war. Public Services International believes that this war may have contributed to the increase of disability in Liberia from an initially reported 16% in 1997 to nearly 20%, which is significantly higher than the world’s average at 10%. Of those with disabilities in Liberia, “61% have a mobility disability, 24% are visually impaired, 7% are deaf, and 8% have an intellectual or psychosocial disability.” According to Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope, 99% of the 48% in poverty in Liberia are those with disabilities.

Non-accommodating infrastructure and social attitudes based on stigmas play a large part in disadvantaging the disabled community in Liberia. Many cannot exercise the basic right to an education, leading then to unemployment. The author Morgan Ashenfelter wrote that “educational facilities do not cater to their needs, employment is difficult to find, sidewalks barely exist in the city and most businesses and government buildings do not even have a ramp. . . . in addition, some disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or missing limbs, are stigmatized, as they are associated negatively with the war.” 

Addressing Disability and Poverty in Liberia

In the years since the end of Liberia’s civil war, the country has taken steps toward listening to and protecting its disabled population. Liberia established the National Commission on Disabilities in 2005, an organization focused on creating policies to aid disabled Liberian people. In the 12th Session of the United Nations Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, Liberia announced that it adopted a National Action Plan for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The goal of this plan was to promote the welfare and rights of the disabled in Liberia, while also aiming to include them in the governance process and provide them with financial assistance through social security. Liberia is also planning on including sign language as a required course from elementary school to college.

In December 2018, the Liberia Labor Congress held a joint workshop with the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities to discuss the issue of providing work for those with disabilities. Ideally, this work should be able to lift the majority out of poverty, while addressing the lack of significant progress in the last decade and the discrimination that kept many with disabilities out of the workforce.

Looking Ahead

A significant link exists between disability and poverty in Liberia, though it is evident that Liberia is working to change that. The disabled community is among the most vulnerable communities, and it is important that they receive equal opportunities to their non-disabled peers. Liberia is continuing to take steps toward addressing the social stigma and disadvantages that its disabled community experiences.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

Ending Period Poverty
Unfortunately, 1.2 billion women and adolescents cannot afford menstrual products each year. Period poverty can encompass the lack of water, sanitation, hygienic products and education, putting women of all ages at risk. Approximately 500 million women and adolescents have trouble accessing menstrual products in developed and developing countries, including Liberia. Here is some information about the state of period poverty in Liberia.

About Period Poverty in Liberia

Periods do not only take a physical toll on women and adolescents, they also impact women’s mental health. This particularly occurs when these women are just hitting puberty.

Joyce Nimely, an alumnus of Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), shed light on how mental health and periods align with one another. The Liberian native said that “I learned that menstruation causes serious problems for women and girls physically and emotionally. It results in mood swings, it is painful, and causes changes in the body.” Nimely defined the most detrimental aspect of period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products. This challenge frequently leads to women and girls missing out on work and school.

Limited Hygiene Products

A lack of hygienic products causes one in five girls to skip school or drop out to avoid chances of ruining their only school uniform or because this fact caused their uniform to be ruined. In the country, the majority of women have suffered from gender violence at home. Period poverty increases the risk of experiencing gender violence by 20%, with women and adolescents staying home because they do not have the essentials to maintain their period.

One in four women struggles to purchase period products. Joyce Nimely addressed what girls and women do if they cannot access hygienic products in her YES program story. The Alumnus wrote that “Many young girls in Liberia don’t have money to buy sanitary products because of its high price. Girls and women often end up using materials like newspapers, tissue, and rags. These materials cause womb cancer, infections and other diseases that may hinder pregnancy or childbirth.” However, the desperations for fundamental human rights go further than what Joyce Nimely mentions. A lack of period products leads Liberian women to use corn husks, dirtbags and animal feces as alternative products for maintaining cycles. These homemade period products lead to poor health and death because Liberian women cannot stay clean without hygienic materials and do not always have proper education on self-care.

The #GiveAPad and #FreeThePeriod Campaigns

Women from Liberia have developed organizations to help Liberian women and girls. Joyce Nimely strongly believes that menstruation should not get in the way of a girl’s education. This influenced her to build a team of Liberian people who previously worked in the YES program or had an interest in ending period poverty. The group formed the #GiveAPad and #FreeThePeriod campaigns. These campaigns consisted of them going door to door to receive donations of traditional and reusable sanitary pads.

Nimely described the origin story of her movement stating that “With the knowledge I had in making reusable sanitary pads, I realized it’s an asset that could be used in the mission to end period poverty because it could serve as an alternative when regular pads aren’t available…Since I wouldn’t always be available to make pads for these girls, my team and I decided to teach them how to make their own reusable sanitary pads.” Thus, Joyce Nimely and her team selflessly taught valuable skills that would improve the lives of multiple girls in her home country.

Miss Therchie Williams and the Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative

Miss Therchie Willams from Maryland County, Liberia, toured 22 communities in Liberia to distribute sanitary pads and educate other girls about menstrual hygiene. She was able to do this with the help of the Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative. This nongovernmental organization teaches women to advocate and improves the quality of life for low-income women and children of Africa. Miss Philanthropy focuses on empowerment, the value of creations and the progression of platforms that impact Liberia’s development.

Another woman who stepped up to the plate is Grace Clarke. Grace Clarke grew up in Monrovia, Liberia getting a first-hand experience of period poverty. Clarke said “That was definitely an experience that made me understand the significance of the lack of pads and period products of my hometown. It was something I could relate to.” Clarke is now the founder of PADS for Girls, and with the help of her sister, she was able to get 176-period products in nine Liberia communities.

Period poverty in Liberia is prevalent leaving Liberian women and girls at risk, but various organizations are restoring their human rights one step at a time.

– Alexis Jones

Photo: Flickr

Polio Vaccines in Liberia
After enduring a surge in COVID-19 cases during the month of June 2021, Liberia may be experiencing some relief in its battle to beat the pandemic. According to Dr. Francis Karteh, a chief medical officer in Liberia, the country’s COVID-19 cases declined in the week leading up to July 12, 2021. However, Karteh also emphasized that the Liberian people must remain diligent in their COVID-19 prevention measures. The highly contagious Delta variant may regain strength if individuals become too relaxed. Nevertheless, this news offers hope for the country’s desire to move toward reopening businesses. But, even as COVID-19 infections decline in Liberia, vaccine hesitancy persists. This distrust of vaccines does not solely apply to the coronavirus vaccine though. UNICEF is currently undertaking efforts to reassure Liberians about the safety of polio vaccines in Liberia.

History and New Vaccine Hesitancy

In 2008, Liberia declared itself a polio-free country as a result of its mass vaccination success. However, Liberia recently discovered a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) strain that stems from what was originally contained in the oral polio vaccine but has evolved to behave “more like the wild or naturally occurring virus.” Consequently, VDPV is more transmittable to the unvaccinated, especially in areas with inadequate sanitary conditions.

For this reason, the eradication of the poliovirus relies on the continued vaccination of children. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Liberia to halt immunization programs, and as poliovirus infections increased, in February 2021, Liberia’s Ministry of Health announced the poliovirus outbreak as a “public health emergency” for the country.

On top of this, as Liberia begins to resume its polio vaccination operations, individuals are more hesitant about the polio vaccines. Following a year of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation circulating the globe, many Liberians wonder if one can trust any vaccine. Comfort Morphe, a midwife at Hydro MERCI Clinic, says she can “feel the weight [of the misinformation].”

Additionally, Mohamed Shariff, a teacher in the Liberian city of Monrovia, said that the campaign for polio vaccines in Liberia has had to evolve since there have been “so many refusals.” Many find the polio vaccine hesitancy peculiar since Liberia has “been using [the poliovirus vaccine] for years.” With vaccine uncertainty festering throughout the country, it is more challenging to quell the current rise in poliovirus infections.

UNICEF Partnership

Fortunately, in an effort to reduce vaccine hesitancy, UNICEF is partnering with Liberia’s Ministry of Health to communicate factual polio vaccine information through “radio talk shows, community engagement meetings, SMS” as well as posters and banners. The use of SMS notifications is especially beneficial since some communities in Liberia do not have stable internet access.

Volunteers also use the door-to-door approach to speak with parents on the importance of vaccinating children. Ummu Paasewe, for example, who works for Liberia’s Ministry of Health as a community mobilization officer, described how her team assures mothers that the vaccine is “the same kind of oral polio vaccine but more advanced” to combat this specific variation of the poliovirus. As a mother herself, Paasewe’s children are vaccinated and she contends that “immunization is a preventative method.”

Looking Forward

Other countries also see the benefits of supporting Liberia’s vaccination efforts. The Japanese government has supplied UNICEF with $2.7 million since 2020 to support women’s and children’s health in Liberia. Moreover, one of the Japanese government’s chief objectives is to get Liberians vaccinated against the poliovirus and COVID-19.

UNICEF representative to Liberia, Laila Omar Gad, stated that “just one child affected by polio is a risk to all children.” However, UNICEF volunteers remain optimistic and report that they have convinced many Liberian families about the polio vaccine’s safety and reliability. Through the dedication of Liberia’s Ministry of Health and support from UNICEF and Japan, vaccinating communities against the poliovirus looks to be an achievable goal.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

National Learning Assessment SystemEducation quality and learning outcomes are often key to explaining income differences across countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 88% of primary and lower secondary school children are “not proficient in reading.” Liberia’s Ministry of Education and the U.S.-based nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) are developing Liberia’s first National Learning Assessment System (NLAS) for the primary learning level. This assessment will help Liberia’s schools switch from a content-based curriculum to a competency-based curriculum that values learning over memorization. The assessment itself will highlight which areas students are learning least to hopefully close the learning gap.

Education’s Role in Poverty Reduction

Education is important for reducing poverty because it increases the rate of return in the economy. Improving access and quality of education ensures a greater development of skills among the population. Using education as a tool for breaking cycles of poverty, the nation’s standard of living increases, accelerating economic growth.

With education, those employed in the formal sector of the economy have the potential to earn higher wages and secure higher-paying jobs as their careers progress. Illustrating this point, every “one year of education is associated with a 10% increase in wages.” Furthermore, research finds that “primary education has a higher rate of return than secondary education.”

Education in Liberia

Emerging from a destructive period of civil unrest and the Ebola epidemic in 2015, the Liberian education system has suffered considerably. Only 44% of primary-age students currently attend school in Liberia. Of the children who attend school, only 54% complete primary education. In addition, there are no national school quality standards in Liberia. According to the Global Partnership for Education, the largest global fund dedicated to education initiatives, “resourcing at county and district levels require improvement.” With the understanding that education is the key to reducing poverty, it is imperative for Liberia’s education system to improve.

The National Learning Assessment System’s Purpose

The purpose of the NLAS is to try to maximize primary education learning by assessing areas where learners are not performing well. This will create the framework for a national standard. Further, the assessment will serve as a reference point for Liberia’s new national curriculum and help the government decide which reforms to undertake in order to produce beneficial educational outcomes.

Pilot Assessment

In a trial of the assessment with the Liberian government, the IPA reached 874 students across six Liberian counties. Students received both oral and written assesments. The healthy distribution of scores suggested that the assessment was neither too difficult nor too easy. Overall, the results found that “in the oral exam, the average sixth grader answered 36% of the questions correctly in language and 61%” in mathematics. However, in the written assessment, the average sixth grader achieved 47% in language and 40% in mathematics.

Given the fact that more than 90% of students “were over-age for their grade,” the trial illustrates that assessments should not be organized by age. Moreover, because of the significant difference in scores between the oral assessment and written assessment, students should be assessed on both types. The pilot project generally recommends written assessments as these tests are “cheaper and easier to administer” but emphasizes the importance of oral examinations to assess oral fluency.

Education as the Key to Poverty Reduction

Initiating a national learning assessment strategy is the first step toward rebuilding Liberia’s education system after years of turmoil. The assessment provides a basis for education reform according to the learning styles, literacy levels and knowledge gaps among students. More importantly, the initiative demonstrates the government’s interest in the advancement of Liberia’s youth and the hope to help disadvantaged citizens rise out of poverty.

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Pixabay

Healthcare in LiberiaThe 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 4,800 people in Liberia and infected thousands of others. However, these data points only scratch the surface of Ebola’s effect on healthcare in Liberia. Ebola’s devastation affected the provision of healthcare services in West Africa and caused an additional 10,600 deaths due to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In countries such as Liberia, more medical training and equipment means healthcare in Liberia has strengthened since the Ebola outbreak. Ebola exposed the weaknesses in the healthcare system of Liberia and showed the Liberian government and international aid organizations particular areas needing improvement and reform.

The World Bank’s Involvement

After recognizing the struggles of Liberia’s healthcare system during the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank devised specific ways to assist Liberia. For example, in May 2020, the World Bank approved the Institutional Foundations to Improve Service for Health Project for Liberia (IFISH). The four-component program focuses specifically on improving health services and outcomes for women, children and adolescents. The six-year program costs $84 million, of which $54 million of funding comes from the United States. Roughly 50% of the budget will be dedicated to health facilities and construction in Liberia. The program also attempts to lay the groundwork for future Liberian healthcare officials. The program includes training health workers and financing certain undergraduate and postgraduate faculties.

The Yale Capstone Project

For multiple years, the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs has worked alongside the Yale Global Health Institute to create a project-based global health course for Yale seniors. The program allows students to explore the intersection of public health and policy. The students of this program have contributed to recovery efforts in Liberia. The program has assisted in establishing proof to encourage partners and policymakers to undertake significant changes in Liberia’s main medical school. The 2015 class conducted case studies on Rwanda and Ethiopia to generate targeted policy solutions in Liberia. Overall, the partnership was deemed a “win-win” for Liberia and the students involved.

CDC Field Epidemiology Training Program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been actively aiding healthcare in Liberia since 2007. However, it did not expand its Liberian focus until the Ebola outbreak. Accompanied by more traditional CDC programs such as malaria intervention and the provision of vaccines, Liberia receives assistance through the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). The three-tiered educational initiative aims to equip Liberian healthcare workers with the knowledge and tools to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks. At the close of 2016, Liberia had 115 FETP-trained staff. The FETP graduates will go on to provide field support in response to disease outbreaks across Liberia. With graduates from all 15 counties and 92 health districts in Liberia, fellows of FETP work to contain outbreaks and prevent them from turning into local or global epidemics.

Room for Improvement

Healthcare in Liberia is improving due to Liberia’s coordinated recovery efforts with multiple organizations. Nevertheless, Liberia still battles with increasing civilian access to healthcare and the funding of critical health institutions. For example, two-thirds of rural families need to travel for more than an hour to access a health center. These extended travel times can significantly impact the healthcare outcomes of Liberians. Moreover, hospitals are struggling to survive because funding from donors has slowed since the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia’s health system, primary healthcare facilities are largely underfunded.

While these struggles persist, they should not overshadow the significant improvements made since the Ebola outbreak. With aid, commitment and effort, healthcare in Liberia can improve further.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in Liberia
Faced with two civil wars, Liberia has experienced years of poverty. With more than 80% of Liberians living in poverty, the country has been trying to revitalize its economy. Child poverty in Liberia is significant as well. Moreover, the mortality rate for children is high. In addition to this, Liberia ranks in the bottom 10 countries on the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index considers life expectancy, education and income.

Child Poverty in Liberia

According to Action Against Hunger, a stable environment for those living in Liberia has yet to emerge. Funding for healthcare facilities has significantly decreased. Liberian children often do not have proper access to education and healthcare and frequently face abuse or trafficking. As a result of this, many children live on the streets. Furthermore, 40% of children suffer from malnutrition and one in five do not receive proper nourishment. Meanwhile, about 84% of Liberians live below the international poverty line and make around $1.25 a day.

Uncertain Employment Positions

The Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) collected the following data. The overall information reveals that over 50% live in extreme poverty. In addition to this, 51.2% of families experience food shortages. This survey also shows that unemployment stands at 3.9%, meaning that Liberia has a low unemployment rate. However, the survey characterized around 79.5% of people as having uncertain employment positions whereas 79.9% of people had an informal form of employment.

While Liberia may have a low unemployment rate, many Liberians find it difficult to provide a stable life for their children and family as women average around 5.2 children. Due to small daily wages, women cannot meet children’s financial needs, reiterating the high mortality rate and low life expectancy that Liberian children experience. Due to a parent’s inability to care for a large family, children end up working at young ages.

Organizations Helping Liberian Children

For the past two decades, Save the Children has been addressing Liberian children that the civil war affected. This organization provides aid in areas such as healthcare and protection. It also assists children by providing them tools such as education and spearheading advocacy for child rights. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of many donors that helps Save the Children.

Action Aid is another organization that is assisting impoverished children in Liberia. Action Aid strives to attain social justice and equality and mitigate poverty. This group focuses on women and the younger generations to improve the quality of healthcare, education and children’s rights.

Many efforts have emerged to address the conditions in Liberia, including child poverty. The World Bank has provided $54 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to improve Liberia’s health services for women and children. The IFISH (Institutional Foundations to Improve Services for Health) project has spearheaded the expansion and operations of hospitals. An example is the Redemption Hospital located in Montserrado County. The multiple projects and initiatives should hopefully aid in the elimination of child poverty in Liberia.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Human trafficking in LiberiaWhile the Liberian Government does make some effort to eliminate human trafficking, it does not entirely meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking. Liberia ranks as Tier 2, which indicates that the country does not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) standards. On the other hand, the country does make significant efforts to comply. Liberia has increased internal investigations on trafficking and assigned a budget to the anti-trafficking task force. The TVPA outlines the criteria to meet in order to combat human trafficking in Liberia and all other countries.

The Trafficking Tier System

The U.S. Department designates the ranking for anti-human trafficking compliance. The various tiers represent an evaluation of a government’s actions to combat trafficking. Countries and territories that take great measures to comply with TVPA standards are considered Tier 1. Those that do not fully comply with TVPA standards, but make significant efforts to be compliant, are considered Tier 2. Liberia is one such country that ranks as Tier 2. Tier 3 countries and territories do not comply with the TVPA standards and are not making any significant efforts.

In Liberia, traffickers convicted received unsatisfactory prison terms. Resources and knowledge of trafficking continue to lack in the law enforcement area, thus resulting in ineffective investigations and prosecutions of trafficking crimes. Shelters and services for trafficking victims also remain limited.

Targeting the Most Vulnerable

Women and children are the most vulnerable to trafficking and are generally trafficked from rural areas. Promised better education, improved living conditions and proper jobs in the city, many fall prey. The traffickers themselves are generally trusted people. They can be family members, friends or members of the community. Victims of trafficking are forced into being street beggars and street vendors. Others do hard labor working in rubber plantations or diamond mines. Sex work and domestic service work are also common with trafficked victims.

International trafficking is most common with trustworthy and professional organizations. The trafficking organizations often use the lure of employment. Women from other countries in West Africa are often trafficked and brought to Liberia. The girls are usually trafficked by their own parents for forced marriages.

The Fight Against Trafficking

Liberia has legal and policy frameworks known as the National Anti-Human Trafficking Action Plan. A specialized task force also fights against trafficking in accordance with the anti-human trafficking plan. However, Liberian authorities do not have the appropriate knowledge and skills to properly identify and address human trafficking incidents. Police officers receive little anti-trafficking training, and units do not have the necessary resources to address suspected cases.

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) implemented a program to help Liberian law enforcement workers and other necessary parties effectively address trafficking cases and support victims. The U.S. Department of State supports the program. IDLO’s program also spreads human trafficking knowledge and awareness to the general public through community-focused plans. Through awareness, people will be less likely to fall victim to traffickers with false promises.

With efforts from organizations supporting anti-human trafficking strategies in Liberia, the most vulnerable people will be protected and supported.

Candice Lewis
Photo: Flickr

Ongoing Harm, Female Genital Mutilation in LiberiaLiberia is one of three West African countries that has not yet made female genital mutation (FGM) illegal. FGM refers to the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women by U.N. Women Liberia, FGM has no health benefits and is extremely harmful.

Legal Activism

In 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia signed the Domestic Violence bill, an executive order that banned FGM performed on girls younger than 18 years old, but the criminalization of FGM was limited to one year and expired in February 2019. The executive order did little to address the part community leaders play in perpetrating this crime. It also failed to change the immense social pressure placed on girls to undergo these treatments. For these reasons, female genital mutilation in Libera continues to be an issue.

International Pressure

The United Nations has been active in its role of fighting to end FGM globally. Due to the lack of policy regarding female genital mutilation in Liberia, Marie Goreth Nizigama, of U.N. Women Liberia, said, “50% of women and girls aged between 15-49 years” have been mutilated. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzan Karwo who is the leader of Liberia’s National Traditional Council expressed frustration, rebuking international groups that have sought to abolish female genital mutilation in Liberia. He believes that FGM prepares young women to become good wives. Despite pushback, the pressure to end female genital mutilation in Liberia continues. Williametta E. Saydee Tarr, the gender, children and social protection minister in Liberia, claims that plans are being pursued to make FGM permanently illegal.

Cultural Progress

One of the most important aspects in fighting female genital mutilation both in Liberia and globally is engaging cultural leaders and communities in ending the tradition. If cultural attitudes toward FGM fail to change, then progressing human rights for girls and women will significantly decline. As a result of seemingly insurmountable cultural and financial pressures, girls and women willingly subject themselves to mutilation; therefore, even criminalization of FGM cannot end the mutilation without traditions and perspectives changing as well.

Liberia’s fight to end FGM is not restricted to policymaking and criminalization. Yatta Fahnbulleh, owner of a large bush school in Tienii that performed FGM on more than 200 girls, decided to end her engagement in FGM despite its financial benefits. In 2019, Spotlight Initiative aided in the startup of the Alternate Economic Livelihood program. This program provides resources and education to former practitioners. This way they can generate a source of income after losing their livelihood. Providing access to education and financial alternatives is essential in garnering the support of communities who depend on the practice for survival.

Looking Ahead

It is vital that the United Nations continues to place pressure on Liberia despite leaders expressing attachment to the practice. female genital mutilation endangers women and often causes lifelong sustained harm so, the pressure is appropriate and necessary. Alongside the international attention to criminalize FGM, efforts to engage leaders in ending devastating practices are of the utmost importance. The willingness of people like Yatta Fahnbulleh to close her school gives hope that people are willing to end female genital mutilation with proper education, tools and resources to survive.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

World Hope International
World Hope International (WHI) is a Christian charity organization working to alleviate poverty by protecting communities. The organization began in 1996 in Virginia and has the core values of opportunity, hope and dignity. By 2019, WHI’s projects spanned 21 countries, awarded 1,835 child sponsorships and provided safe drinking water to 11,841 people.

World Hope International began focusing on COVID-19 related projects in February 2020 through the rehabilitation of wells in Liberia and the Enable the Children program in Sierra Leone. The Enable the Children (ETC) program gives therapy to children with disabilities and provides food for their families. On October 16, 2020, The Borgen Project spoke with Heather Hill, the Director of Communications and Marketing at WHI, about child sponsorships and aspects of the organization’s COVID-19 response.

Child Sponsorship Program

WHI funds an education-based child sponsorship program where people donate $35 a month to help the education of one child in need. During COVID-19, Hill noticed that the child sponsorship levels decreased. He told The Borgen Project that “We launched this campaign and we really talked about sponsorships.” As a result, the last months of 2020 picked up 200 new sponsorships. On top of this campaign, Hill explained how WHI’s partner, Wesleyan Church, launched “the initiative to try and get 1,000 children sponsored in the next few months with us.”

WHI’s COVID-19 Response in Haiti

World Hope International supports the La Gonave Wesleyan Hospital in Haiti. With the help of the Wesleyan church and private donors, the hospital received nearly $4 million worth of basic medical supplies in 2019. Founded over 50 years ago, the hospital still helps approximately 120,000 people in or near La Gonave. WHI’s current project asks for donations equating to $30,000 to transport approximately $2 million worth of medical materials to the location.

Another WHI project in La Gonave is the LB-20,000 water container that underwent installation in February 2019. This container produces approximately 20,000 gallons of clean water every day through solar-powered water farming techniques. The program was a collaboration between WHI, the GivePower Foundation and the West Indies Self Help (WISH) Organization to create clean water for the island. This collaboration continues to provide a clean water source for the entire island.

Other WHI Projects

WHI also helped create a new platform called the Get Support helpline. This platform allows communities to submit requests for various forms of relief during the quarantine period. It launched in late March 2020 and helps organizations connect with communities to better provide them with COVID-19 relief. This program allows people from quarantined communities to request relief packages, such as food or childcare. Volunteer organizations then respond to these requests.

One of WHI’s most important COVID-19 related projects focuses directly on rehabilitating the wells in Liberia. Pandemic restrictions placed numerous cross-country border and curfew challenges on drilling wells in the country. But, the team overcame these challenges by rehabilitating 15 wells instead of drilling new wells. After completing this goal marker by June 2020, WHI promptly set another 15-well marker to provide clean water for Liberians. These citizens would otherwise have to walk tens or hundreds of miles to find clean water.

Despite the COVID-19 disaster, World Hope International has not forgotten about its other ongoing projects. For example, the Strengthening Families and Communities program considers new ways to give Albanian children a place to pursue their interest in education while complying with pandemic restrictions.

True to its Goals

World Hope International is incorporating a variety of global projects to help communities survive the impact of COVID-19. Across the world, WHI’s projects have supported hospitals, rehabilitated wells and prepared a COVID-19 response. WHI’s projects have stayed true to their goals from the past to the present.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

 

Help Liberian Youth
The Liberian Civil War lasted from 1989 to 2003, leaving the education system completely broken. Before the war, there were around 2,400 schools. However, after the war, only 480 schools remained. Edman Zayzay, founder of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Organize For Liberia (OFL), had a dream as a young boy of one day becoming an astronaut. He blames the war for stripping him of that dream. Organize For Liberia gave Liberian youth the opportunity to animate their dreams. Edman Zayzay wanted to improve society’s conditions for all Liberians and help Liberian youth gain access to resources.

Increased Education

OFL focuses on educating Liberian girls specifically. More than half of Liberian women and girls are illiterate. In Liberian culture, girls are the caretakers of the family. Duties include cooking, cleaning, tending the family farm and bearing children of their own. The more responsibilities girls have at home, the less time they have to go to school.

Organize For Liberia encourages its educators to develop relationships with parents. Most parents never had the means for school themselves and do not understand the importance of education. It is rare that parents make the sacrifice and allow education and opportunities for their daughters. If girls attend school, it allows them to pass what they learn to their families and ultimately spread knowledge to their community. If girls have careers or life goals, they should receive support to achieve them. Education helps develop sound decision-making skills to build a healthy future for themselves.

Youth Engagement Mentorship Program

Organize For Liberia pairs adult leaders with young people, giving mentees the opportunity to showcase what a post-war childhood looks like. It is common for minors living in poverty to resort to prostitution to earn food or shelter. Many young women are victims of abuse and rape. The OFL mentorship program encourages young women to value themselves and build connections with friends, family and the community to increase support and self-love. Young people learn the value of life experience and living responsibly, and the mentors learn the value of the influence young people have on Liberia’s future. Together, the pairing has the potential to bring social change to society.

Adolescent Pregnancy Awareness

The birth rate in Liberian adolescents is one of the highest in the world where about one in three adolescent girls are pregnant. About 19% of Liberian girls marry by age 15, while almost half of them marry before age 18. Younger women experience a higher-risk pregnancy. Many young mothers become pregnant against their will. Sadly, Liberia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Organize For Liberia raises funds to support pregnancy awareness. This can help Liberian youths in more ways than one. Pregnancy leaves many girls unprepared. OFL encourages pregnant students to remain in school and to not give up on their education because of their pregnancy.

The STEM Initiative

Organize For Liberia’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Initiative offers education opportunities outside of the typical classroom. OFL offers after-school and summer programs that encourage computer and technology education. Those interested in science and engineering fields can further their computer skills with robotics programming courses. Funding keeps science books and technology journals in school libraries. The future of Liberia is dependent on the education of the young men and women who could grow to become the future innovators that rebuild Liberia’s society.

Civic Education

Scarred by war and adversities, Liberians often become violent after an election. Organize for Liberia encourages peaceful and informed protests. The more Liberians understand their political system, the less detached and forgotten they feel in a post-election environment. Citizens lost faith in the political system after the Liberian Civil War. Civic education informs young people of their rights. It benefits the youth in relation to defending themselves against systemic oppression. For instance, the right to vote helps Liberian youth to have a voice and active role in social justice and development.

Organize For Liberia formed to give hope to Liberian youths who can feel hopeless to the circumstances they were born into. Education is the building block for young people dreaming of a life different than the one their parents led. Increased funding allows the opportunity for education. The main reason parents cannot keep their children in school is that they lack funding for supplies and they rely on their children for help at home. If the Liberian youth have funding to provide school supplies, it would allow the window of opportunity to open up. As a result, the Liberian youth can grow to help their own children have improved lives. Gradually, education and resources will help Liberian youth accomplish those goals. Ultimately gender balance and opportunities begin in the classroom and OFL believes that every life, regardless of class or gender, has equal value.

Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr