by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
If ever there was a country ChildFund needed to be in, Liberia is it. Following a brutal 13-year period of civil war that made children into soldiers and destroyed the social fabric of society, Liberia signed a peace treaty in 2003, beginning a long journey of restoration.
Having just returned from a visit to this resilient nation, I found positive signs of progress. In the capital, Monrovia, the story is a hopeful one. Everyone I spoke with believes the country is getting better. People are moving with purpose. They are working to rebuild. They say the most important thing they have is peace.
ChildFund arrived in Liberia two months after the treaty was signed. In those early days, our work focused on reintegrating child soldiers back into their communities. After years of civil war, societal rules fall away — rape and violence against women and children are just accepted as the norm. A generation grows up not knowing any different.
We played a major role in reintegration, and were recognized by UNICEF as number one in child-protection work because of our training of school authorities and police and military leaders — sensitizing them to gender issues and child-protection issues. The Liberian Ministry of Defense now has a child-protection unit. The government now has a Ministry of Gender and Development.
Although ChildFund has finished its reintegration work, Liberia still ranks at 162, just seven from the bottom, on the U.N. Human Development Index, a comparative measure of a country’s life expectancy, literacy and living conditions.
Women and children’s issues are top of mind for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president — the first woman leader of an African nation. When I met with the president during my visit, she acknowledged significant progress in the attitude of children — just through the look of hope and inspiration seen on their faces. The president has visited ChildFund’s early childhood care and development Center in Bopolu — and contributed to fencing around the center to improve safety for children.
The ECD center is managed by the Gbonkuma Women’s Group, whose members are also recipients of small loans to start income-generating businesses. Leader Ma Fatu told me that ChildFund Liberia has shifted the lives of many women and children who had no means of improving their lives to self-sustainable levels in their communities. Now this group’s mantra is “Women! Don’t sit there; do something positive!
I also visited a livelihood project in the Blamacee community near Monrovia. ChildFund Liberia, with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has built houses for former Sierra Leoneans, who after almost 20 years of refugee status, are now integrating into Liberian society. We’ve also helped them obtain small plots of land for gardening, which provides a source of food and income.
In Liberia, women are a major driver of positive change. Women are enthusiastic about contributing. There is a feeling of hope; it’s a fragile sense of hope, but it’s palpable.
Join Anne on International Women’s Day for a chat on Facebook, March 8.
Post your questions related to Liberia and women’s issues on ChildFund’s Facebook wall beginning at 12 noon EST, and Anne will respond live from 12:15 – 12:45 p.m.