She is still a baby
And forced to have a baby
Whilst no fault of hers
She, is called “a liar”
By her mother
Defiled by her father
A child’s trust, and body, thrown asunder
Replaced by lifelong guilt and shame
To shield behind a veil
Of lasting disgrace
To deal with in a society
Judging so unfairly
How can our society be so accepting?!
Mothering a child at only 14
How can we call a baby “baby ma”
When a baby she truly only desires to be?
Wishing her parents would protect her rights to be
Wishing her society will guarantee her to be
Like all children deserve to be
When will we care
How many more babies must tell
The sad tales of their hell?
What does it say
When relatives prey
As opposed to protect along life’s way?
How can our society continue to fail
To protect against rape?
How many must die
To know each child raped
Is a child killed
And a life taken away?
What are our values
When a baby has a baby
And the daddy IS her daddy?
How can we lift our collective heads
When a child is raped
For trying to get paid?
Selling candy in her community
Only to hear the rapist Boldly, Shameslessly, Guiltlessly say
“she was already opened wide. We agreed to suck and fxxxk”
How can it be
That a rapist would come to think
It is his right
To take away dignity and life??
When will enough ever be enough
And our community of men and women come to decide
This is so wrong
To be permitted as the norm?
The statistics are chilling
Rape is increasing
Too many children are dying #weareunprotected
Too many babies and women #unprotected
Why must anyone continue to be?
Why must our daily reality
Be of distrust, rape, abuse and impunity?
Recently I was invited by the Ministry of Education to serve as Keynote Speaker at the International Literacy Day celebration.
As someone who is passionate about changing the narrative on education in Liberia and an education actor, I saw this as an opportunity to briefly share my thoughts on a few things regarding literacy in Liberia. Below is the text from my speech.
Please permit me to stand on the existing protocol in expressing how honored, and humbled I am by the invitation to speak on the occasion of the celebration of International Literacy Day. I will limit my remarks to three points drawn from the theme: Rethinking Literacy Development Through Multilingualism.
The first point is that being literate is being free and powerful.
One of the things I have learned in our work at KEEP as we strive to promote a culture of reading is the power of storytelling. So to make my first point, let me begin with a story.
Frederick Douglass was born in 1818. He was a writer, orator and social reformer who has come to be so widely quoted. One of my favorite Douglass quotes is “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Before all of this tough, Douglass was a slave.
Over the protests of Douglass’ slaveholder, he would learned to read and write. The slaveholder said to Douglass that being literate would forever make Douglass unfit for the duties of a slave. He reasoned that learning would do a slave harm because “if you learn him how to read, he will want to know how to write; and this accomplished, a slave will be running away with himself.”
What this story of Douglass revealed, and the slaveholder knew as far back as in the 1800s, is that literacy was the key to freedom. It was the beginning of self-empowerment.
Literacy still has that power today.
Such is the power of literacy that it unlocks not just the chains of slaves but also unchains our minds giving us clarity and understanding about ourselves, our community, our country and our world.
From being a slave, Douglass would go on not just to be free but also to become the first African-American citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank. Can anyone therefore blame Douglass for saying, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free”?
My second point is that it is time to rethink literacy.
I agree with the Director General of UNESCO that literacy is the starting point for any form of quality inclusive education. This is why we must rethink literacy.
Traditionally, we think of literacy as only the ability to read and write. Reading and writing are still very important components of literacy. But today, with the abundance of available information, the increasing influence of technology on our daily lives, and the need to communicate with varied audiences across the globe, literacy has come to mean more than just simply being able to read a book or write a letter. It is expanding to mean being critical and ethical consumers of information as well as a communicator through varied means, and now in multiple languages.
With this rethink of literacy, each child is enabled to become a global citizen. Rather than only his country of birth, the larger world becomes a place he can seek to understand, live in, as well as interact and communicate with. Rethinking literacy is therefore a chance to cross boundaries, open vast spaces and unleash potentials.
Rethinking literacy means reading and writing are not only to be taught in Language Arts classrooms but by all educators, and teachers of every subject area. Every teacher must share in the responsibility to further develop, strengthen and enhance a student’s literacy in their specific subject area.
Rethinking literacy is understanding that from the moment a child is born, his or her literacy journey actually begins with parents, family and community all playing important roles. Like it is said, a love of reading is a great gift to pass on to a child. And so, every child we provide the best chance to be literate is an adult for whom we would not need “Adult Literacy Programs”.
At KEEP, we believe that the stronger a child’s foundation is in reading and writing, the easier it is to learn other life skills and professions. We know that being a doctor, engineer, lawyer or scientist does not begin in graduate school. It begins in pre-school, kindergarten and grade schools. This is why we are striving, all across the country, to cultivate that love and interest in reading as early as possible, through many strategies, be it storytelling, drawing, read aloud sessions, poetry, etc..
And rethinking literacy is actually getting libraries into every school and communities because to borrow from Walter Cronkite, “whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to an ignorant nation”
My third and final point, on this International Literacy Day, is to again join the Ministry of Education in an appeal to the Legislature to increase the appropriation for education to at least 10% of the national budget.
The challenges in the educational sector are enormous. Of course, money is not the cure-all for all of our educational problems. But more than the current budget of 42m is needed to demonstrate how seriously we are prioritizing the need to improve the quality of education in the country.
For too long now our schools are failing and our children are failing. All Liberians should be concerned because each Liberian boy or girl who fails to be as educated as any child in the region or across the world is a dark spot on the collective bright future that we seek. We simply cannot ignore that too many of our children are either failing, barely passing, or graduating when they can barely read or write!
Liberian children are smart and ready to learn. And so, our children are not failing us. We are failing them.
We have called many things national emergencies in our country. The failings of the educational system is a real and serious emergency. It is time to treat it as such. Let us not just talk about it. Let us do something serious about it.
A good first and serious step would be to increase appropriations for education in the national budget.
I understand that we need to build roads, bridges and buildings. I know that they beautify the body of our country. But building the minds of our children is best because that way, we beautiful the soul of our nation, and that way also, we protect the future of our country.
We cannot afford to let the educational system become worse than it already is. If we do not invest in improving it, it will get worse.
This is why, I agree with President George Weah when he said, “Education is like a bicycle. You must pedal to keep moving forward.”
What is also true is that the Ministry of Education is the chain that connects the pedal of our national bicycle. And that chain feels slack, and is asking to be reconnected to the pedal so we can move ahead.
We are wise to listen.
May God bless us all. I thank you for you kind attention.
“All I have to say is, no nation has ever been able to establish and maintain a strong government with a poor ignorant population. Much of our progress in the future will depend upon the rapidity with which we mass educate our people now” – Didwho Welleh Twe, July 26, 1944 National orator
We can only reap that which we sow.
This truth is as old as time. Another truth, with which we must contend, is the need to continue to improve the quality of education on offer to our children in Liberia. From qualified teachers and administrators to improved learning facilities, improving the quality of education in Liberia is a need around which all Liberians need to be united. It defines the future of our country we believe to be possible, and stands at the heart of all that we can achieve together.
Recently, the Ministry of Education (MoE) made an appeal to the Legislative Budget Committee. They are asking for at least 10% of the national appropriation for education. As a participant in the educational sector and experiencing the dire needs, I cannot but add my voice to the MoE’s appeal to our lawmakers.
Please, increase the priority of education in the national budget.
Of course, it can be reasonably argued that all of our challenges in the educational sector does not amount to money. But it can also never be argued reasonably that money is not urgently needed to recruit qualified teachers and retire older ones. Nor can it be argued that students sitting on the floors – some of only dirt and unprotected by invading goats and chickens – to be taught, and many of the run-down makeshift facilities – some of which are housing multiple classes in a single space with a single teacher – are not in need of repairs, especially when the rains come pouring!
It is also true that for the size of the challenge in the educational sector, 10% might amount essentially to a drop in the ocean displacing the gigantic body of water with little to no calculable effect. However, I believe the educational authorities are thinking if we cannot get what we really need, at least we can ask for what may be possible. In their minds, 10% increase, while still a far cry from what is needed, may be possible to actually give. And so, if not the pie in the sky, why not just ask for pepper kala!
Analogies aside, education is our collective responsibilities. The Pro-Poor Agenda correctly identifies the ongoing human capacity deficits as a looming challenge to its successful achievements. Lifting a country out of poverty is no easy feat. And yes, it takes time and investment.
A former President once identified ignorance, disease and poverty as the triple-headed monster stalking Liberia’s growth and development. When President Tolbert identified this problem, many of the neighboring countries around us were struggling behind us in terms of development. Today, while we still argue the intervening war years which some of the neighboring countries similarly endured, some of these countries appeared to have moved leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of their development.
More than anything else, one common feature stands out to explain our decline and their rise: Overall, their people are more educated than we are.
As a proud Liberian, this is not a fact I accept without bowing my head in shame. But it is a fact we must accept because knowledge of a problem is half way toward a solution. They have consistently and steadily invested in educating their people. We have not. Economically, politically and socially – all across the facets of human developments, these countries are reaping the rewards for their years of investments.
The stubborn truth is that all is not well in the educational sector. And whether its 10% increase in allocation, or training an army of teachers – whether its reworking the curriculum and strengthening technical/vocational education – we must lift problem to a level of national imperative. And we cannot say it is serious and a national imperative until the national budget backs this. After all, the national budget lists the order of our priorities.
If education is the best path to reconciliation, economic growth and development, and is the safest and surest way of ensuring our democracy is protected as it thrives; if an educated society is less likely to destroy itself than it is to build and continuously recreate itself, then education cannot assume any less a priority in our ordering of national priorities.
Invest in roads and buildings, and a country invests in the facial beauty of a country. Its okay to look beautiful. Some would argue that in fact there are economic multiplying effects to these investments in roads and bridges and buildings. However, it is the people that must seize upon the “multiplying effects” before they become realizable. The people will not until they are educated – qualitatively and functionally – to do so.
Educate the people, and a country invests in beautifying more than its body. Education beautifies the soul of a nation.
Nothing can be more important!
Education is security.
Education is the sustainable ‘light in darkness’.
Education is hope – it inspires real beliefs in a better future.
Education is the future.
That future cannot be bright when out of 2611 public schools, only 306 have libraries.
That future cannot be bright, nor are we truly independent, when we expect donors to fund up to one third of our educational budget, according to current budgetary estimates.
The only politics that should be associated with education, if any at all, is the question of how best we improve the quality of education, year-on-year, so that our children have the chance they deserve to compete with children of the West African sub-region, and all children of the world, in the international labor marketplace. Our children deserve to, too!
Now, I understand one challenge of investing in education is that its outcomes and returns are slow in coming. Sometimes, our society seems too eager for immediate returns. That returns and outcomes are not immediately impactful, however, does not compare, in the least, to the associated costs of not investing in quality education. The reality of the eventual socio-economic breakdowns, retardation and pervasive insecurities that ultimately follow the lack of continuous investments in quality education in a country are too frightening and too high a price to collectively and individually pay. The returns and outcomes may be slow but they are certain to come, and when they do, a society is better for it.
4 years ago, I visited a community in Gbarpolu County. A visit to Small Bong Mines Public School and I did not need to be told by any statistics on education in Liberia that Gbarpolu County had to sit amongst the under-performers in the country. I knew I could not change everything about their dire educational needs. But I could help the Small Bong Mines Community. And we have kept our promise to the community of bubbling children.
In a few days, KEEP will dedicate a new school edifice we have constructed for the community. And yet, I am troubled. I know that the new edifice is a vast improvement on the what the community had before. But the new edifice will not be enough assurance that the quality of education therein provided will be good enough to inspire the hope the families need that their children will climb themselves out of the cycle of poverty to which their parents and grandparents have been consigned for generations. I know they are excited and grateful for the new edifice. But the Small Bong Mines Town community needs more than the new edifice for the learning needs of their children.
They need qualified teachers. They need relevant textbooks and educational supplies. They need improved supervision and administration. They need a curriculum that works. And they need teachers who will teach with passion for the profession and love for the children.
The Small Bong Mines Community needs more than 10% budgetary increment to education. They, like many other communities all across the country, need and deserve more. Our commitment to quality education and to lifting our people from poverty deserve more investments in education.
Please, dear legislators, let us make the sacrifices we must for the bright future we seek.
They say HeForShe
She reports rape
He stands not with she
Unwavering in solidarity with He
Increasing the pains
Dumping blame and shame on She
She is victimized
He is canonized
She is left to grieve
He basks in relief
A fool She must be
Thinking He is for She
When all that he truly seeks
Is He protecting He
Even at the heartbroken expense of She
Until He believes She
And truly hears and acts on what She feels
Haunted griefs painfully and publicly unloaded
Against a relative, coworker or trusted friend
He can never honestly say He is For She
Pervasive in high and lofty places
Heralded champions of HeForShe
Engaged shamelessly in sex with children
Using power, influence and wealth
To steal innocence, exploit bodies and fashion poor mental health
He beats his chest to He
Pronouncing his conquest of a ‘green plum’
“It’s best plucked half ripe”, He boasts
And takes his bow to rousing ovation
She walks on in troubling silence
It’s her fault, She is made to believe
Her fault that She was borne a She
And dared to dress, compete and work as She feels
It’s okay if He can truly be for She
But She has better be for She
In all sexual abuses
She must never walk alone
Last week, a detailed story was published on sexual abuse at a charity school operating in Liberia. The full story can be found here and the video documentary here
I have decided to use my blog to share my thoughts on the story…
I know how it feels to have the people you trust violate your trust, steal away your innocence, and sexually abuse you.
I know the guilt of shame and the pains of blame which ensued. I know the fears, the doubts, the deep scars and the mental anguish to be borne for a lifetime.
I know how the girls who were raped and sexually abused, exploited feel. Felt.
Even today, more than thirty years later, I live with the haunted memories and emotional scars of being sexually abused as a child.
As a way of healing, helping others heal as well as raising awareness to and preventing the crime and immorality of child sexual abuse and it’s associated cover up which is so prevalent in our society, in December of 2017, I publicly told the story of being sexually abused as a child.
As a way of both creating awareness and giving a tool to parents and caregivers to start conversations with children about inappropriate touching and abuse, thanks to my friend Lorpu Scott, my story was made into a film.
The story of the rape and sexual abuse of the children, and what appears to amount to efforts to cover them up is mind-numbing and outrageous. It is wrong. And it is shameful.
Of course the claim of a systematic cover up at More Than Me is being disputed. However, what has NOT been denied is the rape of the children – the abuse of their bodies and their trust. What is undeniable is the promise of help spurned into lifetime of hurt, sickness and deaths from HIV/AIDS.
Who do we hold responsible for these girls?
Who do we hold responsible for turning a blind eye or not taking better steps to protect those they promised a better life, and swore to protect?
I am not in a position to pass judgements on the intentions of Katie Meyler and More Than Me. But its hard not to imagine that more could have been done to help the survivors and to protect them. This is especially true if More Than Me, as promised, was dedicated to giving child survivors of sexual abuse and rape a chance at healing and a better life, in their care and protection.
How could it have seemed right and appropriate to take traumatized child-survivors of sexual abuse and rape to adult raunchy parties, and sleep-ins?
As a matter of full disclosure, I manage a local charity organization, Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP). We work primarily with children instilling in them a culture of reading.
It’s pretty tough managing a charitable organization, especially a local one with both funding and capacity challenges. But we do this because we care. We must care about the people for whom we are claiming to be charitable, in this case, and like mine, the children, their parents, their wellbeing, and of course, their futures.
It therefore struck me as seriously odd that More Than Me (Its face and Founder) came to be so absent at the trial where it was so obvious the survivors and the Liberian society needed them the most – needed them to demonstrate sufficiency of care for and understanding of the evil of child sexual abuse.
Where was ‘Abigail’ at the trial? How must the abused and raped girls have felt unguarded in the courts staring at one of their alleged abusers, alone? What could have been more important to More Than Me than to stand with the survivors in the trial, and on their behalf say, as truthfully as they could, what they knew, and when they came to know it?
More Than Me was not just a key witness but also a key member of the prosecution; how could they not have known this? How could they not have known that their absence would undermine the survivors when, as claimed, they were instrumental in bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities, and the alleged abuse and rape are said to have mostly happened on their premises?
How can you remotely lay just claims to helping survivors of child abuse and sexual exploitation when you choose to be silent and absent before the law where it is so much harder for alleged victims, especially children?
As to exploitation, maybe Johnson may have sexually exploited their bodies, but should we have been alerted earlier to possible exploitation of their conditions when the children were being advertised to the world as “prostitutes” for fundraising purposes? As parents, as members of society, and as government, where must we draw the line? How could we let this happen?
Of course we need help. Our country is desperate for support with many social problems especially inherited from our years of conflicts and decline.
However, our desperation for help must not permit us to be blinded to long term negative consequences a “help” may engender, whether the consequences are intended or unintended. How could we have permitted a Liberian child to be introduced to the world as a “prostitute”?
No doubt, what we have read and seen about this story is outrageous. But it is not enough to merely express how outrageous it is. We must remind ourselves, if we needed to be, that child abuse, rape and exploitation are real in our society.
We must care more for the victims. And we must do all we can, together, to rid ourselves of this menace.
At KEEP, we are introducing policies and measures, including against inappropriate touching, of children placed into our care. And we’re encouraging them to speak freely about any inappropriate behavior.
All of us, wherever we may be, we need to do more. We cannot change what happened to those girls but we can work together to ensure such fates never befall other children across our society. We have a moral duty to do so.
One of the truths of human experiences is the possibility to use pain to both inspire and empower.
For thirty years, I lived as a victim with the pain and trauma of child sexual abuse. I was scared to even talk about it, shelved it in my mind from where it haunts me, and found a way to skirt around the shame.
All of that was until I looked into the eyes of my daughter as she celebrated her eighth birthday – the age I was first abused. It struck me that my continued silence risked her, and many other children.
So, I braced myself for whatever would be thrown at me, and I told my story. For my daughter, and all other children, I hope my pain would be enough. Rather than to continue to bury it inside, I have chosen to use it to uncover the deafening silence, raise the needed awareness, and inspire prevention around child sexual abuse.
It is time to end the menace – to stop the theft a child’s innocence and abuse of their trust often by their own relations with impunity!
Thanks to Lorpu Scott and a number of Liberian artists, my story has become a short film. In a few days, in partnership with OXFAM Liberia, using the film, #KEEPwill undertake a public awareness campaign on the menace of child sexual abuse and how to possibly prevent it.
This campaign will take us to 15 schools across communities in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Gedeh and Rivercess counties.We hope to target 700 students and parents, and inspire.. Stimulate conversations in homes, churches, mosques and schools.
And this is only the beginning.
We will announce the specific dates and locations for each public broadcast of the film, to be followed by what we hope will be inspiring conversations about the need to take collective actions to halt the theft of the innocence of our children, and the abuse and violation of their minds and bodies mostly by people who should be protecting them.
Educating the kids early on what is inappropriate touching, comments and behavior can go a long way in preventing sexual abuse.
The Liberian Women Humanitarian Network (LWHN) recently conducted a one day sensitization outreach in, Wacco Community, Grand Cape Mount County on Monkey Pox. The sensitization came in the wake of 2 confirmed cases of the virus/disease in the area.
The exercise was geared towards educating members of the community on the virus, its mode of transmission, ways to avoid the virus, and how to treat in the instances of infection.
Whilst the discussion was centered on Monkeypox, the team used the opportunity to also talk about infectious diseases spreading, control and how to react when there exists no medical personnel immediately. The outreach awareness engage both men, women and youths. Like most rural communities, the issues of limited access to safe drinking water, health facilities and timely treatment are among the numerous challenges faced by dwellers.
To date, there are 6 confirmed cases of the virus in 3 counties in Liberia and 28 cases in Nigeria.
Monkeypox is a viral disease that produces pox lesions on the skin and is closely related to smallpox but is not nearly as deadly as smallpox was. Monkeypox virus causes monkeypox and the majority of cases are transmitted from animals (rodents) to humans by direct contact. Person-to-person transfer, probably by droplets, can occur infrequently. Risk factors for monkeypox include close association with African animals (usually rodents) that have the disease or caring for a patient who has monkeypox.
During the first few days, symptoms are nonspecific and include fever, nausea, and malaise. After about four to seven days, lesions (pustules, papules) develop on the face and trunk that ulcerate, crust over, and begin to clear up after about 14-21 days, and lymph nodes enlarge. There may be some scarring.[i]
The Liberia Women Humanitarian Network was formed in 2016 out of a need to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew which left several hundred people dead in its wake.
Having recently recovered from a national health emergency crisis, women from diverse backgrounds who mostly lead national charities saw this as a way to lend support to the people of Haiti, specifically women and children who are often the hardest hit during such crisis.
The network also later did a fundraising to also support the victims of the mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone and raised $2000 which was channeled thru the women led organization, 50/50 to support victims with immediate relief items to help them recuperate.
Liberia suffered from Ebola in 2014 which left more than 5000 people dead. The disease e spread rapidly at the time due to lack of knowledge on care, prevention and awareness. With the recent announcement of a new outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo, the outreach was also a good opportunity to remind people about the importance of not just community hygiene but also to avoid eating “bush meat” and playing with monkeys.
Ms. Facia Harris who runs the Paramount Young Women Initiative said the reason she is interested and supports such networks is because it provides an opportunity to show that first response starts with nationals. She noted “We try to respond to different needs in our communities and networks, but coming together as women with different interest and backgrounds of work is an expression of unity and togetherness in meeting the needs of others in a more timely and critical manner. The skills, resources and experience once brought together change the narratives around humanitarian work and promotes localization and ownership.
Community dwellers practicing how to use plastic bags as preventive tool
I work with girls and women through educational and empowerment programs.” Facia Harris, the Executive director of Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI) Mrs. Naomi Tulay-Solanke also stressed the need for more community engagement by local actors especially women led organizations at the national levels. She believe that having more women at the frontline of humanitarian response will help change the male dominated and gender biased within the humanitarian system. Humanitarian response will become more local, effective and gender trans-formative.
Community dwellers practicing how to use plastic bags as preventive tool
The Liberia Women Humanitarian Network was formed in 2016 out of a need to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew which left several hundred people dead in its wake. A reflection of the Ebola crisis in Liberia and its adverse effects on women and children primarily motivated women leaders from diverse backgrounds to lend support to the people of Haiti facilitated the establishment of the Liberia Women Humanitarian Network . The network successfully supported victims of the mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone and raised approximately $ 2,000 USD through local fundraising. The fund was channeled through a selected local women-led organization to support victims with immediate relief items and help them recuperate. The network intends to do more awareness in the near future, with focus on the Lassa Fever outbreak which has now claimed the lives of more than 12 persons in 4 counties with 24 confirmed cases over the last 5 months.
Maimah Pellam, Executive Director of Serene Mobile Clinic, a charity that provides mobile healthcare support to families in rural communities in Liberia said “Being a part of the LWHN is an opportunity to work with other women groups, who have similar passion in serving or giving back to our country . I also saw it necessary to join the team in reaching out to Grand Cape Mount County upon receiving the news about the monkey pox outbreak. It was important because we as a network vow to respond to any situation that has a potential to cause problems especially health and social welfare amongst people of Liberia:
Brenda Moore of the Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) noted that the network intends to do more awareness in the near future, with focus on the Lassa Fever outbreak which has now claimed the lives of more than 12 persons in 4 counties with 24 confirmed cases over the last 5 months. She said it top of their priroty list for the next few weeks as awareness is key to prevention and control.
I watched my daughter’s twinkling eyes as she excitedly blew out the candles on her birthday cake. As she blew, I exhaled. This was her eighth birthday. A moment of excitement for her and me. But, as I watched the scene, I had a moment of deep refection. My memory of being eight is one of pain.
At eight, I was sexually abused.
At the time, I had no idea what it was, or what it meant. I did not even think much about it. In fact, it seemed “normal”. I guess my eight-year old mind could not fathom people that I knew – that I would run to when afraid; that I would hold onto for support; that represented what was good; that my parents would leave me with to guide and to protect me – would not do abnormal things to me. I was abused by people in my home I trusted – people my parents trusted.
I knew them. They were not guests or strangers. They were relatives. Family.
Like many Liberian homes, mine was often filled with relatives. An aunt from up country for a weekend would end up staying for months “visiting”. A nephew whose parents could not afford to send him to school would be sent to our home “to help out”. A cousin who finds herself down on her luck would “stop by for awhile”. They became a part of the household. Their children became brothers and sisters.
Then there were the other people in the home. The nurse (housekeeper) who manages the home, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and supervising daily chores. Then there is the “houseboy” who does yard work, runs errands, and other menial works. So my home was never empty, always filled with family.
Family. I do not seem to recall fear in their eyes, nor did they seem nervous. It was as if they were doing what was expected of them. The reality is that I did not know I was being sexually abused, but, I did come to recognize the signs much later.
Alas! Much too late.
My mom worked full time with a very affluent organization. She was gone most of the day and usually got home at night. We had very little time during the week for as much interaction as I would have liked. She had to work, and would often return tired. As such, my rearing was split between the various aunts, cousins and nurse who were always around. “We will tell your ma oh”, was the overused line to put me straight. I would be reported to her for misbehaving, and my mom would be called in when I was being difficult.
“We will tell your ma oh” was more than an inconsequential threat. It represented the disciplined involvement of my mother. It was not a moment of judgment between me and anyone elderly. It would be punishment time. I soon learned to be obedient, kind, tolerant and trusting of my older relatives to avoid the punishment that would be handed down after “telling” my ma.
I adored my mom. Most of everyone who knew her, even superficially, tell me I look just like my mother. It makes me feel really good in a way. She was this beautiful woman that I wanted to be like. Tall, always smiling, smelled good and dressed nicely. I would go sit and watch her dress for work, or for a social event. I would watch her put on her makeup, and try to do the same. She would afford me a disarming laugh and say “you’re not ready for that yet”, and gently proceed to take the colorful palette from me. Such was the picture of my household at the age of eight.
The overflowing memory came rushing back as I looked at my eight year old. And rather than the joyful and celebratory moment now presented, I slipped to my past. No less than thirty years later, the stinging image was as real as today. Shelved in an inner recess of my mind, the memory just seemed to burst to the fore. As I looked at my daughter, I saw me being molested and abused. I saw my innocence taken. I saw my trust broken. I saw my mind and body violated.
I had shelved it. But I have been unable to forget it.
It may seem difficult to understand but the truth is that I did not know at the time that it was bad. I did not know that I was being molested. I did not know that I was being abused. Of all my childhood memories, suddenly as I looked at my daughter, at eight, this one hit me unexpectedly hard. With such clarity that I could actually recall the color of my dress so long ago as the repressed memories rushing back.
The first time I was molested, John (alias) was the culprit. John was a relative who had come from Lofa to “go to school”. He asked me to sit with him atop the manhole which was under the bathroom window.
“Come sit on my lap” John said. I did.
Pointing to the blooming plum tree he said “bigger girl you really learning how to climb tree good good now oh, come go pic me plum to eat”. I was excited being praised and called a “bigger girl”.
Just as I got up, anxious to show off my climbing skills, he pulled up my dress, pulled down my panties a little, and put his fingers on my vagina.
I was frozen. I said nothing. I did not react.
My silence and lack of response may have embolden him.
He touched me again, lingering a bit more, then removed his hand, and quickly pulled up my panty. I just looked at him. Blanked. No thoughts. No sense of what had happened. No response. I cannot imagine what he saw or sensed in my reaction or lack thereof. But I recall him putting his fingers to his nose and smelling it. I just stood there. Waiting.
Then he smiled and said, “Go pick my plum now”.
So I did. I was off climbing as he watched from below. I climbed the tree, shook the branches and watched the ripe plums drop to the ground while he picked them up. Eventually, I climbed down. I sat next to him while we ate the plums.
I thought nothing of what John had done to me. I did not mention it to anyone.
In fact, I felt happy that my “big brother” had told me to go climb the plum tree and pick plums for him. You see, I was forbidden from climbing the plum tree, and was constantly punished whenever it was told that I did. So it felt like my “big brother” and I shared a secret that day – a secret of allowing me to climb the plum tree, something that I liked to do, and he would let me do without “telling” on me.
And so, the abuse started. It got progressively worse. John became bolder and bolder. He would place my hands on his genitals, asking me to rub it. His looks became furtive. I began to sense that something was “wrong”. I became uneasy. I reached for the available, and less troublesome help. The nurse was always around supervising throughout the day.
I asked her: “What does it mean when a man puts his “thing” in you?”
She was ironing clothes. She stopped immediately. Abandoning the ironing, she looked at me quizzically. And she alarmed: “Someone put their thing in you?!”
I did not know how to respond. I didn’t want to get John into trouble. In retaliation, he would tell that I had been climbing the plum tree. And I would be punished. So I lied. I said, “No”. She was unconvinced. She changed tactics. She became more interested in my question, and encouraged a conversation rather than alarming about what I had asked. It then seemed alright to confide in her without getting me or John in trouble.
I do not know if or when the nurse ever told my mom. But not long thereafter, John left our home. Today I believe he may have been thrown out. Years later, news filtered into the house about his death as a rebel fighter in his native Lofa. I silently felt happy hearing the news.
As I watched my daughter blow out the candles that dressed up her birthday cake, it occurred to me that mine was blown out for me. I watched the blissful innocence that lit up her countenance, and I realized that my innocent childhood mist got lifted too early.
At eight, I see her smile light up the room, and it warms my heart. And I swear to protect her – to protect her innocence. I long to tell her that this world is filled with good people. And yes, there are bad people too. That the good and the bad can reside even in people we know – in people we are comfortable with; people we believe hold our best interests at heart. People we trust.
I have not forgotten me at eight. And although John is dead, it just does not seem right that I did not have a chance to confront him with this memory. So, I do the next best thing. I share it with you – with the world. I do so not to seek revenge on John, but to tell that I, too, was abused, beginning at the innocent age of eight.
Why am I telling this story now 30 odd years later? Many reasons.
For one thing, I hope that my story will inspire others to tell theirs. It is troublesome that victims are too accepting to throw a lid on sexual abuse out of the real fear of being stigmatized. I have felt this way for at least thirty years. That is, until I looked in the eyes of my daughter. If we do not tell our stories – if we do not talk about sexual abuse as happening to real people and affecting real lives – how do we hope to come to grips with it? How can I protect my beautiful daughter in a society that tolerates sexual abuse by covering it up, and or being too afraid to talk about it?
Another reason is that I find “un-shelving” this experience healing. It is no longer this silent hidden burden I have to carry.
Thirdly, I feel there needs to be a more “national” open conversation around sexual abuse in our society. For us to recognize the various cultural nuances that we either don’t realize happens or that we ignore.
Like the elderly male “compliments”: “Baby Brenda and all got rice grain on her little chest oh!” This is often followed by the humiliating pinch. And the outbursts of laughter.
Or the “You are a big girl now oh!” when they know you are really a baby but are planting seeds of sexual exploitation which “big girls” are supposed to be engaged in.
Or the comments about the “getting big butt like her ma” followed by a light (and sometimes not to light) pat.
Nothing is thought of the “uncle” who invites the “niece” to sit on his lap. No one seem to notice or care about his wiggling.
There are much more examples I could give. You live here, you know what I mean.
All of these being dropped on an innocently trusting mind with an air or nonchalance – as if it is right and expected. No, it not right! It is wrong.
I certainly wished it had never happened to me. But it did. And I know it continues to happen to many so much younger than eight. And it must stop! But sadly, it will not until we are willing to talk about it – to confront each other. And to hold each other accountable for it.
Lest I be mistaken, sexual abuse is not limited to girls. Boys are also being molested and abused. We have to stop this – and stop it now. This is not a “western concept”, it is a shocking reality, and in some places may even be viewed as expected and acceptable.
We have to talk about it. And we have to stop it.
It has ruined lives. It is ruining lives. And it hurts.
I, too, was sexually molested and abused. And I was only eight years old.
I read a young woman’s appreciation of her mom’s determination to obtain a Bachelor’s degree and decided to share it on my blog, liberianjue. This is Jarsa’a tribute to her mother on how she redefined strength and sacrifice.
On December 8th, Mama graduates from college. She graduates with honor – a GPA of 3.295, and I’m so proud of her. It’s also the birthday of her second child, by the way #sniffles. It has not been an easy journey, but somehow, we are here today.
She is strict – very. A grade ‘A’ disciplinarian. A ‘no nonsense taking’ woman, but Edith T. Deline is one of the kindest person there is. Raising her four children and fostering many, (five of whom she’s seen through high school and college, respectively), her home is a revolving door. There are always people in and out of the house as she always has an open door to everyone.
Whether you are someone looking for a place to stay for a while, till you get back on your feet, a teen, looking for a little discipline, some food and education, mama feeds, shelters and educates everybody who comes her way and needs help – if she can.
She’s clearly had no time to put herself first, to say the least. But it was okay with her – she was doing a good thing.
Graduating from high school in 1983, she wanted to work and attend college, concurrently – being the sixth of seven children of a single mother, she had to work if she wanted to continue her education. Grandma worked as a school teacher, a career where she barely made enough to feed her seven children and every other child she fostered, let alone send anyone to college. If you wanted higher education, you had to find a way on you own to get it. So, mama had to work – and go to school.
She took the University of Liberia’s entrance exams and passed, but when she sat the interview, (yes, apparently you had to sit an interview – and pass, after you have sat and passed the entrance, to be admitted into the university, at the time) she was denied entrance. She had applied to attend the College of General studies (Continued Education), a college strictly for working people who wanted to ‘continue’ their education, but you had to be at least 30 years old to be admitted – she was 19. Cuttington University however, the only alternative university in the country at the time, privately owned and very expensive, it was a non-starter.
Not really having much options, she enrolled in a Secretarial Science school and obtained a diploma in Secretarial Science and office management – holding a career as a Secretary for the last 33 years.
In 2009, during a conversation with a friend, he asked her if she had ever attended college. She said no and he went on to tell her that she is too smart to not give it a try. Mama took that as a boost to want to do that – give it a try. At the time, her last set of children, the twins, were only four years old and the newest child in the house was eight. She took the University of Liberia’s entrance exams – again and passed – again. This time, not having to sit an interview.
When she called to tell me she had taken the entrance exams and passed and was going to start college, the first words that came out of my mouth to her were “no, you can’t go to college. Why would you want to do that? You’re already old (she was just in her mid-40s, by the way) and living a well-off life, what do you even want to do with a college degree?” she responded, “I’m not even that old, there are people far older than me who are going to school and there’s a lot I can do with a college degree.” “Mama”, I said, “the boys are only four and Mae is eight, you have children to take care of, you can’t go to school and work full time and still have time and strength to take care of them.” She laughed on the phone and said, “watch me” – WATCH ME.
Few months later, when it was time for registration, she gave me her money and documents to go and register her ‘cus she was busy at work and the process was tedious. Ah! I said it, you cannot do this. It’s just the beginning and you already cannot handle it. I took the money and documents, and never registered her – she did not attend that semester.
It’s not that I didn’t think she could do it – which I undoubtedly knew she could, because she is strong and she is brilliant – I just could not wrap my mind around My Mother going to school. Selfish, I know. Moving on.
She didn’t let that stop her, the following semester, she took time off work and handled her process herself. I could not understand why she wanted this badly, but I was in awe of her persistence.
Mama went to school every semester after that (excluding 2014, the year of the Ebola outbreak), taking just the right amount of credit she could handle in addition to her life as a full-time working mother of small children. She went to school every day, did every test and every assignment, attended study groups when she could, asked us to tutor her when there was need.
There were days when it was more difficult to go to school. Days where she would leave work, tired, but would go to school, come home at night and cook the food for the next day, so that the children have something to eat when they come from school. Days where there was no one to take care of the children while she went to school – especially when she had to start taking care of my one year old when I traveled in 2013 – but she didn’t let those things stop her.
There was a short period when she worked at the airport and had to drive an hour every day after work to get to school. It was overwhelming, but she did it anyway. When it got too strenuous for her, she quit the job – it was anything but school.
She has taken care of everything and everyone and now this is her time. It is her time and nothing or no one can stand in her way. She has redefined strength and sacrifice and as her oldest child, I couldn’t be any prouder.
“And one day she discovered that she was fierce and
For a few months now, I have been meaning to write this personal story about my hair. Each time I try to, it just seems so personal to put out there. One part is like “why would anyone want to hear you write a long blog about your hair?” There are many other more important things I could be commenting on right now- like the current tense elections and political climate at right now in Liberia, like corruption. like…but hair?
Anyway, today is thanksgiving day in Liberia and I felt I needed to do something with this unexpected free time on my hand that was not work. So, here I am sharing a personal story. And yes about my hair.
For millions of women around the world with “nappy” hair, it’s a constant myriad of emotions and moods about our hair. It ranges from being in love, falling out of love, frustration, resignation, etc.
I am no exception. I used to have a love hate relationship with my hair for years.
From an early age we are conditioned into feeling how “tough” and difficult our hair is to manage. I remember that I eagerly waited to turn 12 to be able to be officially allowed to try the “white crack” on my hair so it could be straight, silky and manageable. Of course, as the nickname depicts, you get hooked. There is a constant cycle of needed to retouch to maintain that full straightness.
In the process, we burn and damage our hair. Over the years, I went through several heartbreaks due to my over use of perms and chemicals in my hair. There is this constant search for the right products. This one is good for black women hair. This is good for conditioning. This one shines. This one moisturizes. Before long we have tabletops full of various hair products, a variety of brands. Always searching. Always unappeased.
Of course I have had my share of hair adventures and experiments. I have cut it, dyed it many colors, permed, over permed, braided and weaved it, too often to even remember.
In recent years, there has been a revolution of the nappy hair. We have come to see it differently.
It is en-vogue to appreciate the various nappiness of our hair. It is actually okay not to be ashamed of the nappy texture but to embrace its versatility. Everywhere I look, I see black women proudly and adventurously trying out new ways to embrace our unique and versatile hair.
Pregnant with my first child, I decided to lay off perm – after reading all those online articles that said it was not safe for the baby. I decided to grow out my hair. And so, I fluctuated between braiding it and keeping it weaved for months at a time. In between, I treated myself to new fad two-finger twist. It was nice, but it was still the constant struggle of going to the salon for hours, sitting for hours to have the hair braided. Then there was the additional hours spent unbraiding it. All of this left me constantly annoyed, antsy, tired and with short-lived appeasement.
After about a year and upon delivery, I got frustrated and went back to my perm addiction. Few weeks in, I was angry and unfulfilled.
So, I resorted to doing only micro braids. For one year, it seemed nice. I had no need for salons for up to 3-4 months at a time. My head was very light weight. But, there was still the stress of sitting for up to 9 hours to get them braided and another 9 plus hours just to loosen them.
You get the picture. I do not have 9 hours in any 24-hour cycle just to do my hair.
Quite simply, I could not afford to do that! Additionally, the hair STILL seemed to be breaking! AND those “100% human hair” didn’t come cheap either.
I was nearly at a point of cutting the hair and sporting a low cut for a few years when IT happened. In January of 2013 I saw a strange hair style on a friend. Samantha lives in Ghana. She was wearing what looked like tiny braids. I kept staring trying to figure out if they were extensions cleverly weaved or braided. I couldn’t figure what they really were. They looked like nothing I had seen before.
I was intrigued.
“Sisterlocs”, she said.
I had never heard of it. She explained that they were strands of her hair interlocked into tiny locs. They were not the usual dreadlocks. I touched them and confirmed they were her own hair. They looked beautiful, felt soft and seemed manageable.
I fell in love!
I knew I had to know more. I googled it. The more I learned, the more I got interested. I found a new resolution: To give myself 6 months within which to research further about sisterlocs, and to figure out if I would still be as interested as I was after 6 months. If I still was, I would try it out and if I did not like it I would cut my hair after a few months. After all, it’s not like I had not cut my hair before, right?
After 6 months, I was still in love. I was still interested. I decided to take the first big step towards locking my hair. I chopped it off. With only new nappy growth, my hair was down to about an inch.
2 finger twist
in late May 2013 I made the final decision. My transition began to loc my hair.
Four and a half years later, it has proven to be one of the best decisions I have made in my adult life.
I feel fulfilled. Free. Liberated! My hair has blossomed. My hair and I are finally a peace with each other.
Today, I love the freedom to not worry about sitting in salon for hours and using up my Saturdays just doing my hair. I am also spared the hassle of waking up too early to fix my hair inpreparation for the day or even worries of protecting my expensive “human hair” from damage due to unexpected down pours. I also have less concerns about loosing my hair or its breakage due to various chemical applications.
And, it is quite cheap to maintain. What can beat that?
Except for twice a year when I apply light hair coloring, I no longer apply chemicals to my hair. I use only natural oils. They include, coconut oil, olive oil, tea tree oil and castor oil. All of these I am able to buy at a very low price right in my home country Liberia.
In the years since I locked my hair, it has opened a new and happier chapter in my relationship with my hair. My hair has grown at a pace that amazes even me. In four and a half years, I have gone from an inch of hair when I chopped it off and locked it to 11 full and healthy inches of nappy hair.
Nappy IS pretty.
I am free of the constant stress about what do with my hair in the next two weeks or even the next month. One thing for sure, I will look the same today as I would the next two weeks or the one month. The fact that it is my own hair gives me added sense of confidence and pride in myself and about my appearance. And I look fashionable.
Of course I get stares and compliments about my hair from both men and women. I treat each compliment with a smile. I also cannot say that I do not secretly enjoy the chatter when I go down to the local market and overhear the market women wondering whispers that my hair HAS to be extension or cleverly weaved. I can’t say I blame them. I did the same.
I have had many queries about how I manage my hair. Here are few things I do:
Wash it about 2x a month. Depending on the heat and sweat from exercise I do it more. But generally 2x a month.
I oil it once a week (or when I remember hah) with a natural oil mixture I do myself comprising of coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil, tea tree oil)
Because my hair at the front is very fine and prone to falling off very easily, I try not to do too many twisting and pulling of my hair to cause more hair loss and damage to my front hair
Retighten every 6 weeks.
We live in a world of stereotypes. My decision has further reinforced my impression that natural can be beautiful.
I am raising a beautiful daughter. And I am inspiring her to accept her hair as unique, rich and beautiful as naturally as it is. Yes, she can grow up and choose to want to perm it, weave it or braid it. But it should be her decision to explore, and one with which she must be content and afford to do. What I hope she will learn is that her natural hair is beautiful and she can choose to keep it as natural as she desires.
Today in Liberia, I am happy to see the various trend towards natural hairstyles. There is an evolving pride in the way Liberian women are wearing and displaying their natural hair.
A whole new industry is developing. There are young Liberian women entrepreneurs like Satta Wahab of Naz Naturals, Thelma Debrah of Kouzoya’s Nature who are making their own natural products and brands to promote the growth and easy management natural hair. Together, we embracing our nappyness in all its unique splendor and beauty.
So what can I say about my love affair with my hair? We are at the happily married couple stage, where you now know your partner well enough to know how to navigate and accommodate each other. You know what you need to do to keep the peace.