A Mother’s Determination

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.FB_IMG_1511582909062

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.received_10155904864031484

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

Strong and full of fire, and not even she

Could hold herself back because her

Passion burned brighter than

Her fears”

Congratulations, Mama!

 

The evolution and love affair with my hair

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?

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.

Ha!

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:

  1. Wash it about 2x a month. Depending on the heat and sweat from exercise I do it more. But generally 2x a month.
  2. 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)
  3. 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
  4. Retighten every 6 weeks.

That’s it.

hair new and current

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.

Liberian Women Raise Money to Support Haiti

In early October, many countries were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Of the countries ravaged by the hurricane, Haiti recorded the highest number of deaths and loss to properties.

Haiti is no stranger to disaster. In 2008, the country was rocked by an earthquake, and while still recovering from its devastating effects, the country was again swept by an outbreak of cholera which caused the deaths of hundreds of Haitians.

Haiti, which means “mountainous country”, is located in the Caribbean. With a population that is mostly black, many elements Haitian culture originate from Africa, the Continent from which many Haitians trace their roots.

In many historical accounting, Haiti is considered the first Black Republic. The country gained its independence after successfully revolting against their slave masters.

Although Liberia did not gain independence from slave masters, I could not help but observe some similarities between the two black nations of Liberia and Haiti, with Haiti being the first free Black Republic to gain their independence from slave masters, and Liberia being the first African Country to become independent.

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After the hurricane -culled from google pics

Both nations have also been plagued with mismanagement and poor governance by their leaders, with both countries still being considered amongst “the poorest countries in the world”. Dismal health care, low education, lack of basic infrastructures and social services, to name a few, stand out as unwanted features of the two nations.

So here is Haiti once again, devastated by another natural disaster. And the world either shrugs with indifference, or move into action to support.

In 2014 when Liberia was hit by the deadly Ebola Virus disease, Haiti, a “poor” country like Liberia, looked to her sister country and came to our aid albeit in a small way. Still, they came.

In solidarity with Liberia, Haiti joined ActionAid member counties to raise funds in support ActionAid-Liberia’s Ebola Response which was mainly focused on support to vulnerable women and children in affected areas. This money was timely and needed. Along with its local partners, ActionAid-Liberia was prompt in providing support to several Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), quarantined families, and provided several needy communities with support “kits”. Again, the support from Haiti (and other ActionAid Federation countries) proved to be timely, needed and impactful.epa_hurricane_matthew_haiti1_debris_mem_161007_16x9_992

Today, Haiti has recorded over 800 deaths, with of course, women and children being most affected. Thousands have lost their homes, leaving them homeless and their livelihood affected.

Liberia can never forget. We remembered that in our time of need, Haiti, also a “poor nation” responded as best as they could. They answered our call for help.

True to the nation’s character of never abandoning a friend, a number of national organizations that participated in ActionAid-Liberia’s Ebola Response efforts which Haiti supported have decided to join ActionAid-Liberia in fundraising efforts to support women and children recently affected by the deadly Hurricane Matthew.

AAL sounded the urgent call to action! It was a call to raise funds to assist and support Haiti. Mrs. Naomi Tulay-Solanke, founder of the Community Health Initiative (CHI) decided to lead the initiative on behalf of AAL’s local partner organizations.

The organizations included CHI, COSEO, NEP and the Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) along with some ActionAid Liberia staff and other well-meaning Liberian women who also heard and responded to the call for action. They, too, decided to support.

The women organized 3 days of car wash at various traffic light stops around Monrovia and offered to wash the windscreens of cars and serve passengers and passersby hot tea to raise funds. For 2 days the women set aside personal pride and made time for up to 4 hours in the early hours of the morning to undertake the exercise. They washed cars. They served tea, often to passengers and passersby who took them because the women insisted.

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Aisha Kolubah- AAL Staff washing a windshield

Some of the women explained that at the beginning, passers-by were curious to know why they were doing what they were doing. Once explained, they would receive small additional donations. For these Liberians, it seems to be the right thing to do.

And yet, it was not to be unexpected that a few passersby were rude and abrasive while others were very supportive expressing how sad they felt for what was happening to the people of Haiti. Many of these people would donate what little cash they had to support.

The women noted that a majority of the contributions came from taxi drivers and passengers in commercial vehicles while drivers of private vehicles mostly refused to support and threw out insulting words.

The fundraising team also went into the local markets where they got a lot of support from the market women who willingly give L$10-20 each. Each woman in the market contacted said they could relate to having lost everything in a heartbeat during the civil war and knew what the mothers of Haiti were experiencing.

On the 3rd day of their fundraising activity, the women went to various offices of private companies, government ministries and agencies.

At the end of the exercise, they were able to raise US$1425 and L$62,000 (Liberian currency).

The takeover of sorts of this activity by local organizations led by women is profound and admirable. It also reinforces a campaign championed earlier this year by many organizations calling for more localization of aid and the empowerment of local/national organizationsas well as the recognition of women as capable First Responders in times of crisis and natural disasters.

Naomi of CHI explained “When I saw what was happening in Haiti, my heart broke for the suffering and it reminded me of the various trials we have faced here in Liberia. I was pondering what we as Liberians could do to help, and just in that time, I saw an email from ActionAid-Liberia reaching out to its local implementing partners to contribute to funds being raised to support the people of Haiti. Recognizing what my organization – CHI- had started doing to raise funds in Liberia to support our work during Ebola, I thought it would be a good strategy to use to support the cause for Haiti.”

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Naomi, CHI raising awareness on the fundraiser

The initiative was led by women who currently run local charity organizations in Liberia. Many worked as First Responders during the Ebola Virus outbreak in areas ranging from community awareness on Ebola preventive measures, providing psycho social counseling support, or ensuring that thousands of Liberian school children remained engaged academically during the compulsory closure of schools.

Other Liberian women who heard about the work on social media also volunteered their time during the car wash fundraising drive to help support the effort. Mrs. Souriah Haider Dennis, a young mother and entrepreneur said:

“As a concerned Liberian, I saw this as an extremely important initiative and I

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Souriah Dennis, out washing a windscreen

immediately cleared my schedule to assist. This fundraising act of good will and kindness felt like the right thing to do. While it is true that our challenges as a nation seem to never end, it doesn’t mean we can’t help others in their time of need especially when they did the same for Liberia. The fundraising effort was a very fulfilling experience for me personally and I would like to extend my gratitude to the People of Liberia who contributed to this cause, especially the Market Women and Commercial Drivers. As a Liberian, it felt good to see the reaction of fellow Liberians when they were told about the devastation in Haiti as a result of the Hurricane”

For me, as a “young” Liberian woman who is personally committed to seeing positive changes in Liberia, this collective support from a cross range of Liberians – old, young, male, female, the haves and the have-nots – has warmed my heart and shown me that Liberians are caring people, and will continue to give to humanitarian causes. This is contrary to the common belief that Liberians do not give or care about what is happening globally.

I am even more motivated and touched to see Liberian women stepping up and moving into unchartered territories proving that women can indeed be First Responders – that we can lead and show the efficacy of localization even in times of crisis.

First Hand Experience Of Passport Discrimination

I have long heard terrifying tales of other Liberians of their experience while travelling either from or to Liberia from other parts of the world but for some reason, I felt their tales were a tad exaggerated.

Earlier this year, I had the worst travelling experience ever, while travelling back from the United States to Liberia. Initially, I was booked to return on SN Brussels, but, had to change due to the attack on the Brussels Airport. We got changed to travel back home on “Royal” Air Maroc.

Initially I was simply relieved that my travel dates hadn’t changed and said to myself “I just need to get home”. But little did I know what was in store for me. And others actually.

My first hint of what was to come was when we disembarked in Morocco. We got herded to room where an airport attendant who didn’t seem to speak any English beyond “Hello, Go There” scanned passports at the entrance of a room that seemed at the time after a long flight, the gateway to the Promised Land.

I noticed quickly that some people were allowed into the room, while others were directed to some other vague room down the hall.

When it was my turn at the door, I handed my passport to the security personnel who didn’t open it, just took one look at it and pointed me down the hall and said “Go. There”, pointing down the hall to a place I could not easily understand.

That was when I noticed that those who were being directed down the hall all had one thing in common: Liberian passports.

Those with American passports, Scandinavian passports or British or EU books were being allowed into the “promised land”.

Mind you, I had seen several Liberians whom I knew were all going the same destination as I was- Liberia- being allowed to enter, but because they had the “right book”, gained access.

So I took my weary self down the hall to find out where the other rejects were heading.

That’s when my nightmare really started.

The layover time was 13 hours. 13 long hours. I was tired. Sleepy. Hungry. I was having visions of a shower, nice bed and some sleep till the flight at 9/10pm. I even had illusions of prolong internet access where I could work while I waited the 13 hours away.

Ha! Illusions indeed!

We waited for 45 minutes for the airport attendant to call a shuttle for us. All this time siting on a bench. Like a reject. A prisoner.

In my mind I am still thinking ok, 13 hours, one already gone, we still got 12 more to go, they will take us to a nice hotel where we could rest.

More illusions.

It seems I had serious illusions of grandeur.

We got piled into a shuttle that took us to a building about a minute away. I walked into a large room with chairs and thought “this must be the hotel waiting area”. Little did I know, that this would be my comfortable illustrious waiting place for the next 9 plus hours!

Apparently some of the other Liberians had been on this route and knew the drill, me, “Johnny-Just-Come” was standing, looking around expectantly.

Then I noticed folks scrambling quickly for couches that were placed near electrical outlets and being a quick study (and possessing an immense love and connection to my slowly dying cell phone) I found a couch too, near a socket and sat.

I looked around then I saw others folding their bags near them and curling up to sleep. I looked at the chair, my “resident stopping place” as we say in Liberia which had a chair cover on it. The cover seemed like it hadn’t been near water in awhile. There were some questionable stains on it that had me mentally creeping.

But, it was either that or the floor or sharing a couch with someone else. No one seemed ready to have me share, plus, they all seemed unkempt.

So I spread my shawl (thank God for the forethought to travel with one) on the filthy looking couch and sat.

That’s when I heard the loud conversations (ehn you know us Liberians and loud talking ehn?) from a group near by who started lamenting the way Liberians and other west Africans are treated when travelling through Morocco. Where those (even

blacks) with USA, European or other passports get sent to a nice hotel where they receive meals and have access to internet, etc. but those with west African passports are brought here.

I decided like a few others I had noticed previously, to get on my computer and catch up on emails.

Ha! I worked for like one hour then I noticed that I was not connecting to the internet. That’s when I found out that you only get one hour of internet in the “lounge”.

I was not perturbed and decided to still work on my computer, minus the internet.

That’s when I noticed an influx of new arrivals. Within seconds the place became even noisier. It seemed the new arrivals had a lot of young children with them and the children were cranky from their own long flight I guess and decided to play out the tantrums on their weary mothers. Some of the mothers just allowed them to scream and cry their guts away while they pretended the kids didn’t exist. 20160328_120112

One child even puke right there and that mess sat exposed for nearly 30 minutes before a custodian came by to clean it up. The mother was unfazed.

By 1, I saw people standing in line and heard the other Liberians muttering “lunch”.

I was not so hungry because I had had the smarts to travel with lots of nuts and snacks, but I needed to drink. So when I the lines went down a bit, I went up to get a few bottles of water. That’s when I was told oh no. you get one. I asked if I could buy a second bottle and was told No.

I took a glance at the “food” that was being given to the others and it took Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a host of Angels to help me not to puke like that child that threw the tantrum earlier.

 

air-mo
The Food

When I got back to my now endearing couch, another traveler had encroached on my territory and made himself quite at home, with legs up. Hahaha

Of course I wouldn’t ask him to leave, and so, I had to share the couch with him for the next several hours, with no opportunity to lie back and sleep.

At about 5:00pm, an announcement was made for those travelling on so so and so flight to please go down stairs and get on the shuttle.

By then, I knew not to have any good expectations and I was right.

We got taken to the airport terminal where for a few blessed minutes, I again had access to internet and could quickly send notice to my family and check emails. Then of course, the joy was short-lived.

This time, there was no electrical outlet where I could charge my phone or computer as the one or two I saw around the terminal were being hogged by other travelers who seemed to guard it in a fierce, territorial manner that dared you to be brave enough to approach their sacred charging outlet.

By 7:00, I noticed that those who had been separated from us early in the morning, those with the “right passports” had been brought back in. That’s when I heard the odd “Liberian-American” series and the words I really find condensing and stupid “ Your Liberian people, your hello oh”.

Your Liberian people.

Not long after, boarding call was announced and we all filed into our flights back to Liberia.

The few blissful minutes of internet I had, I sent a picture of the food, the place to a friend and he said, we Liberians always complain, we need do anything about stuff. I told him, “well, I intend not to fly with them again and I will write a blog on my experience. Hopefully that will start an open conversation on how we can start to hold these airlines more responsible to us who are customers and paying same money as those with the “right passports”.

Do you have the right passport or the wrong passport?

Have you experienced the Royal Air Maroc superb hospitality?

Share your thought and stories. Lets start this dialogue.

 

How I Am Overcoming My Fear Of Public Speaking

I have always been someone who was good at expressing myself- on paper. I could sit for hours and hours and write long essays, letters, hold long conversations electronically. Ask me to stand in front of a few persons and speak, I would find reasons not to be there or why I couldn’t.

I managed to get away with this fear, to conceal this fear for many years. As the saying goes “I faked the funk”. So well. But I knew I had a problem that I needed to fix. I just was not sure how I could do that.

I recall back in 1995, I decided to contest my school’s student council leadership and ran for the position of Student Council President.

It didn’t dawn on me the magnitude of what I had signed up for until I had to go from class to class and “run campaign”. I managed to hide behind my classmates and other students who helped do a lot of the talking for me.

But the day of the elections, we were told that we had to make a campaign speech.

Lord have mercy! I won the elections. Mostly because all the kids we had campaigned to, liked the sweets we gave them and they remembered us for that. I doubt it was because of my superb, enthralling and captivating oratory skills.

Another time, in January 2014, I had to speak in front of 96 employees at my job. Only for a few seconds and to basically just tell the staff body my name, job title and what my role is in the organization.

I found myself sweating profusely. I thought on the many ways I could slink out and away from the meeting and hoped they would not notice my absence. The introductions went line by line and finally it was my turn and I had to stand up and speak.

I froze.

Literally.

I stood and those 5 seconds were probably one of the longest timeframes in my life. I was at a loss for words and I just wanted to sit down and move those 96 pair of eyes from on me. So all I said was “my name is Brenda Brewer Moore and if you are in this room and don’t know me or what I do, then you need some explaining to do.”

I sat back down and I can’t explain how ashamed I felt. That I could not say something so simple!

That’s when I realized I had a really big problem that I needed to deal with heads on.

And so in February 2014 I heard from a friend that someone was starting a Toastmasters club, I immediately got interested. I asked her what the club was about and she told me that it’s a professional club where people go to improve their public speaking skills. I also went online and read up on what Toastmasters is all about and Bingo! I was sold.

I tackled Toastmasters like I tackle most things in my life: with determination, passion and commitment.

The first day I had to go up to give my Icebreaker speech (first speech), I wore a white pants suit and the 5 minutes allotted for the speech seemed like 30 minutes. When I had finished doing the simple job of telling the club why I decided to join Toastmasters and introducing myself to them, my pants were visibly soaked through with sweat. I was shaking like a leaf. I was so petrified!

But, no one laughed. No one sniggled. No one booed. No one teased.

Why? Because we all in that room had one thing in common: fear of public speaking and we had come together to overcome our fear of it.

I have come to love Toastmasters. I tell people that Toastmasters is in my blood. I love the fact that I can go to a safe space and make mistakes, get feedback, learn and also motivate others.

Fast forward to two years after joining the club, today, I am still nervous of public speaking, but I know that it’s a journey and I have come to learn little tips and tricks to apply to help calm my nerves, connect with my audience and get to the point. I have learned to make eye contact, to build expectation with pauses and to captivate.

 In this period, I am proud and excited that my Toastmasters experience has helped me

picture-from-un
Speaking at the UN Headquarters in New York

speak at several high profile places that in another lifetime I would have shied away from. Places like the United Kingdom House of Parliament in London, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the UN Building in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. At all of these places, I had to address a room full of people and or serve on panels.

 

No one watching me at any of those places would know I was a nervous wreck or that two years ago I would not have even been able to mutter “hello”. I exuded confidence and spoke well (well, so I am told. Ha!).

In June 2016, I proudly, excitedly completed 10 speeches and 10 leadership projects. This is the first step in the Toastmasters Education Program. I had completed my Competent Communications (CC) Manual and Competent Leadership(CL) manual and I was one of 2 members of the club to be the first to do this. Imagine that! The shy person!

I also have been privileged to serve first as Vice President for Membership of the club and most recently, President of the club.

And so, I share my story to motivate others who may also have the same problem I had (still have, but working on it) but may not know how to deal with it.

Join us at Ducor Toastmasters, the only Toastmasters Club in Liberia, where you can work on and improve your public speaking, communication and leadership skills at your own pace, in a safe, supportive environment.

For more information about Toastmasters, go to www.toastmasters.org and for information about our local club in Liberia, check us out on Facebook : ducortoastmasters

SMART Liberia’s Education Summit Shines Light on Changemakers

culled from : http://www.bushchicken.com/smart-liberias-education-summit-shines-light-on-changemakers/

Almost every prominent politician or member of society has made a public statement about the dire state of the education system in Liberia. The preferred word to describe Liberia’s education system is ‘a mess,’ a description coined by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and later tempered with by Education Minister George Werner, who has made it his goal to turn the sector ‘from mess to best.’

One thing most people are clear on is that the sector is largely the responsibility of the government to improve. However, during a recent two-day celebration by the local youth-led organization SMART Liberia, organizers and participants were bucking this very trend and pushing for change themselves.

National Director Ahmed Konneh said the organization was determined to drive change and would not wait for the government to provide a solution to the education sector. “SMART Liberia has always been about young people leading change and seeing themselves as changemakers,” he said.

The organization has already been involved in several programs that characterized this citizen-driven approach to solving societal problems. A notable program was ‘Complete 8,’ a month-long vacation school program that allowed 84 students to complete an enhanced curriculum during a school year truncated by Ebola. The group also led a campaign aimed at convincing University of Liberia authorities to build a website to provide students with better access to information.

KEEP

Announcing the launch of her first resource center and reading room in Paynesville’s Duport Road community, Moore said, “Only through collective effort we Liberians can change Liberia. We cannot keep waiting for people – we have to do it ourselves.”

 

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Mandela Washington Fellow Fombah Kanneh delivers a rousing speech at SMART Liberia’s Animate Event

 

In what turned out to be a surprisingly rousing part of the night, a Mandela Washington Fellow, Fombah Kanneh delivered a powerful motivational speech of how he rose from poverty as a child in a slum community to meeting U.S. President Barack Obama. And further, going on to help other unfortunate children in his community by providing them with educational resources. Kanneh’s remarkable presentation of the ‘Seven Mindsets’ for success should be a staple at every high school and university.

The education summit was sponsored by the British Embassy in Liberia, whose Ambassador David Belgrove expressed his thrill at the opportunity to support an organization like SMART Liberia. He said, “The young people of SMART Liberia show that you don’t need to wait for that change to come. You can bring that change yourself.”

Featured photo by Jefferson Krua

Women Are on the Front Lines of Responding to Humanitarian Crises

I recently stumbled on an article written by a journalist I met at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. here is an excerpt and a link to the full story:

When asked why she became a first responder during Liberia’s Ebola Crisis, Brenda Brewer Moore said she drew her resolve from one of her country’s darkest times, “I lived the majority of my childhood years in Liberia during the civil war and saw the amount of death and destruction that the war caused. And as a child, one thing I promised myself was that one thing that I would always do when I grew up was to be part of the solution – not just to sit and complain but to make some tangible contribution towards the development of Liberia.”

Moore’s was one of several gripping stories told by women first responders from around the world at this year’s 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), hosted by the United Nations and ActionAid from March 14 to March 24 in New York City. The panel, “Women as First Responders: Featuring Testimonies and a Visual Gallery Elevating Women’s Voices in Humanitarian Action,” took place on March 15.

Each of the women on the panel was soft spoken but firm about her passion for her work. All told stories about the lack of resources, inexperience, and heartbreak they had experienced. They also emphasized the importance of valuing the roles of everyday women in disaster planning, management, and response.

Women first responders have been all but absent from the stories we hear about emergency response work, which traditionally focus on the role of police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and other stereotypically male figures. By describing women as the first (and sometimes only) responders, this year’s CSW provided a different narrative.

While their stories may be less well known, as mothers and caregivers, women around the world are often the first on the disaster scene. “Women are in many cases the first responders and in many cases, the only responders when crisis strikes,” said Kyung-wha Kang, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during the panel. “In Fiji, following Cyclone Winston, women looked after the sick and elderly, they helped one another source food and water, and provided one another with support. In conflict-ravaged Sana’a,Yemen, women got involved in every aspect of response, from search and rescue and assessing needs, to using social media to convey information, and setting up a mass hosting network to house the displaced,” she added. “As a first responder in Yemen told us, the women here are everything and everything is on them.’”

In the case of Liberia’s Ebola emergency last year, the government was forced to close schools for six months to help curb the spread of disease, leaving children without a way to continue their education. Moore, a human resources specialist and mother, decided she could not let Ebola keep the children of her country from learning and growing. Her organization, the Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP), took action and delivered door-to-door educational materials, eventually reaching over 7,000 children throughout the country. The organization has since expanded to provide a range of support to Liberia’s educational system, and is currently completing a free computer literacy lab for the country.

Moore handing out educational kits during Ebola

While women often help others in crisis, they are also frequently the victims of catastrophic events. On average, women and children make up more than 75 percent of those who are displaced by war, hunger, persecution, and natural disasters. Those women who were already impoverished and vulnerable before crisis struck, as many are, are at even higher risk for sexual exploitation and violence.

As the victims of crisis, women have unique perspectives that can inform their work as first-responders. Mary Jack Kaviamu’s experiences in her home country of Vanuatu are a testament to this. Kaviamu spent much of her career with the country’s provincial government, as well as with the Pacific Institute of Public Policy, an independent think tank dedicated to supporting and stimulating informed policy debates for the Pacific Island community. After running unsuccessfully for a local government position in Vanuatu’s recent elections, Kaviamu became manager of ActionAid’s Women Talk Together Forum, where she continues to advocate for gender empowerment. “Tradition in my country and culture has become a barrier in all [levels],” Kavaimu observed during the CSW panel.

A popular tourist destination, Vanuatu was devastated in March 2015 by Tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm. A year later, the country’s infrastructure is still in disarray and water, food, and shelter remain in limited supply. In her prepared remarks at the CSW, Kaviamu described the crisis’s impact on women in Vanuatu: “We are not included. If we are not included, men cannot discuss our issues—women’s issues. Women alone can explain their issues and determine their priorities. Men cannot explain the real issues that affect women. It is women alone who can explain themselves.”

“Women trust women – that’s the reality,” added Moore. “[With Ebola], you have a lot [more] women who are home during the day than the men, so with the teams that we sent out into the communities that are made up of the mothers, they were not as responsive as when we had female team leaders… They have to accept what you brought because some of them believe that, oh there was Ebola in the packages and all these kinds of misconceptions. So seeing another woman, another mother out there, made it easier for them to accept what we were trying to do. And just the fact that we were able to relate on so many other levels, it helped our work a lot.”

“I don’t want to keep women in the role assigned by the [gender] division. But clearly – because of all this experience, they know how to manage catastrophe, they know how to organize distribution of equity. They know how to be creative with difficult situations,” said Yolette Etienne, a veteran first responder from Haiti who now works with ActionAid as the country’s director. “And that means they can be more effective in times of emergency and because they are suffering a lot in times of emergency. If they are in charge, that means also they can transform the gender power division.”

Researchers with both UN Women and the Institute of Development Studies have found that involving women in humanitarian programs helps reduce gender inequalities, improves access to services, and increases the effectiveness of humanitarian responses. Despite all this, women often run into structural and cultural obstacles that make it difficult to participate in humanitarian action. “In my country, women have no political representation in the parliament, which makes [it] difficult for women. Public decision is [a] male space with no women participating,” said Kaviamu.

These obstacles can perhaps be overcome by the growing solidarity between women first-responders, a recurring theme among the panelists at CSW. “The context may be different but [each of us] are facing the same challenges and the same fight,” Etienne told Muftah after the event. “It’s about learning, it’s about feeling ‘It’s not so singular what I am doing, I’m not fully isolated, I can coordinate better, and that [is] the only way to overcome the situation.’”

Panelists also highlighted the overall importance to their work of women’s empowerment. “I am a living example that women can be first responders and key players in humanitarian response, provide innovative solutions and that community-lead responses can be led by women,” said Moore, who still works as a human resources professional while running KEEP in her free time.

Kang echoed those sentiments. “Empowering [women] to take on those roles but also to go further and to be an integral part of decision-making on humanitarian action from the lowest to the highest level is also one of the most effective ways that we can deliver humanitarian action.”

Women Are on the Front Lines of Responding to Humanitarian Crises

Women’s History Month Crusader Spotlight: Brenda Brewer Moore

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Project: GirlSpire

By Sang Kromah

Working with Project GirlSpire has afforded me incredible opportunities to talk to some amazing women and girls from our global community. Even though Project GirlSpire is pro-women and pro-girls 365 days a year, this Women’s History Month has allowed me to get acquainted with women who are making history daily, honoring them as they take their journey rather than after. These are the women who girls in the future will look at and aspire to be. These are the women that movies and books will be written about…women who will be immortalized because of their willingness to take action now, instead of waiting for someone else to make the world a better place for them.

In 2014, Liberia was literally shut down because of the Ebola outbreak. With the disease running rampant, schools were closed with no sign of reopening in the foreseeable  future. While the children of other nations…

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Tv Tv, Rogue Rogue

Liberian Jue

Tv Tv, rogue rogue!

Tv Tv, rogue rogue!

This is a common song sung around many neighborhoods in Liberia.

Thieves are called rogues in Liberia and it’s common to hear shouts of “rogue rogue rogue” at night in many communities in Liberia. Once someone is pointed out as a rogue, everyone in the neighborhood starts to chase that person until caught. Back before “the war”, once a rogue was caught by the neighbors, they were beaten a bit and then turned over to the police. These days, post war Liberia reacts differently. We have “mob justice”, so once caught, immediate action or justice is meted out to the alleged “rogue”. Death on the spot by beating of the crowd.

My first encounter with a rogue was probably in 1987 and I was probably around eight years old.

At the time, my step father’s sister had come to live with us…

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Memories of the “doodoo” birds

Liberian Jue

Brenda, Brenda. Wake up. Wake up!”

I sleepily moan and curl up even tighter, wrapping the cover sheet closer to my body.

“Brenda, wake up. We late! Get up.” I hear the urgency in my mother’s voice and open my eyes.

Please go use the bathroom and come help me get the children ready to leave. I woke up late and we have to leave here before daylight.”

With that, she turns to leave the room and for a moment, I am tempted to curl back into bed and as if reading my mind, I hear her say “ if you hurry up and finish with the bathroom and changing your clothes in ten minutes, I will let u play in the creek later today”.

My eyes widen in the darkness and all sleep quickly vanishes from my eyes. My mother doesn’t like…

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