In January I shared with you about a trip my husband and I would be taking through our church denomination to see first hand a ministry project in Monrovia, Liberia. This was the first time (and hopefully not the last) I have taken any trip like this, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met the women behind the Liberia Women's Empowerment Project. We had heard about this project a few years ago when they were in need of sewing machines to start a project center, and we had wanted to know more about what they were doing. I am sharing with you today specifically because the project is celebrating its first graduation ceremony. Today, on March 29th, 2020, in the capital city of Liberia, 174 women will be recognized for their successful completion of one of the project's four training courses!
The Liberia Women's Empowerment Project offers four different training courses for women in the area at three different Nazarene churches. The program began a few years ago when a small group of women gathered at an area church to discuss how to help the women in their community. Many of the women had received very little education as young girls, had no marketable skills and were attempting to raise children on their own. They felt they had no hope. No dignity.
And so, the Project was born out of a desire to equip women with a skill that would allow them to operate a small business or be hired by a local employer. But more importantly, by learning a trade and gathering in community, the women of Monrovia were gaining self worth. They could begin to see that they each had value.
As the project wraps up it's first class, they have been able to offer four different training tracts. Women who come to be a student at one of the three centers are able to learn catering, tailoring, soap making or fabric dying. The catering and tailoring courses are currently 18 month classes that meet twice a week. The soap making and fabric dying are 6 month courses that meet twice weekly. Not only are the women taught a marketable skill while taking a course, but they are also encouraged to be part of a savings group. These savings groups are ones where women can safely save some of the money they earn so that they have the start up costs to begin a business or to purchase needed items for their families. The women are also led through different life skills classes. Other women in the community will mentor the students in homemaking, hygiene and parenting. Through all of this, the women are creating a deeper community with one another. One that is built on learning skills together and having trust in one another.
The final piece to this program is teaching the women small business skills. At the end of training, it is the hope that the women would either be able to have an individual market business or to create a small group business in their neighborhood. They would be taught about how to make a profit, supply and inventory needs, and other necessary skills to operating a very simple business. Building a business component that is suited to the students is part of the next phase of the project. Brandon and I are hoping to be a help in this area.
Here is a group shot of some of the women at one of the centers outside of Monrovia. It was amazing to spend the day with them and hear their stories. Some of the women there hoping to be able to support their older kids through college and others have young families at home they would like to send to one of the local schools. The local grade schools charge a tuition, and uniforms need to be purchased as well as supplies. It is a costly expense for these families to receive a basic education, but it is one that many of these women hope to give to their children.
The day we were there, many students had come to the center to show us the catering skills they had learned as well as their soap making and fabric dying trade. We were served a delicious lunch of rice and fish with a large slice of cake on the side. During the training, the women can take some of the items made at the school back to their neighborhoods to be sold (soap, fabric, baked goods). The students get to keep a portion of the money made and the remainder is given back to the school to purchase more supplies. So from early on, the women get to practice their business skills.
During our visit, I was able to meet some of the children too. If any of you know me personally, you know that I always gravitate toward kids. It's typically where I feel most comfortable. The two little girls pictured above are daughters of two center students. While their moms were in class, I hung out with these little girls and a few of their friends. After a little bit shyness, we got to chatting. At one point I asked if the girls' moms were students at the school, their responses of how their mamas were learning to cook were so full of pride. This women's empowerment project is not only bringing dignity to the women in the courses but to their children as well.
This second photo was taken on our last day in Monrovia. We came to the center while school was still in session for the day. Many of the centers are multi-purpose. They are churches which offer grade school classes on some days and then the training centers other days. The day we visited was a Friday, so it was 'free dress' day for students. During their recess break, I visited with many of the students. They showed me their homework for the weekend, talked about their favorite classes and then shared with me what they hope to be when they grow up. There were many kids who want to be nurses, a few who wanted to be doctors, CDC workers, teachers, military and two who wanted to be president. Aspirations not really much different from kids in the United States.
These are the ladies behind each of the centers. They are an amazing, giving group of teachers. Each of these women desire to see their students succeed. They work tirelessly as wives, mothers, business owners, as well as teachers at the centers. And, I am sure there are a dozen other things they are responsible for in their lives. But, they always had a smile on their faces. They are excited about the work being done in their communities. They have plans to improve, expand, and offer more to more women. All of the effort is worth it to them.
Thanks for letting me share a little bit about our trip. It was a quick trip! Not counting travel time, we were only able to be in Monrovia for three full days. Our trip was cut a bit short due to a snow storm, so we missed a visit to the tailoring center. But as you can see above, the tailoring students still found time to sew us custom made tops! The trip, though quick, was a life changing one for me. I was able to see a part of the world that I had never been to before. I was exposed to a community of women and men who have seen multiple civil wars in just a few short decades, who was devastatingly hit with the Ebola virus just a few years ago, who live in a country that ranks 150 out of 159 on the gender inequality index, and who daily experience a life in which I cannot begin to imagine the difficulties. I was allowed to witness a small group of people who are working hard to change the future. And, I was able to see how God works through all circumstances and all people. He uses each of us, if only we are open to it.
If you feel at all compelled to contribute to this project, you can do so here: Liberia Women's Empowerment Project. The project's ultimate goal is to have each center be self sustaining. The women who attend will pay a small tuition, and the items sold will also help support the cost of the centers. But there are start up costs to each of the centers, and hopes to open additional centers. Your financial contributions will help this project get on its feet.