Author: Marie Kwende Collins
I have been working in a health and social care setting for over seven years. I’m a Liberian native (Liberia means “Land of the free” in Latin). Liberia is a country in west Africa founded by freed American slaves in 1847. Due to a long history of political instability my family became refugees in neighboring countries before moving abroad.
I fell in love with Liberia when I returned in 2012. Even then at a young age, it was hard to ignore the poor living standards.
In 2016, Business Insider listed Liberia as the 4th poorest county in the world. Liberian women and children are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation. It is not uncommon for distinguished men to engage in sexual activities with young women. These men act as sponsors. They pay young women’s tuition fees, house them and provide financial support to their families to maintain sexual relationships. Often young women are forced to fend for themselves. Parents use girls as breadwinners for the up keep of their homes.
Earlier this year I went on a journey of self discovery after reading numerous articles from Liberian news publications regarding maternal deaths, stranded mothers at government hospitals and awful childbirth injuries. I wanted to dig deeper into the stories. I was curious to know how these women’s conditions compared to mine. I was 18 when I birthed my son in the UK. I threw myself into work because I was determined to meet his needs and provide a safe place for him. I did however have an option to be a stay at home mum for the reason that I was eligible for state payments (a weekly or monthly payment for people on low income.)
March of this year I traveled to Liberia. I met with a group of women between the ages of 18 and 40 residing in a community known as ‘Baby Mothers Junction’ (The community has a high birth and teenage pregnancy rate) . The ladies and I gathered at a local church, there they shared their stories, goals and ambitions. 90% of the ladies were unemployed. 85% were interested in business and entrepreneurship. Few sold biscuits and other food items. The ladies stressed on, being a single parent was not by choice. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the men they settled with abandoned them shortly after moving to the community. Some of their partners left for work to rural townships and did not return. Several of the ladies had no choice but to drop out of school because of financial difficulties.
One mother spoke about her children going to bed hungry. The kids were prompted to sleep early seeing that there was no food. Because of financial constraint their children are not enrolled in school. It was disclosed, some of the ladies occasionally work as call girls to make ends meet.
Ruth Sensee lost her mother and oldest sister during the Ebola epidemic. In less than a week, her father brought in another woman. She is presently taking care of her two brothers. Her father left them to fend for themselves. My engagement with the ladies led me to form Mary Kwende Foundation. The foundation promotes positive outcomes for better lives.
My next destination was Tubmanburg, also known as Bomi (Northwest of Monrovia, Liberia). I was given a mini tour of the county hospital. The hospital received its first ultra sound scan machine in March. The hospital neonatal unit and maternity unit is struggling to meet standards and lack basic medical equipment . Whilst in Bomi, I met with the locals. During a brief healing dialogue with the women of Tubmanburg I was drawn to Massa’s and Elizabeth’s stories.
Elizabeth, a mother of three. She is the sole breadwinner of the family. Elizabeth’s husband is chronically ill. She has been his care giver since 2014. Her children are out of school because she cannot afford their school fees. She is interested in retail buying, but has no means to start a business.
Massa is a mother of 3, Massa lost a child this year when he fell ill. She could not afford to take him to the hospital. Massa opted for traditional herbal treatment, sadly the child didn’t make it. Massa expressed her only wish is to provide a safe place for her children to sleep at night. Because of an open roof in her home, they experience flooding when it rains. One of her long term goals is to return to school to further her education.
Empower disadvantage Women and children in Liberia (Africa). Make a Donation to the Mary Kwende Foundation.
Crowdfunding Page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/mary-kwende?utm_id=92
Mary Kwende Foundation promote wellness of families and their dependents. Removing barriers that limits or affects women’s life choices and goals. Through mentor-ship we aim to motivate and empower individuals to become as independent as they can be in society.